How to Travel with Photographic Film

How to travel with film, another seemingly tricky question within the long list of analogue photography myths and fairy tales. But do not fear!

Although it is unlikely any of us will be travelling anytime soon, we can dream 😊  And this article aims to answer all your film photography travel questions, so by the time holidays are back on the cards you will be ready and raring to go - with your analogue gear safely in hand.

What's the problem with travelling and film photography?

Early last year, to add to the wonderful year that was 2020, some of the major film brands such as Kodak, Fuji Film and Ilford issued warnings about new and enhanced CT scan technology and the serious damage it could do to unprocessed photographic film.

How to Travel with Film | Plane

Tales from the Film Community

We do have some unfortunate travel tales from the community, see some of the tweets we were sent below. Fogging seems to be the main issue to watch out for, but don't worry we have plenty of tips to make sure you're prepared for your next trip!

How to Travel with Film| tweet from @ZDP189
How to Travel with Film| Tweet from @The6millionPman
How to Travel with Film| Tweet from @npsnapper

What's a CT scanner?

CT, standing for Computerised Tomography, uses much more powerful rays than x-rays in order to form a 3D image of the scanned object. Of course, this is to keep us all safe but our beloved film has had to make the sacrifice. Film can be damaged after just one pass through a scanner, even low ISO films.

How to Travel with Film| Security Check sign

Will CT scanners damage my film?

The CT scanners can cause fogging- this is defined as ‘the deterioration in the quality of the image or the negative caused either by extraneous light, other electromagnetic radiation, radioactivity or the effects of a processing chemical.’ Fujifilm also noted other damaging effects such as distortion in shadow detail and general image degradation. In other words, your photos just aren’t going to pack the same punch!

Jelmer Quist from Emulsive was brave enough to take the ultimate test and put their film through a CT scanner! One roll wasn’t put through the scanner and the other took the plunge. You can see the results of the experiment here.

How to Travel with Film| Security scan belt

The Good News

This all may sound quite worrying, but fear not, you can still take your favourite films with you on your next get away!. There are plenty of tips and tricks to protect your film, and most airport security will happily hand check your film, so you can avoid it being put through the monstrous CT scanner!

How to Travel with Film| Film negative and smiley faces

Our top tips and tricks for travelling with film

Get a case for your film! Or re-use your Analogue Wonderland packaging!

All our branded packaging comes with xray and ct scan warning indicators printed on the box, which may be useful when you’re going through airport security.

How to Travel with Film| X-ray warning on Analogue Wonderland Packaging

We also sell some handy cases, some of which also have the x-ray warnings printed on them.

Pack your film away safely!

Take your film out of all its packaging and wrappers and store it in a transparent, ziplock bag (the same way you would for all your liquids in your hand luggage). This way you can easily show it to airport security for hand inspection!

How to Travel with Film| Zip lock bag of film

Easy access

Airport security is certainly not the most thrilling part of any trip. Make the process as smooth and quick as possible by keeping your film somewhere that you have easy access to. A side pocket or other easy-access area of your carry-on for quick removal is ideal!

How to Travel with Film| Putting film in side pocket of suitcase

Keep your friends close, but your film closer!

To lessen the chance of our film accidentally going through a scanner, DON’T put it in any luggage or baggage that will be put in hold storage. This includes cameras that still have film in them.

How to Travel with Film| Film canister with heart graphic

Load later

This tip is less to do with the airport scanners and security checks, and more to do with the actual radiation we are exposed to during our flight. Did you know that the amount of radiation commercial pilots are exposed to a year is the equivalent of about 75 chest X-rays? (Travelstatsman) This kind of radiation, known as cosmic radiation, can damage your photographic film. In order to prevent this it is advised to load your camera after you fly. This is because the lead in your canister of film will protect the rest of your film from being damaged. However, if it is unrolled and loaded in a camera, it leaves more of the film vulnerable to come into contact with the low level radiation that we experience during fights.

Pack films that like it hot!

As mentioned in our blog on storing film, it is always best to keep your films in a cool, dark and dry place. So if you're planning on jetting off to somewhere lovely and warm, with perhaps a more humid climate, your films may not be as excited about this adventure as you.

So before you travel, why not consider picking a film that performs well in a hotter climate? Did you know that Kodak Pro Image was specially formulated and designed predominantly for Asian and South American markets. These areas of the world have much hotter climates than we are used to, hence the films have been designed to perform well in this heat. Kodak Pro-image is unique in that it can can be stored safely at room temperatures for long periods of time, including hot and humid climates. (see our youtube video on it here).

Send your film home first!

Another way to avoid the airport security is to send your film home to the lab before you make your way back (you could even re-use your Analogue Wonderland packaging to send it home as it has x-ray warnings on!). You could bring a pre-paid mailer with you (but of course this means relying on the post in whatever country you’re in). Consider shipping your exposed film to the film lab for processing prior to your return trip… It’s easy if you take some prepaid mailers from The Darkroom.

How to Travel with Film| Posting film home from abroad

Positive Experiences from the Film Community!

Have a read through of some tweets from the film community, sharing their more positive experiences of travelling with film! See, nothing to worry about (just don't miss your flight)!

How to Travel with Film| Tweet from @CheryleeLegair
How to Travel with Film| Tweet from @janvandergaag
How to Travel with Film| Tweet from @_skip_town

So there are definitely some risks when you travel with photographic film - CT scanners, heat, the radiation from flying are just some of the things to look out for.

But hopefully you are now feeling prepared and excited for the day we can all travel with our cameras again! I have my speech for airport security ready and can't wait for the chance to photograph somewhere that isn't just my local high street 😂

Edit: We have just heard from a lovely member of the film community who was travelling through Bristol airport today that there were no issues! "I went through Bristol airport security and had no issues with film being hand checked. They were outside of plastic containers in clear plastic bags and they were hand checked within a few minutes." Brilliant news, thanks for the heads up Clarke!😁

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