X-ray hazards present a constant source of stress for traveling photographers who shoot film, especially when an itinerary calls for multiple flights.
I always ask for a visual inspection, no matter how insistent X-ray machine technicians are that say my film will be safe. In some airports, especially now, you cannot board the plane unless you submit to the local security procedures.
© Jim Zuckerman
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I shoot medium format (6x7cm), and this gives me an advantage over 35mm shooters for one simple reason: Each 120 or 220 roll of film has an inner plastic core around which the film is rolled. There's no metal. This means that I can stuff my pockets with film and walk through the metal detector - bypassing the X-ray machine - without being hassled.
I make sure that all metal objects, such as coins and keys, are out of my pockets and that I'm not wearing a metal belt buckle and my shoes don't have any hooks or supports that contain metal.
If my pockets bulge with film, sometimes security personnel want to inspect the film. This is what I wanted in the first place, of course … a visual inspection.
When I wear six-pocket pants and a shirt with two large breast pockets, I can carry 80 rolls of 220 film. It's a bit comical, but it works. Inside the plane, I then put all the film back into my camera backpack - or, if I must make a connecting flight, I use the air sickness bag to dump my film so I'm comfortable in the seat. Then, before deplaning, I load up again.
For 35mm shooters, I'd suggest the following. The next time you walk through a metal detector, put five rolls of film in your pocket. Take them out of the box and out of the plastic container. See what the reaction is on the part of security. If they simply see that you have film and pass you through, you'll know that you can increase the number of rolls in the future. If they insist that you put the film through the X-ray machine, you'll know this tactic doesn't work.
On past trips, my film has been X-rayed up to five times, and I haven't noticed any damage. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe most machines are benign.
If you are seriously concerned and don't want to stress yourself at the airport, you can Fed-X the film to the first hotel on the itinerary a few days ahead of your departure. You can then call the hotel to make sure it arrived. It has been my experience that Fed-X, DHL and UPS won't tell you whether or not their parcels are X-rayed. However, it just doesn't make sense that they would do this.
When returning, you can send your film to your home or a photo lab using one of the overnight couriers and again avoid the unpleasantries at check-in.
About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Jim Zuckerman
Few people are able to spend most of their time pursuing their passion in life. I'm one of them, and I feel blessed to have had a love affair with photography since I began taking pictures.
In 1970, I decided to abort my intended career as a doctor in favor of photography and have never regretted it. Photography has enriched my life more than I can tell you. My career has taken me to over 60 countries, and I've seen and photographed wondrous things.
I specialize in wildlife and nature, international travel, and digital effects. In addition, I also shoot nudes, photo- and electron microscopy, children, and other subjects that stimulate my visual or emotional sensibilities.
For 25 years, I shot a medium format camera, specifically the Mamiya RZ 67, for its superior quality. When I would lecture, I’d project the large, glass mounted transparencies, and it was really an incredible experience to see the brilliant color saturation and resolution of these slides. However, I went digital in 2004 because the technology finally equaled or surpassed medium format. I now shoot the Canon 1Ds Mark II digital camera with a variety of lenses.
I am the author of 12 books on photography. My work is sold in 30 countries around the world, and my images have appeared on scores of magazine and book covers, calendars, posters, national ads, trade ads, brochures, and corporate promotions.
For many years I've led photography tours to exotic places. These include Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Burma, Greece, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Spain, Morocco, and Peru.