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How To Shoot With Expired Film For Great Results

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Film photography  is by no means dead, but it is on the ropes. Due to many film photographers swapping their negatives to sensors, less film is made. This, in turn, drives up prices.It also means lots of unused expired film.
This sparked photographers to find creative uses for expired film. Read our article to find out how to shoot with expired film.
A partial portrait of a female model posing outdoors, shot using expired film

What Is Expired Film?

Food, medication and anything natural has a shelf life. Photographic film is no different. When you buy a roll of film, it has years until it passes the use by date.
This is just a guideline. If you freeze or place the film in a cool area, such as a fridge, you can extend the film’s shelf life for a long time. It will depend on the film itself but expect to add decades onto its usability.
When the film passes its use by date, very strange things can occur. Firstly, the film loses its sensitivity. Colors become less vibrant, contrast fades and grain increases.
After a certain period of time, the film becomes foggy and unusable. These changes are gradual and won’t happen from one day to the next. And there are things you can do to slow down this process.
Films expire for a number of reasons. Harsh sunlight, heat radiation, and humidity will affect your film’s expiration.
There is a rule that most agree with, yet others say is complete nonsense. For every decade of the film’s expiredness, you should add one more stop of light. So, if the film is ISO 200, drop it to ISO 100.
This does place limitations on your film, as most cameras won’t drop further than ISO 100. If you have a light meter or exposure calculator, you can still find the appropriate settings.
Expired film is as trendy as the duck-faced selfie. Photographers specifically search for these films as they will give you a plethora of color shifts.
Every film is different, some giving you a purple hue, while others with pump out a greener tone. You can achieve a similar look to your film by cross-processing C-41 negative film into E-6 slide film.
A vintage feeling portrait of a couple chatting on a street, shot using expired film

How to Shoot With Expired Film

There is nothing special you need to do with an expired film except load it and shoot it. We can provide you with some tips that will give you the best possible images.

Get as Many Films as You Can

When you buy expired film, it makes sense to buy more than one roll. Having more rolls allows you to test the films before you go on to shoot something more important.
Be wary, as the same films might turn out differently.
Make sure they have been treated the same way. This will give you a better idea of their outcome. Having more than one will also give you the chance to get a feel for the film, ensuring better images.

Freeze the Film

As soon as you get the expired film – freeze it. Every day you don’t is another day of expiration and deterioration. If you don’t want your film to keep changing, it needs to be kept very cold.
Keep it in an airtight container before you pop it in the freezer. When you take it out, wait for it to defrost and return to room temperature before you open the box.
Otherwise, you risk breaking the brittle film.

Use in Strong Light

As colors and contrast fade with time, you will see your film becoming more and more desaturated. Because of this, the expired film works best in strong sunlight.
A grainy concert photography shot of a musician onstage, shot using expired film

Test Before You Shoot

A wise man once said, “Test, test, test”. Ensure you know what to expect by testing the film beforehand.
Use the same processes and chemicals for each test shoot to make sure they stay as close as possible.

Pull Processing

The longer the film has been expired, more and more grain is to be expected. This is especially true for faster films. You can try to counteract this by pull processing your films.
What happens here is you treat a faster film like a smaller film, which will result in lower contrast and grain. For example, if I had a 3200 ISO film, I could treat it like a 400 ISO instead.
You will need to trick the camera into thinking it is using a slower film, which is easier with older analog cameras.


Bracketing is yet another great tip to ensure you have the correct exposure. As you are unsure of how much light is needed, bracketing offers that range of exposures.
A good place to start is to shoot at on your exposure meter. Then capture a frame at +1, then another one at -1. Out of these three images, you should have one that is perfect.
If it doesn’t work as instructed, it might mean your film has a far worse degradation than previously imagined.
You can also try +2 or +3, and then -2 or -3, depending on the age of your film.
A flatlay of film rolls, negatives and film camera on a wooden table - expired film photography


  • Fast films degrade quicker than medium speed films
  • Medium speed films degrade quicker than slower speed films
  • Colour films show more degradation than black and white films
  • Slide films show worse degradation than negative films

So, if you have an 800 ISO color slide film, it will have more fog, grain, and exposure, while showing less contrast and color. This is especially true when compared to a 100 ISO black and white negative film.

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