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Protect Your Film from X-Ray Damage During Air Travel

Traveling by air with film is an adventure in and of itself, but well worth it. You will need to prepare for your trip though. This article offers tips for a successful photo expedition; most importantly, getting to your destination and back without x-ray damage to your film.

When you fly, take your camera and plenty of film. Analogue does more than capture your memories from a trip; it captures the feelings too. Your camera also causes you to interact differently with the environment: you are more observant and people are more likely to be curious about and approach you. Finally, you will be as delighted by the surprises when you return and develop your film, like the boar in the cloud below, as your friends will be when you share your treasures with them.

Preparing for travel with film.

X-rays used in security screening will damage your film, so prepare carefully for your analog adventures. For an illustration of the consequences of checking your bag with film or passing it too many times through carry-on x-ray equipment, see Kodak’s pictures of ruined negatives and resulting prints at Kodak.

Before you travel, check the airport security guidelines for carrying camera and film. If you will be traveling in the United States, the Transportation Safety Administration provides advice at TSA. During my first trip with an analog camera, I found TSA agents friendly and helpful when requesting a hand inspection of my film. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you have a very long flight itinerary, I strongly suggest mailing your film. It was a major hassle going through six hand inspections—two in Amman, two in Frankfurt, and two in Newark—when returning from Jordan. Send your film to your place of destination in advance to avoid delays and possible damage. Use a well-known shipping company with media mail services. Call your lodging for delivery instructions. Consider the convenience and security of using a mail-in film development service, such as the Lomography Film Lab at http://usa.shop.lomography.com/films/film-development-services.

Pick a wide variety of film that suits your tastes and the unique qualities of your destination. In Jordan, I took a day trip to magnificent Petra.

I used Lomography Redscale XR 50-200 to capture the dusty oranges and dry environs of the desert.

The canyon paths were a black-and-white photographer’s dream. I used Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White film to capture the full tonal range of the surrounding cliffs.

Amman’s night life and people come to life with a roll of cross-processed film. I used Fuji Velivia 35mm 100 ISO film to capture the personality and mood on the streets and on the trail.

Don’t forget to take a handful of color negative film to capture all of the unforgettable moments you will want to share with your friends.

Packing your film with care.

Packing your camera and film are easy. Here are some tips to keep your film safe:
1. Buy as much film as you can carry.
2. Throw away the cardboard packaging.
3. Keep the film in those iconic plastic canisters. If you have empty clear canisters, use these instead of opaque canisters.
4. Use a transparent zip-lock bag; don’t bother with buying a lead-lined pouch.
5. Place your film baggie in your carry-on where you can very easily locate and retrieve it.

Protecting your film during travel.

If you want to make it to your destination and back home with film undamaged by x-rays, remember these do’s and don’ts:

1. Do be prepared.
2. Do not pack film in checked bags.
3. Do put your film in your carry-on bag.
4. Do not forget to remove your film when passing through security check-points.
5. Do pull your film out early.
6. Do not dig around in your bag and hold up the line.
7. Do ask for a hand inspection.
8. Do not be rude to the security officer.
9. Do smile and say thank you.
10. Do not forget to develop and share your photos soon after travel.

I hope this article helps you enjoy your photo adventure par avion. Please share your pictures from your analog adventures on your Lomo Home. Put a link to your expedition’s photo album in the comment section. And if you have tips for making it home with the most precious souvenir from your trip, your film, please share them here.

written by cassidy


  1. adzfar


    Nice tips!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  2. skrutt


    Nice tips! Will remember these when I go abroad this summer! I had no idea you could take out the films and ask for hand inspection.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  3. jezzyjung


    Great tip & Great photos

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  4. stipley


    What about putting film in your large/non-hand luggage? Will that be ok?

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  5. mazott


    I recently went to Macau and my films got x-ray scanned in the Macau Airport. The custom official said the x-ray is film safe up to 32000 iso, so I had no choice but to scan it ... I have already send my films to process, hopefully there is no real damage.....

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  6. mikeydavies


    Awesome! X

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  7. myahcat


    I've travelled loads with film in both my checked and hand luggage. Never had any problems. I think, like @mazott said, the machines are safe now for film. I may be wrong, and maybe my next trip will prove it... but so far, so good.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  8. mintandcoke


    Lucky you. In Portugal, Brasil and France security officers were adamant: film could NOT be hand inspected, it had to go through x-rays. I was told no film under 1600 ISO would be affected by the x-rays. The only place where they let me take the ziplock bag out was Italy. Anyway, I got an xpro film that looked a little washed out, but I am not sure weather it was the expired film, my crappy scanner or the x-rays effects.. :)

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  9. adi_totp


    nice tips! :D

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  10. lomonesia


    nice tips ang great photos

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  11. norabernard


    This is interesting. I'm going to the Bahamas from New York City...yikes! Should I take my camera out of the 120mm wrapper for it to be checked?
    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  12. bridgetj


    I found myself digging for "flying with film" info last summer when I travelled with film cameras for the first time in two decades. The Kodak site linked in the tipster is very useful. I let a few rolls go through the scanner on the outbound flight, but since I bought more film at my destination, I requested hand-inspection of about 15 rolls (in a largish ziplock bag) of 120 film at Boston Logan on the way home. They were happy to do it, even though none of the film was over 400iso. When asked, I told them honestly that it was low-speed, but some of it had already been scanned once and I was trying to avoid cumulative scans. They used one of those chemical sniffer wand things like they use on laptops. He opened the newly-bought 5-pack box and wiped the ends of each roll individually, but he didn't take the new rolls out of the foil - I kind of expected he might, but no.

    Caveat: The airport was absolutely NOT busy at the time. No line at security. I got there quite a bit early.

    I kept notes about which rolls had been scanned - none of my film showed fogging when it was developed. YMMV.

    My advice? Take low-speed film. Keep it in your carry-on. Get to the airport early. Ask very nicely for a hand-check. If it must go through the scanner, treat that film as an experiment. Experiments are fun!

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  13. halamoodie


    Mint! Thanks for the advice and ace photographs! I had a film ruined as it was left in my camera and was scanned twice due to a connecting flight! Booo! :(
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  14. itsdebraanne


    So ask for a hand inspection instead of the X-ray if i have film in carry-on? okaay (:

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  15. vicuna


    Thanks for the tips and great pictures of Petra! I travel a lot and never had any problem with all the films I carry around... and no film was ever damaged by the x-rays for me... perhaps I always was lucky?

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  16. superkulisap


    If you have a changing bag, then you can use that as an anti-xray bag. Put in all your films and cameras loaded with films inside your changing bag and that should do it. That's what I do when I travel. Hand checking is the safest way though but I find it a bit time-consuming especially when you carry more than 10 rolls. Cheers! :)

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  17. traci516


    Good article. Definitely have to echo bridgetj's point about getting there early. I forgot about this fact recently and almost missed my flight because I had them hand inspect my film. =)

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  18. ianaggie


    I have found that older expired rolls are definitely more susceptible to xrays than fresh film. I always keep mine in a ziplock bag and have them hand check them.

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  19. gorableme


    It's nice to know that...

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  20. violetz


    What about films already INSIDE your camera? If I ask for manual inspection so there's the risk that they'll open the camera burning the photos already taken! [I'm sorry for my poor english!!]

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  21. kaimcn

    I'm traveling domestically in Canada this weekend and hoping that I can get away with a manual inspection. With luck I"ll remember to NOT load my camera before going through security.

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  22. bluemie5


    Great pictures of Petra!

    about 2 years ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Deutsch, Italiano & Spanish.