How to Travel with Film

How to Travel with Film

Note: Before we begin, I must say that I am not a scientist. I do not possess anything other than personal experience and preference. 

What is the Acceptable Level of X-Ray Exposure for Film?

When I think about transporting film I often ask myself one question: What is the acceptable level of x-ray exposure for film?

I'm going to assume that you'll come to the same logical conclusion that I did... none. 

X-rays affect film. You just may not notice it.

So What Do I Do?

There are about as many opinions on what you should do as there are photographers. Here's what I do as a rule of thumb.

Airplanes 

Checked baggage can go through x-ray machines that are many times more powerful than the x-ray used for carry-ons. Always put your film in your carry-on. That said, you need to be aware that there are new CT scanners that have been employed at some security checkpoints that will ruin your film. 

Here's what I do when I fly:

  1. Take the film out of the paper box
    • For 135 leave it in the plastic container
  2. Place it into a gallon sized plastic bag
  3. Write your name on it with permanent marker
  4. Place the bag in your carry-on



When you get to the security checkpoint do everything else you need to (take shoes off, etc.) and then:

  1. Pull out the plastic bag with your film
  2. Tell them you have photographic film
  3. Politely ask for a "hand check"
    • If they ask you what speed, just tell them it needs a hand check

Security Says No

I have not yet had a problem with hand checks for film. I know others have not been so lucky. 

You are ultimately at the mercy of the governing body responsible for the safety of air travel in whatever country you happen to be departing from. They may force you to x-ray your film.

Yes, I have sent my film through the carry-on x-ray and I have not been able to see any issues. The question is, do you want to risk it? 

Lead Bags

I've heard of some people using lead lined bags to protect film in the x-ray machines. I don't personally have any experience with that, but it seems to me that maybe you would draw more attention to yourself trying to pass a bag that is x-ray-proof by security versus pulling out a clear plastic bag and asking for a hand check.

Buy Local

If you can, buy your film at your destination. It will save you the hassle of dealing with security.

Shipping

Many of us find the need to ship film and you should not be scared. 

  1. Package your film as you normally would. 
  2. Apply the following labels found at the following link to the box on multiple sides. Transporting and Storing Kodak Film
  3. Confirm with your carrier that they will not x-ray.

There's also a lot of great information on the Kodak page, so read it all!

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