Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a dramatic resurgence in film photography. While many enjoy digital photography‘s fast-paced, high-tech world, other photographers lean more toward film photography‘s slower, meticulous practice. Photographing on film requires quite a bit of patience and know-how. There’s knowing which film stock to use, figuring out which format you prefer shooting on and navigating your way around the manual settings of your film camera. One of the key factors why photographers love film is the element of surprise. You have a limited amount of film to shoot with on a roll; there’s no LCD to see how your photo turned out, and you still have to wait another week or so for your photographs to develop. If you’re looking to add further unpredictability, have you ever considered shooting with expired film?

film photography
Image by Ihor Malytskyi

What is Expired Film?

The film used in analogue cameras consists of a chemical emulsion applied to a plastic film base. Over time these chemicals slowly deteriorate, and they lose their sensitivity. When you buy brand new film stocks, you’ll notice on the box that the film has an expiration date. The expiration date is usually around two years after the date of manufacture. Another element that influences the film’s sensitivity is how it is stored. Film is best kept in a cold, dry environment as the cold helps to preserve the film’s colours and chemicals. If film is stored incorrectly and exposed to high temperatures over prolonged periods, the film will degrade at a much faster rate and may be unusable altogether.

Annie Spratt
Image by Annie Spratt

Why Shoot With Expired Film?

Shooting with film that’s passed its expiration date is about the excitement and anticipation of not knowing what you’ll get. Besides the film being past its expiration, knowing how it was stored, transported, etc., may remain a mystery. This makes buying and shooting on expired film quite a mystery box adventure. However, all the anticipation may be worth it.

This shooting practice can produce unique and unpredictable effects. The chemical changes that occur in expired film can add a certain level of unpredictability and character to an image, such as increased grain, colour shifts, and light leaks. These effects can create a vintage or nostalgic feel, giving photographs a distinct and interesting aesthetic. Each photograph on the expired film roll can turn out completely different. Additionally, shooting with expired film can be a way for photographers to creatively challenge themselves and push the boundaries of their craft. This uncertainty and unpredictability are what makes shooting with expired film so exciting.

Additionally, film that has expired is often cheaper than fresh film, making it a cost-effective option for photographers who want to experiment with different looks. However, it’s important to note that expired film can be less reliable and may not produce consistent results, making it quite the catch-22.

Film photography
Image by JC Gellidon

How To Shoot With Expired Film

Pulling Film

Shooting with expired film requires a bit of trial and error. When buying a roll of expired film, there are a few things to note. The first thing is the expiration date, and the second is the ISO of the film. This is because the higher the ISO, the faster the film degrades. So for every decade that has passed since the film’s expiration date, you want to lower the ISO speed by one stop. So if the ISO speed on the box is 400 and the film’s expiration date is 2013, you will want to lower your camera’s ISO to 200.


Bracketing is a technique where you take a photograph three times: one at the set speed of the film stock, the second at one stop above the set speed and the third at one stop below the set speed. This way, you can determine which speed is better suited to your expired roll of film. A general rule for shooting with expired film is that it’s better to over-expose your film than to under-expose due to the film’s loss in sensitivity over time.

Imanuel Reza
Image by Imanuel Reza

Shoot In Good Lighting

Due to film losing its sensitivity as it ages and degrades, shooting in well-lit settings will be best practice. This will compensate for the film’s loss of sensitivity. When photographing in darker environments, you might end up with photographs with a significant loss of detail and increased grain.

Have Fun

Shooting with expired film is an exciting way to play around with your camera, test your photography skills and inspire your creativity. So what are you waiting for?

Categories: Film Photography