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Earlier this year, photo-sharing site Instagram was bought by Facebook in a deal worth more than $1bn. Its sale caused no end of comment on social media and news outlets; the BBC News website asked me to write a piece asking whether Instagram has made all our pictures look the same.

I have an iPhone, and have used it now and again, especially for shooting stuff on the hoof during the Olympics for BBC Travel when I didn’t have a film camera to hand. The iPhone’s camera is pretty capable – sharp and capable of nice colour rendition, though pics can be made even more eye-catching using various apps.

Instagram’s effortless rise is very good news for those working at the company – who are now very rich indeed – and for the many people who use it to enhance and share their pics. But, I argued, that endless stream of vignetted cupcakes and cross-processed cups of tea is about as far away from photographic creativity as you can get.

Those lurid colour shifts and slighty unreal feel can be had on film – either by cross-processing slide film as a negative or using expired film.

The pic above, of a cyclist doing tricks on London’s South Bank one cold but bright January morning, was one of the pics I used to show some of the “discovery through accident” that’s one of the biggest joys of photography.

That pic was taken on a roll of Kodak Royal 100 film that expired in 2001 – a decade out of date, and shot on an old Zenit 3M SLR some 40 years old. The Zenit’s one of the simplest SLRs still capable of taking decent results – only a handful of speeds, a dim viewfinder and lenses that need to be stopped-down for correct exposures make it pretty much impossible for sports/action photography unless you really know what you’re doing (and I think the fact this shot turned out half-decent is more by luck than design).

The weird colour shift and creeping fog on the bottom of the frame only really cropped up on the first few pics – shots further along the roll were crisp and colourful. Like many photographers using expired film, that’s one of the roulette factors you can very rarely predict. The results you get can’t ever be replicated; you can’t press a button to get the effects. I could return to that spot and take pics of the bikers every weekend for a year on rolls and rolls of expired film, and the results would be wildly different every time.

Some of the pics on Flickr’s Expired Film group show photos from film months, years – even decades – past the expiry date, often with fantastic results. And the cupcake count, I’m happy to say, is very low indeed.

(A review of the Zenit 3M’s coming soon, but in the meantime check out the Flickr pics here)

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Stephen Dowling
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Mark R.Milan
10 years ago

great post. makes an interesting point. i recently started shooting film as a creative outlet and to re hone my shooting. I forgot how much fun it is waiting for negs/trannys to come back from the lab it. and how expired film is hugely variable.

10 years ago

i love this post! first i don’t have an iphone for several reasons, being one of them the amount of money they cost. for someone who is so present on any other social networks, not being on instagram is always like something on the wishlist. i imagine it as being really cool, and i also think about the positive aspects of being on instagram. i’m a creative photographer based in lisbon, a designer to the world and i sell fine art to the world as well, so i would eventually gain in being present on such network. but on the… Read more »