One thing I’ve been lucky with so far while shooting film is a very low number of times a roll has gone catastrophically wrong. Massively underexposing some Shanghai GP3 100 in a borrowed Holga springs to mind but apart from that, not much else.
I can now add this Kodak Dental Photographic Slide Film to the list, though. I think it’s the first expired film I shot, and it gave me my first expired film fail.
That opening photograph up there might look typical of expired film – i.e. colour shifted and low contrast – but it’s needed lots of work in Lightroom to even look like that. As you can see below, the original was much worse.
So what went so wrong? And how can you avoid your own expired film fail? Read on to find out.
The backstory to shooting this film
I came across this Dental Slide Film in a shop in Shanghai that had a decent selection of expired film for sale.
I wasn’t particularly looking for it and there was never any previous great desire to shoot expired film either. But when I saw it all, I did think it’d be a fun thing to do alongside the fresh stocks I’ve been shooting too.
I knew there’d be risks with how the images would come out, but it seemed worth it – especially as hardly anyone on film photography Twitter had heard of it and there were precious few Google results for it either.
Went and had a proper look in here. They have quite a lot of expired stuff for sale. Which – if any – would you go for? Bit disappointed the Perucolor isn’t actually from Peru. That lone box of Kodak Dental Photographic Slide Film looks interesting though. 😬 #believeinfilm https://t.co/EnpM46WvZr pic.twitter.com/BijqVbI2m1
— Lee Webb (@myfavouritelee) October 25, 2019
The roll I got expired in 2003 and was being stored on a shelf at air-conditioned room temperature. Not ideal, but as it only had 12 exposures I wouldn’t be wasting too much time getting through it.
A little research told me the accepted wisdom for expired negative film seems to be to shoot it one stop slower for every decade it’s been expired.
Whether this is right or not, I’m not sure. It was immaterial though as it also seemed slide film should just be shot at box speed, which was ISO 100 for this one.
With not knowing how it’d been stored all this time or how accurate the light meter on my Yashica Electro really is, I wasn’t exactly sure what the best thing to do was.
In the end, I thought if I shot it at 200 or 400 and it came out bad, I’d kick myself for messing about. I wouldn’t feel bad if the results were bad from shooting it at box speed, so that’s what I did.
Walking around my local streets and temple, I shot pretty much anything I saw in good light and finished the roll in less than an hour.
The first time I heard about base fog
Despite shooting in a way that would minimise any regret, I was still a bit disappointed with the results I got from this film. Mostly because it seemed like such a rare stock and it was a shame it was wasted.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do anything with the images as far as a blog post went, but someone who had been interested in the film did ask on Twitter how they’d turned out.
Oooh, you went back and bought it! I have set my dentist friend on a mission to try and get me some of that film so some day I may get the chance to shoot it!
Would love to see your results! Also any shooting tips you might have 😊
— Morag Perkins (@moragperkins) February 5, 2020
At the time, I still had no idea why they looked like they did. The limited attempts I’d made to fix them in Lightroom hadn’t been too successful either, although I was probably being too optimistic with what I wanted to do.
Film photography Twitter is actually a pretty helpful community though, and it didn’t take long for someone else to introduce me to the concept of base fog.
Looks like base fog from both chemical and atmospheric aging.
— Daniel Milnor (@Smogranch) February 5, 2020
So with thanks to Morag for showing interest and Daniel for giving advice, it’s probably time to give you some actual examples of what base fog can do to your film.
Despite it being a 12-exposure roll, I managed to get 13 shots from it. Obviously I’ve already posted one, so here are the other 12.
Trying to fix my expired film fail in Lightroom
When you get results like that from an expired film, you’re not going to be able to make them look normal no matter how much you process them in Lightroom or Photoshop or any other editing software you use.
It’s easy to go too far also and make them look overprocessed. The best I think I could do with these was to make them look like they were shot on a not-so-bad expired film, so that’s kind of what I aimed for.
To achieve this, I only adjusted four things in Lightroom. The first two were the Exposure and Contrast sliders in the Light section, which both needed turning up. After that, I went to the Effects section and also turned up the Clarity and Dehaze levels.
The Contrast and Dehaze levels made the biggest difference to the shots, which then needed to have their Exposure corrected afterwards. It was really about balancing them all.
Whether adjusting the Clarity was even necessary or not, I don’t know. I just did it anyway. And so, with the caveat that some were more salvageable than others, here are the results.
Avoiding your own expired film fail
Based on my own experience and some research, I can end this post with some tips for helping you avoid your own base fog-induced expired film fail.
Even these tips can’t guarantee you will, though. In fact, the only surefire way to never have some expired film go wrong on you is to never shoot expired film.
But there are ways to minimise the possibility, and most of them involve the storage, transportation, and age of the film.
Because I bought this one from a shelf, it’s very possible it’s been kept at room temperature rather than in a fridge or freezer for almost two decades.
With it not being made in China, there’s also a chance it’s been through some x-ray machines as it’s travelled who-knows-where in its lifetime. Heat and x-ray can increase the base fog density, and it only gets worse with age.
To lessen the chances of your expired film turning out like mine, you should try to lessen all three factors as much as possible.
The ideal would be to buy a more recently expired film that you know has been kept in cold storage and has never been put through an x-ray machine. While they are supposed to be film safe, the effects can accumulate if a film is repeatedly scanned. It’s worth noting the new ones are deadly too.
The main problem here is all that is very difficult impossible to ensure if you’re buying from someone else. So if you can’t minimise the chances of it happening, the next best thing is to minimise the impact if it does.
That means to not use expired film for anything critical like paid work or a family wedding, to understand that it might turn out bad however careful you are, and be happy to just make the best of it if it does.
I know the results I got from this Dental Slide Film – which I wrote a detailed review on here – are far from perfect. All I could do was follow that last piece of advice myself. 😀
If you enjoyed that post, why not take a look at these others to stay inspired or read some film reviews:
- Another film fail I had with a Holga
- Why it’s good to share photography fails like this
- A comprehensive review of this Dental Slide Film
And if you think others will enjoy this post on my expired film fail too, help them find it by sharing or pinning. 😀