Photographic film is a chemical product so it’s quality will be affected by many physical and chemical parameters. Below is a list of parameters that will affect the storage of film:

  1. Temperature
  2. Humidity
  3. Light
  4. X-Ray

Pre-exposed Film

  1. Unprocessed film must be kept cool to preserve quality
  2. Stores film at 55°F / 13°C or below
  3. Keep film cool until just before shooting
  4. For storage of film for longer than 6 months, store at 0°F / -18°C
  5. Allow frozen film to warm up gradually before opening box, to avoid condensation
  6. Avoid prolonged exposure of film rolls under strong sunlight or loading film into camera under direct sunlight
  7. Avoid storing film in hot vehicles
Storage at 55°F / 13°CStorage at 0°F / -18°C
135/120 roll film in original packing1 hour3 hours
Sheet film in original packing2 hours5 hours
Warm Up Time to room temperature (20°C) in original sealed package

Exposed but Unprocessed Film

Generally speaking, exposed film should be sent to processing immediately to avoid latent image regression.

  1. Process film promptly after exposure
  2. Avoids “Latent Image Regression”
  3. Keep film cool after exposure too
  4. If processing is delayed, put film in refrigerator
  5. Allow frozen film to warm up gradually before opening can for processing, refers to the above warm up table before sending the film to processing.

Processed Film

Storage of processed film is also important as this contains years of hard work of a photographer.

Keep Film Clean

Avoid a buildup of fingerprints, dirt, and dust; these contaminants often contain chemicals or fungus spores that can harm the image. If you suspect that your films are dirty, clean them carefully before you store them. If you use envelopes or plastic sleeves to protect the films, be sure that the material has no potential for harming them. The glossy surface of some plastic sleeves may cause ferrotyping (glazing) of a processed film, which leads to density variations in a print/scan made from it. Paper envelopes that meet the standards for photographic materials are better for long-term storage of films.

Keep Film Dry and Cool

Processed films intended for long-term storage require special care, but you can store films for short-term use under normal room conditions. In climates where the relative humidity regularly approaches 60 percent, use a dehumidifier or other means of reducing the humidity in the storage area. Keep the temperature low for long-term storage. High temperature and high relative humidity can affect processed films. A temperature between 2°C (35°F) and 13°C (55°F) and a relative humidity between 30 and 35 percent are excellent conditions for long-term storage of processed films. The storage temperature for black-and-white films is not as critical as for color films, but you should control the relative humidity. An RH below 25 percent can lead to brittleness; an RH above 60 percent encourages mold and fungus growth.

Keep Film in Dark

Light affects photographic dyes; for short-term storage, put films in a dark place—metal drawers or file boxes, for example. Metal is better than wood or plastic because wood and plastic may contain preservatives or volatile substances that can affect the films.

X-Ray

X-ray mainly affects unprocessed film. Airports use x-ray equipment to scan checked and carry-on baggage. Film can tolerate some x-ray exposure but excessive amounts result in objectionable fog (an increase in base film density and a noticeable increase in grain). The effect of x-ray is cumulative on unprocessed film. The more x-ray scans received by the film, the more damages it would cause. Also, the faster the film the greater the effects of the x-rays. Not only is there danger from X-rays, but security and customs agents may open containers of unprocessed film, ruining weeks of work.

X-ray damages to unprocessed film is that it would cause uneven density areas on the film after processing. Below is a processed color negative film image from Kodak which they did the test many years ago.

X Ray Effect on Color Negative Film

Nowadays, it is impossible to avoid going through x-ray scan when travelling. My personal advice is to avoid putting the unprocessed film in check-in baggage, and always hand carry the film. It is because x-ray scanners for check-in baggage tend to use higher dosage for bigger size of bags. The hand carry baggage scanners usually are smaller in size and use smaller dosage x-ray. Also, you may request hand check on the film if situation permits.

However, carrying film in hand carry baggage is not 100% safe, and touch-wood say, I have never experienced any x-ray damage on my film in the past 20 years since all airports increase the security scanning after the 911 disaster.

Some photographers would like to put the film inside those x-ray proof bag and leave the films in check-in baggage. Personally I won’t do this. I believe that if the bag protects the film by absorbing the x-ray, it will show a dark object on the scanner monitor which makes the custom officers even more suspicious. Then he will either open the check-in baggage for inspection, or increase the x-ray dosage so he can see through the object. Either action may result in extra risk on the film, and most importantly, you are not present to see what had been done to your film.

I have been carrying my film (from ASA100 to ASA400) when travelling in both check in and hand carry baggage every time, fortunately, I have never experienced a X ray problem.

H. M. Lai

Summary

Unexposed FilmExposed but Unprocessed FilmProcessed Film
Temperature13°C (55°F) or belowProcess promptly or store at 13°C (55°F) or below2°C (35°F) to 13°C (55°F)
HumidityAvoid condensationAvoid condensation35%
LightAvoid direct light to cause foggingAvoid direct light to cause foggingStore in dark area to avoid dye fading
X-rayAvoid high dosage to cause foggingAvoid high dosage to cause foggingMay not cause any damage
Ideal Film Storage Condition

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2 Comments

John H Carter · September 26, 2020 at 2:17 am

Once, I think, I had some light scanner exposure of my film. My carry on bag was stopped in the scanner while the person in charged flirted with a female as she walked by (Peru). It was in the scanner for 5 minutes. Have you ever had a problem with the checkers not wanting to ‘hand check’ your carry on?

    H M Lai · September 26, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Dear John,

    There are always custom who refuse to hand check. Then there is no choice and I will have to follow the instruction and let the film in my hand carry bag to go through the x ray. Fortunately, I have never experience any problem that is visible to my eyes.

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