Sometimes the dumbest ideas are perpetuated on the internet.
Storing ones film in the fridge is one of them.
Like many adamant film photographers, I too, used to buy months or even years worth of film when there was a sale. And I’d store it in a little mini fridge. I would open the door and feel very proud of myself. Stacks of golden boxes of Portra, glorious green Fuji Pro, pricey P3200, many films in every ISO and format. Opening my film fridge was like opening a shutter to a beautiful view of heaven.
But then one day, the power went out. For several hours.
Because the mini fridge had a built-in ice-box, all the frost melted and dripped down into the refrigerator section. Of course, I didn’t notice this happened until I went to get some film a day or so after the outage. I was horrified to see hundreds of dollars worth of 35mm and 120 film boxes soaking wet.
Sadly, I removed everything from the fridge, threw out all the wet cardboard boxes and dried off the film as best I could. The unexposed 120 film of course was sealed in those foil wrappers so those were safe. But some of the 35mm somehow got moisture inside the plastic canisters. And the film that was exposed and no longer packaged, pretty much instantly ruined.
Hundreds of dollars worth of film now unable to be used for important work because there was no way of knowing if condensation had occurred inside on the film or not. Nearly an entire mini-fridge of film reduced to Lomography experimentation.
But I learned my lesson. I bought a big box of gallon sized Ziploc bags and about a hundred packets of silica gel. I slowly replenished my film stash and bagged and organized everything and built the whole sorry mess back up again.
Some years went by. I’d moved a few times and my film stash always followed. I had the occasional power outage. There was water on the bags but it wouldn’t get on my film anymore! I reveled in showing guests that my film had its own little refrigerator and how full it was. I’m sure they were really impressed (sarcasm).
I had it all figured out.
As the Ziplocs wore out, and silica gel packets bulgy, I’d replace them. It was a small bit of maintenance for such a great thing I had going.
Once when I was going through all my film, I realised that a good deal of it had long expired according to the dates marked on the packages.
So I rescued my film from water and condensation, regularly re-bagging and tending to it like a little garden. But I was buying too much and not shooting it in a timely manner. Did it matter if the film expired if it had been cold-stored its whole life? In some cases, I found this was okay such as slower consumer grade and b&w films. With pro and higher speed stocks, it wasn’t. Colors got inaccurate, ISO lost sensitivity. So I was back to that sad point from a few years ago; laboring over a good size pile of film that I couldn’t use reliably for important work.
By now I was shooting weddings, some local events and portraits. The point of the fridge was to always have any film I wanted when I needed it. But could I simply buy film at a smarter pace and NOT refrigerate it? I have long been a proponent of supporting film manufacturers. But overbuying isn’t really support. Businesses need steady streams of income, not random lumps of it. And hoarding random lumps of film wasn’t getting me anywhere either.
So I began buying thirty to forty rolls of necessary 35mm films for each wedding and 5-10 rolls for any portrait shoot, only once they were scheduled and paid for. And I keep about 15 rolls handy for unexpected projects and my near daily, spontaneous stream of consciousness shooting. I don’t buy more film until I am starting to run low. I don’t hunt for deals and hoard film anymore. When a discontinuation is announced, I don’t stock up on it. I buy new, fresh, readily available film at full retail and then I use it within a few months at most. I never hold a roll of film for a year much less multiple years.
I keep the film safely organized in a kitchen cabinet now, or in my camera bags, where it belongs. No thaw period required before I load the film. No maintenance of replacing bags and packets every few months. And no excess film expiring in a dark corner. No wasted electricity. No fear of potential condensation related issues. And an extra bit of space in my house where the film fridge once stood.
I sometimes open my kitchen cabinet and only see a handful of rolls there. Then I order some more until that happens again. And instead of getting high off the pride of seeing piles of my favourite films languishing, unspent and expiring before my eyes, I feel proud about all the quality, non-experimental photos I’m taking and money and time I’m saving by only buying what I need, when I need it.
Consumer grade, black and white and low ISO films can survive at room temperature for several years without any noticeable degradation at all. Hell, leave them in your boiling hot car for a couple weeks. Even professional color and high speed films will perform perfectly after months at normal room temperature. Instant film and the built-in battery can be damaged if frozen or kept too cold.
If you aren’t burning your film within a couple months after purchase, you aren’t shooting enough. Plain and simple.
Buy it. Shoot it. Less shopping. More shooting.
If you’re attempting to establish a second Library of Congress that specializes in rare and obscure film stocks, be my guest. It’s good someone is doing that but, how many of us really NEED to be doing that? How is that going to help keep film photography viable as a medium? How is that going to improve your personal photography?
As with my desire to rid myself of all excess cameras and commit to only a few quality ones, ridding myself of all excess film has kept my results predictable and more consistent in style. So instead of wondering how/if something will turn out, I KNOW it will turn out.
How do you store your film? How much do you buy? Saving any obsolete stocks from certain death in your deep freeze? Let me know!
Thanks for reading!
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