They probably don’t know it, but the retro, dreamy look that a lot of people associate with film photography is usually caused by expired film. You can call some of the results as happy accidents, but that doesn’t change the fact that expired film is tricky to shoot with. If you’re drawn to film photography because of this look, we suggest watching this video before you start hoarding expired film.
Expired film is fun and terrifying at the same time. Take it from Alastair Bird, who describes himself as a “devoted expired film lover and hater”. He initially wanted to make a video that disavows and swears off shooting with expired film. But he ended up changing his mind and came up with the cautionary video below for those who are still curious and want to give it a go.
With fresh film you get to work with something predictable. The colors, tone, and film speed or sensitivity are set, and you get consistent results because of this. But with expired film, you can’t be sure of what you’ll get, especially if they’ve been expired for a long time. Alastair described some of the issues typically encountered with expired film; fogging and color shifts. This means out-of-date film becomes unreliable, and you risk getting disappointed with the results, especially if you’re shooting something important like a project.
Fogging, which in summary causes your photos to look flat and muddy, increases over time; the longer the film sits, the more dense the base plus fog becomes. The faster the film speed, the faster and more pronounced it gets. Different brands also fog differently. This also happens with photographic paper, but Alastair says you can somewhat mitigate that in the darkroom with a chemical called benzotriazole. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do this with film.
To make things more complicated, the warmer the environment you keep your film in, the faster the increase of fogging. This is why we often hear the suggestion to keep film (except your instant film) in the refrigerator or freezer to help slow down degradation. It’s also why very expired film is always a gamble to use because you often don’t how it was stored.
As for color shifts in expired film, it often manifests in overlays of magenta or cyan, and it may occur randomly only in some parts of your image. The dominance in one color, as Alistair explains, may actually be because the emulsion has already lost the other colors.
So, there you go. These films may not always be the best to shoot with, but if you can at least manage your expectations, you’ll save yourself some major disappointment.
Check out Alastair Bird’s YouTube channel for more of his photography tips and tricks.
Screenshot image from the video by Alastair Bird