Your Film Doesn’t Need to be Refrigerated; Less Shopping. More Shooting.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  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.

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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.

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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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23 thoughts on “Your Film Doesn’t Need to be Refrigerated; Less Shopping. More Shooting.

  1. What a great post 😊 I currently store my film in the top shelf of my fridge (much to the amusement of my husband who finds this very strange 😂). I used to bulk buy and store as I was obsessed with trying out lots of different films but since I’ve got more into medium format photography, I no longer buy 35mm film and have been using up my current stash of what I have. I get through medium format film so quickly that I don’t tend to store it for long. The only other film I have in my fridge is Polaroid film but again, not lots as I tend to use this quite quickly too. Once I’ve used up all the 35mm film in there, then there will hardly be any film stored in my fridge 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure how this is a response to what I’ve said so much as your own small personal account! I don’t believe what you’re doing is best practice, but everyone of course is different.

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    1. Oh no, I see now! Sorry for the confusion. Was just expecting some reaction to my thoughts too. I’d be careful about storing in the film in the bottom of the fridge. I found that food/beverages can sweat or leak down into that compartment. Do you Ziploc everything? Sounds like you have a good system for your workflow though. If you’re not shooting film regularly, then yeah, probably best to cold store.

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  3. This is really solid advice: just buy enough film to last you a little while, and when that runs more, buy more for the next little while. And then you don’t have to worry about storage.

    I did, however, come into 50 rolls of Agfa Vista 200 at a rock-bottom price as it was discontinued, so I bought it and froze it. This (as Fujicolor 200) has been my regular everyday film for years. But after I shoot it all up I’m out of the stocking-up business.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sure, there’s going to be the occasional binge. But overall, I think we put too much emphasis on stocking film based on fear of expiration, maybe discontinuation? Thanks for the simple summary, Jim. Glad you agree!

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  4. Because it makes me feel better and for no other good reason–I keep “special” film in zip lock bags in the refrigerator. By special I mean the last of my Kodak Plus-X and original Agfa APX 100. All of my other stock is in a plastic bin on the shelf with my cameras.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds totally reasonable. Any film you don’t shoot in a reasonable amount of time, should be cold stored. I just want to encourage the use of fresh, new film and using it in a timely manner. Glad you’re keeping the Plus-X and APX alive. Miss those silver APX boxes!

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  5. It’s a good lesson. What to be cool for a while. I have never stored my films in the fridge in 25 years. The films are stored in wooden boxes provided for bottles of wine with silica gel inside and I never had the slightest problem. Thank you for your experience sharing. It’s a pleasure to read you. I hope my English is not too incomprehensible.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve often wondered about this. I remember as a kid when we went on holiday we would buy film from our local Boots (like a British CVS) which just sat out on the shelves. Then we would carry it around with us all day in sometimes warm climates. It never seemed to suffer. My film is stashed in the carry case my scanner came in which in turn is stored in a cupboard. Room temperature. I tend to buy in batches of ten of various films but it’s easier to do this when I’m in the UK or US and bring it back with me than to pay the inflated prices for film here in Bulgaria. I know many film sellers will ship internationally but I do wonder what kind of security procedures there are in place for international shipping and whether there’s a chance my film could get blasted by radiation in a random check.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the thing, I feel that modern film photogs encourage one another to obsess over proper film storage. While it’s important for the long term, if one buys inly what one needs, buys fresh and processes in a timely fashion, without storing in an abusive environment, the film will be fine.

      Stores don’t cold store because they sell the film fast enough not to care. Additionally, consumer grade films are designed NOT to be cold stored, assuming a non-pro isn’t going to.

      Particularly after some negative feedback from a couple film hoarders about this article, I am even more convinced of my point! And also, thanks to sensible photographers like yourself!

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      1. Not that its big, but Yodobashi Camera actually does sell some of its film from refrigerated storage. Particularly Porta, etc.

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  7. As a working pro who started waaaay back in the early 1970s, I used to refrigerate all unexposed film. In those days most 35mm came in gasketed metal screw-top cans, so moisture incursion was highly unlikely. The truth, though, is that I only bought about two weeks’ worth of any particular emulsion at a time — which is your exact recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Guilty hoarder here. I have 20 rolls of Superia 200, a few pro-packs of Velvia 100 from when they were about $55, a 100′ roll of Cinestill 800T, Gold 200 back when I found it at the grocery store for $3/roll, and God knows what else in Ziplocs in the freezer. Also a documentary I’ve been shooting on super 8 for the last 2 summers (I’m gonna get all that film developed at one time). But it’s usually the expired/discontinued/endangered stocks in the freezer, and when I want to shoot some I’ll move it to the fridge. I think it’s the steady climate control I like more than anything else; also I don’t have another good place to put them at the moment that’s outside the fridge, and at least this way I know where all my film is. Other things in the fridge right now: expired rolls of film I picked up at my Aunt’s house recently, 4 rolls of color negative I shot on vacation last summer and haven’t developed yet, and a few rolls of high-speed film on-hand for parties and concerts. Anything I currently use for my photo class is in a locker on campus.

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      1. Sounds very much like the contents of my old film fridge, Joe. If that’s what makes you happy, enjoy! For me, I found all that excess film was a reminder of how much I hadn’t shot and the money I’d spent, and continued to spend on electricity, for the privilege. When I decided to stop refrigerating, I gathered all that film and sold it in logical lots on eBay. I was a little sad to see it go, but after years of not using so much, I knew that wasn’t going to change. And I made quite a good sum of money. I probably paid a bill or two but I definitely also bought fresh film with the proceeds. For me, I’m much happier to have reliable film for client work and to support Kodak/Ilford/Fuji. But yeah, rare stocks, someone has to keep them.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hey Johnny! I have a question. I’m a photography student who shoots black and white film. I went on a trip in early March and shot 11 rolls of 120 film and then my school shut down because of COVID so I no longer have access to a place to process the exposed rolls. I won’t have that access again until September. I’ve been storing in a dark sealed bag in my very dry basement, but I’m not sure that will do for the next three months. What would be your suggestion? I also want to continue shooting this summer to use the film I have, but am worried about effective storage. If I do put it in the fridge, I’m guessing top shelf in a zip lock, but then should it be in a black box too in order to keep unnecessary light away?

    Thanks for your thoughts. Your article was a great read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed the blog, Katia. That’s a shame that you don’t have darkroom access currently but don’t forget that you can easily process in your kitchen or bathroom sink with the appropriate tools and chemistry. Might be worth considering a hundred dollar or so investment!

      But to answer your question, I’m quite sure that your film will be fine. The lower the ISO, the better. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to refrigerate it properly (double bagged in Ziploc or other air tight containers with silica gel packets) but it sounds safe to me. I’ve certainly let my film sit at room temperature for months, even years, after shooting and it came out fine. Particularly if it’s 100 ISO, I wouldn’t even worry about it. If you intend to push process or it’s 3200 ISO film, maybe refrigerate, process yourself or send it out if the film is important to you.

      Stay healthy and let me know how your images turn out!

      Like

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