Expired film is a great deal and can offer excellent value as well as an interesting look in some cases. It’s not without risks, though. What happens when you use expired fast slide film with no exposure compensation? This does:
The photo above was taken in broad daylight on a bright, sunny day. I had purchased some expired Provia 1600 color slide film that I planned on using for some gritty, low-light work, but I got a little more grit than I bargained for. I found out with later research that fast films “slow down” over time and I should have compensated by overexposing by a stop or two. This can be done by using exposure compensation or by setting the film speed to ISO800 or ISO400. Slide film has less exposure latitude than color negative film, so you’re probably asking for trouble by shooting film this fast that has expired.
I didn’t know any of this when I loaded up and shot the film, but luckily I had the film developed at a local lab that scans to 16-bit TIFF’s. This gave me a little extra post-processing room than I would have had with a JPEG, but I still had my work cut out for me. As scanned almost every shot looked almost black. The shots in this blog post (minus the one above) were the only ones I was able to salvage into something acceptable. Provia 1600 gives grainy results already when it’s well-exposed and not expired. Severe underexposure seems to produce extreme grain that goes well beyond the boundaries of good taste.
My original plan was to use the film for pictures taken on the Seattle Underground tour. The tour offers a fascinating look at some of Seattle’s lesser-known history and explains the existence of underground tunnels that have been used for all kinds of shady things over the years.
The look of the film worked perfectly for this shot, but it’s the only one I liked without reservation. I could have replicated this look with post-processing on a digital photo, but that would hardly be a substitute for the real thing. Part of the reason I like this photo so much is its resemblance to the game BioShock.
There is nothing correct about this photo technically, but it has a strong pull on me nonetheless. All it is is an address marker, but it looks so sinister when it’s underground and written in paint. Either that or “Yesler” is an underground serial killer who has claimed 111 victims…
Don’t be afraid to try expired film, but it might be worth studying what you bought a little bit before shooting with it. I lost almost a whole roll because of this mistake. Maybe I should start experimenting with expired Compact Flash cards instead.