A Brief Inquiry into Expired Film

Because what we really shoot film for is the uncertainty…

Film photography is an uncertain art. Without the ability to see the photos you’ve taken immediately, and a reliance on external factors like lab processing and scanning methods, for many amateur film shooters, like myself, a lot of the overall look is out of our hands. Coupled with the cost of shooting film nowadays being on the up, this is a daunting prospect. So, why not introduce even more uncertainty and shoot with film that’s probably spent decades sitting in the back of someone’s sock drawer! 

Expired film is exactly what the name implies. Over time, the chemicals that make up a film emulsion degrade, resulting in a loss of sensitivity for negative films, reduced contrast, colour shifts, and increased grain. Not exactly ideal outcomes, but you can save money with expired film, and it can be fun to see what the outcomes are. What now follows is a selection of images from my own experiences of using expired film. All scans are from a Noritsu, and unedited by me.

The header image was shot on a Mamiya 645, with Fujifilm Velvia 50 that was at least 20 years old. There’s a definite magenta cast, though less pronounced than on much of the roll, which turns the stark winter skies into something much more dreamlike. 

This was taken with Ilford FP4+ of an unknown age. The loss of contrast isn’t too bad, due to the film having great contrast when fresh, but the strange marks in the emulsion I in the bottom left are unpleasant, and not something you’d expect to see in expired film.

Beyond just being adorable, this picture of one of my cats shows some of the fogging you can get on expired film. This was shot on a 13-year-old, poorly stored, Kodak Ultramax 400. While here it just turned out a bit muted, this is a pretty light level of fog.

Finally, a success case. This roll of Fujifilm Superia 400 had sat in the back of my grandads’ wardrobe for over a decade, yet came out barely the worse for it. I overexposed by one stop, in line with internet guidance for expired colour negative film (overexpose one stop for each decade of expiry, then develop at box speed), but this was probably a bit far for a ‘perfect’ exposure. As it is, I love how the colours came out somewhat pastel from being overexposed, but not so far as to blow out the sky.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed these images, and maybe even want to venture into shooting film now? Expired film isn’t as good value as it used to be, but can still be significantly cheaper than fresh. Paired with a Zenit or Praktica with a Helios 44-2, and you have a fun and affordable way into a rewarding analogue photography experience.

If you’d like to see more examples of film photography, why not check out my Instagram, @F15hfoto.

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