Tips For Storing Unexposed Film

Five rolls of film arrived in the mail from Analogue Wonderland this morning, which prompted me to write this. So here goes with the tips.

Keep unexposed film in the canister and keep it cool and dry. Humidity is a bigger problem is some locations than others, obviously. Film may need minimal protection in a well ventilated house in the United Kingdom but a lot more protection in a humid climate, so read the following accordingly.

Keeping film cool doesn’t have to mean keeping it in a freezer of refrigerator. It will help, but only if you can be sure the containers are airtight. Otherwise the film won’t keep dry, and it’s as important to keep film dry as it is to keep it cool.

Cool means 10-20°C (50-70°F) and keep the film as near a constant temperature as possible because temperature variations degrade film because of expansion and contraction.

Store canisters upright to minimise contact between the layers on the roll. In other words don’t store on their side or the layers will be resting on one another under their own weight and can stick together or chemical can migrate through contact.

Put a desiccant bag with the film canisters to absorb any moisture. Desiccant bags come packaged with lots of products we get in the post and they can be dried out under gentle heat and reused over and over. Remember the chemical in the desiccant bag is poisonous so dry over a heater and not in an oven or microwave.

Keep film away from magnetic fields – not usually a problem in a house, but it is a problem going through airport security. The problem is worse when going more than once through airport security and it is worse with a high ISO film such as 3200 ISO. So maybe plan ahead to buy film at your destination to minimise the number of times the film passes through the scanner. You can ask airport security to examine by hand, but they may not agree.

Storing Exposed Undeveloped Film

If you are not going to develop your film right away, then all the tips here apply to exposed film also.

Some photographers amass a lot of undeveloped film. Gary Winogrand would keep his exposed rolls for a couple of years sometimes before he developed them. That wasn’t because he was lazy. it was because he wanted to remove himself from the scene he exposed. He wanted to see the photo as though he was looking are someone else’s photographs. Anyone who photographs knows what this means, that we see things in the scene of our own photographs and give them qualities an unbiased eye doesn’t see.

When reviewing a street photo from a contestant, Martin Parr said ‘But it is not a photograph’. I forget the photo, but let’s say it is a person walking along or standing still. Is there is a story in there – an expression, a stance, something that says there is a recognition of the human condition in there? When you think about it, it’s relationships with others and the way they handle that, that make humans interesting. If that’s not there then as Parr says, it is not a photograph – it is just a random snap the photographer could have taken with his or her eyes shut.

The reason I am mentioning all this is that at his death Winogrand’s refrigerator contained more than 2,500 exposed but undeveloped rolls he’d shot. There was a big hoo-ha after his death about whether his later films were any good but the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. thought so. They had a retrospective of Winogrand’s work including from some of the 2500 rolls of film Winogrand never developed.