Shooting Photos With Expired Film. What You Need to Know

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If you’re one of the thousands of photographers who are brand new to shooting film, you’re very experimental. Some of you probably want those classic, vintage looks. So you’ll go shoot with expired film. But is it worth it to do so? Will you be wasting time instead? Is it easier to do it digitally? So we’re going to briefly go over expired film in this blog post. And hopefully, we’ll give you some clarity.

The Look of Expired Film

Some of you want the look of expired film. But, from what I’ve seen online, that look can be easily confused. Some of it looks like slight cross-processing–which is when you develop film with the wrong chemicals. Others just look like bad exposures. But the true look of expired film really depends on a lot here.

In reality, it’s very possible that expired film won’t have any particular look at all. In fact, it could look just like a brand new film instead. So this is a situation where you don’t need to get lucky, either. You just need to be careful.

Preservation of Expired Film

Fact: film is an organic matter. It needs to be kept in the refrigerator or the freezer like any other dead, organic matter. Instant film in both black and white and color should always be in the refrigerator. Negative, Black and White, and Slide sheet/roll film should be kept in the freezer. I’ve heard some folks put it in the fridge with good results. And honestly, I have done the same thing for the past year. I’m still antsy about it, and I’d prefer to put it in the freezer. But that’s where I keep a lot of food. 

Consider all of this when you shoot a roll of expired film. How was it kept? Has it been in the freezer? If so, then the effects will be a lot less apparent. On the other hand, if it wasn’t kept in cold storage, it would deliver crazier colors. Those can be fun to use.

In the photo above, Kodak Ektar 100 looks really good. Can you tell that it was in the freezer and expired for 10 years? Indeed, taking good care of your film can make it last a long time. Generally speaking, I’d be careful of any company selling film that doesn’t keep it in cold storage.

Some of you may think that the photo above is the look that expired film delivers. It’s not. This is just film that was slightly underexposed. The longer film has been expired, the more light it will need. So you should overexpose it.

Above is a photo of Superia in 120 format. That hasn’t been around in years, and it’s clearly underexposed. Fun fact: expired film needs more light. So it’s a great idea to overexpose it by one or two stops.

Development is Key

When you shoot with expired film, it’s an excellent idea to develop it right away. That way, you might prevent any changes in the look. There are also other things you can do, like cross-processing. Photographer Kate Hook soups her film. But I really recommend doing this only if you’re developing yourself. If you’re taking it to a lab, be upfront with them about it. It could otherwise completely ruin the chemicals they use.