Mittwoch, 21. November 2012

Using Up Expired Film - The Right Way

Don't know what to do with your weekend? Why not pay a visit to your grandpa. See what's in his closet. Take awesome pictures that don't cost you a fortune.

This tutorial was entered in the "How I Took It 2012 Contest" on DIY Photography (


In this tutorial I want to show you how to take pictures with intense atmosphere and saturated colors. Without tempering with them in photoshop. All you need is gear and software worth thousands of bucks some old film and a camera your grandpa has probably just lying around, a cheap film scanner and free software.

What I want to show you is that not all stuff you find in your grandpa's living room closet is actually useless. SLRs from the 70s and 80s are still quite impressive tools and expired film can produce quite useful and interesting results. Expired film, if aged well, offers saturated false colors and large grain:

I want to take you through each step that led to this stunningly surreal photograph. First of all, this is the equipment I used for this photograph:
  • Olympus OM-4 with Zuiko 50mm/1.8
  • Kodak Ultra 50 that expired in 1992 - Not well stored (warm living room)
  • Velbon CX 460 Mini Tripod
  • Traveler Film Scanner
  • Irfan View

The problem is getting reproducable and predictable results from expired film
I want to take you through each step that led to this stunningly surreal photograph. First of all, this is the equipment I used for this photograph:
  • Olympus OM-4 with Zuiko 50mm/1.8
  • Kodak Ultra 50 that expired in 1992 - Not well stored (warm living room)
  • Velbon CX 460 Mini Tripod
  • Traveler Film Scanner
  • Irfan View
The camera and film were just lying around in my grandpa’s livingroom closet, unused for 20 years. The film scanner is from a german discount supermarket (Aldi) and cost about 30 bucks. The tripod was also rather cheap. Irfan View is a cheap software for image viewing and (basic) manipulation.

 Camera and Lens

That is the camera and the film. The OM-4 was definitely a high end camera back in the day of manual focus cameras. The lens on the other hand is anything but special. 50mm/1.8 lenses came with many cameras back then. For a shot like that, any old SLR with shutter priority automatic exposure will do, cameras without that also work, but some experimenting may be necessary. Any lens in the 50mm range will do.

The Film

The film is another question. Not every film ages well. While B/W film can last 20 years without proper storage and give excellent results, color film is problematic. Many lose so much ISO that they become unusable, especially high ISO films don't age well. Other films (like a Kodak Gold  for instance) age very well. 20 years in my grandpa's living room (which is usually heated to a million degrees) didn't cause much damage. In general, you can never expect perfect results from expired film that hasn't been stored in the fridge.
In the case of this picture, I used a Kodak Ultra 50 that expired in 1992. When I look at prints from that particular roll, they aren't that saturated. They are just purple. The layers of the film (color film consists of 3-4 layers sensible to different colors of light) have obviously not aged in the same way.

Any way, this effect is one of the causes of the interesting colors of that shot. Here are some guidelines to utilize this effect in expired film:
  • Expired film loses ISO. So always overexpose your negatives, or you will end up with a very faint negatives. Overexposing 2 stops is a good starting point.
  • The last negatives on a roll of expired film are always more 'usable' than the first ones, at least in a conventional sense. The first ones show more discoloration

Light Conditions

Now that we have chosen a camera, lens and film, we can go shoot. But not every motif will give you saturated colors. The reason for that is color temperature.

The color of light of a bulb is connected to the temperature of the filament. You can find this temperature on photo lights, flashes, and all sorts of bulbs. The scale also applies to other light sources.
A temperature of 2700K is rather warm, slightly yellow white (labeled as 'warm white' on modern energy saver bulbs). 6000K is a cold white. Sunlight on a summer day with no overcast can have a color temperature of several 10,000K.
Color film is usually optimized for a color temperature of around 6000K. Photographs taken in such light conditions will reproduce colors quite correctly. If the color temperature is considerably lower, colors seem more saturated. This can cause street lights to look orange, although they are actually warm white. Colors seem playful and unrealistic. Getting oversaturated colors on film is just that simple: Shoot in artificial light of when the sun is low!

This is what exactly what happened here. The combination of expired film with altered color reproduction and oversaturation caused by shooting in low temperature light produces saturated, unrealistic colors.

Taking the picture

As we are shooting a sunset, there won't be much light, which is why we need a tripod. As the film is expired, we need to overexpose it about 2 stops. You may have read other tutorials on shooting at dawn or even at night where you were told to use manual exposure. Sadly, perfect light conditions do not always come expected. This shot was rather spontaneous. Which is why we don't use manual exposure. Cameras with integrated metering (exposure is metered over the whole frame, not just the center or some spot matrix) come in handy here:

At night or at dawn, the meter is usually 2 stops off as large areas of the frame are dark. Those are the 2 stops we need to overexpose our film. Isn't that a coincidence?

So place your tripod, set a aperture and press the release. In this case, I chose f/11 as it draws out the sun. This gave an exposure time of around 40 seconds (I didn't time it and the OM-4's display only displays exposure times up to 1 second).  As the Zuiko 50mm/1.8 has a 6 element aperture the sun gets 6 beams. You can increase the effect by chossing a large aperture and focus on a object rather close (In my case it would be the tree over the river).

Note that there is something called the Schwarzschild effect: When taking long exposure photographs on film, the exposure time you really need is longer than the one your light meter suggests (It's on your film, the camera is working fine). This usually takes an effect for exposures over 1 second. Google the film's datasheet to find out how much longer you need to expose your film!


Development of color negatives is tricky. Which is why I usually just hand them over to the drug store. If the result is the one we want, print are no good. Sometimes the film base of expired film sometimes doesn't clear  completely during the development process or does not get the normal orange color. So just order development only.


Scanning the negatives is easy. I used a very cheap film scanner, but any film scanner will do. During scanning you may need to adjust the colors a bit if the film base is discolored. You can use a unexposed piece of film strip from the end or beginning of the roll. Just scan it and calibrate the colors until it appears colorless.

This is my initial scan with correction for the discolored film base:

First of all, we can see that color saturation is quite nice. The sun is already an orange ball. Discoloration is nice, shadows are deep purple. Only little optimization will be necessary.


There is little left to do. For that I use the free programm Irfan View.

The photograph seems a little foggy. Let's change that by adjusting brightness and contrast (Image -> Color Corrections):

Now the shadows look deep blue:

Changing the RGB color balance will correct this:

And that gives us the final result:

If that ain't a reason to go visit the old folks.

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