Why a good film storage is so important?

Elvis Elvis

It’s not a widely understood fact that the production of great nature photography depends to a large degree on the proper storage of unexposed film and negatives which have already been processed.  Storage forms a very important part of the quality control process.  Ideally it will be a partnership between the photographer and the lab.  Unexposed film cannot be dumped in a drawer or closet somewhere for an extended period of time and still be expected to produce optimum color.

Film stored in your refrigerator in a moisture-protected container will outlast and outperform film which has been stored any other way.  My wife and I have successfully stored film in our ‘fridge for several years without any evident deterioration in colour quality.

Film is made up partly of a special emulsified coating that has been designed to record images that have been projected through a camera’s optical system.  In addition to being sensitive to light it is also sensitive to heat, perfume and x-rays to mention some of the more common elements.

I remember getting about 24 rolls of film in the lab from one customer who had been on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Hawaii.  He kept promising his wife for about six months that he would take the film in for processing but he kept putting it off.  He reasoned that the film was safely stored in a plastic bag in the back window of the family car.

Unfortunately for him, it was a very hot summer that year and we didn’t get the film in the lab until mid-September.  By that time the color balance had been absolutely shot and, as a result, he was furious.  He threatened a lawsuit and was planning to make us pay for another trip to Hawaii among other things.

Why a good film storage is so important?

After trying unsuccessfully trying to explain why his photos didn’t turn out the way he expected I finally talked him into sending his film to the Kodak customer complaints office for an explanation of the failure.  He grabbed the address and muttered something about Kodak putting me out of business.  I don’t really know exactly what Kodak told him but he never did launch his lawsuit and we stayed in business.

There are numerous cases of gals who leave negatives in their purses right next to their perfume container and have completely blown the color on the negatives they wanted reprinted.  Once again, the lab is often charged with gross failure in cases like this when, in actual fact, they have had nothing to do with the lousy color reproduction.  They do the best they can but the most sophisticated photofinishing equipment in the world still needs a good negative to produce a good colour print.

Want a quick way to tell whether or not the lab has had a processing problem?  This works especially well when the negatives have been underexposed.  Each roll of film has what is called the “rebate edge”.  This is the area where the 35mm sprocket holes are located.  It is also where the manufacturer has printed the name of the film and the negative numbers.

If the printing on rebate edge is crisp and sharp and quite dark or even black, and the area surrounding the sprocket holes is a healthy orange or orangey-pink color, (this colour is called a “mask”) odds are the film has been process correctly.  This holds true for most Konica, Kodak and Fuji film but some off-brands may have a slightly different colour mask.

If you have any question in your mind about this, ask your lab tech to show you a sample of a properly processed piece of film which you can easily compare with a piece of suspect film for relative differences.

Perhaps this is a good time to tell you about the quality control systems that are supposed exist in most one-hour mini-labs.  I don’t think it’s any secret that Kodak holds the major share of the photofinishing market.  Ask any lab operator and they will tell you that they are supposed to adhere to some pretty strict standards that are sometimes physically monitored and enforced by Kodak.

I have no special axe to grind for Kodak.  It is a large company like any other and I don’t own a nickel’s worth of Kodak stock.  It just so happens that the majority of experience I have had is around the Kodak product lines.  I am certain in this day of computers being able to talk to other computers that the other companies like Fuji and Konica will have similar quality control programs in place.

Every morning each lab has to run a series of controls that will indicate a problem-in-the-making.  These controls are transmitted to Kodak on a regular basis.  In the event that a lab is running outside the normal processing parameters set by Kodak the lab will be called by a service rep to set matters straight before customer film is processed.

This system does not always work as well as it should but it is a whole lot better than it was when no external monitoring at all was taking place.  Customers had to depend on people like me and others like me to do my job correctly.  When techs failed in one way or another, the customer sometimes paid a price.