Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shooting With Expired Film

Many of us still have old films in our refrigerators, freezers, or wherever we decided to toss them the day our digital cameras arrived. At some point you’re reminded that you still have all of these expired films residing somewhere in your studio or home. And now maybe you’re wondering what to do with the film that has long been expired or past their “use before” dates.
Whether you’re looking to buy, sell or use expired films, knowing their current condition will give you ideas about how much you should pay for, price or plan your shoot with them. Photographers of various disciplines have been buying, selling, using and experimenting with just about every type of film that was made and has expired. The key is to be familiar with the film that you’re using or planning to use. Consulting with the film’s data sheet will give you a good starting point when shooting and processing your expired film.


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The results that you can obtain from one brand or type of film are not typical and should not be assumed that they’re universal. Issues can arise with expired films such as loss of ASA speed, base fog and reciprocity failure, for example, and should be factored in when calculating exposures and planning development processes. How much or how little exposure and process compensation should be made based almost entirely on the known condition of your expired films. Developing the films as soon as you finish your shoot will further ensure your success of obtaining expected results. Exposed expired films deteriorate in a much faster rate than films that still retain their manufactured condition.
Color films are a bit more difficult to manage than their black & white counterparts. Most of us don’t have a home darkroom that is capable of handling color processing. And most commercial C-41 and E-6 processors are equipped with fully automated gear-and-roller transport systems that are easily contaminated if tampered with. Customizing your processing with these machines is difficult. A commercial dip-and-dunk film processing system or a rotary tabletop processor is necessary if any adjustment is required during the developing stage of film processing. Otherwise, your chance of obtaining ideal color images, chrome or negative, will depend entirely on their exposures during the shoot.


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I recommend to always use fresh films to shoot important events or jobs. Shooting with cheap, expired films is really limited to personal and experimental works. And, if you choose, there’s always digital editing to help you bring your images to life from less than ideal post-process materials.
Want a vintage effect on your photos without the use of editing software? Expired film is perfect for this! Many times, expired film will produce a loss of contrast and color shifts much like those in vintage photographs. Keep in mind that the longer the film has been expired (and how the film was stored), the more dramatic the effects and/or problems.
Your expired film may not turn out the way it should have, or did when it was still "good", but don’t be afraid to use it the next time you feel like doing some experimental shooting.

By: Kris Phimsoutham, all images © Kris Phimsoutham