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I am new to film photography; however, I recently had this strange little idea to take some photos and just leave them undeveloped until I am nearing the end or my family is looking at them after my passing. I think the element of surprise would be novel and the idea of being the first to see a decades old memory captures some of the essence of photography to me. I was wondering if this concept would be possible to accomplish, however, given that film naturally has an expiration. Is there a means of preserving it to be developed decades down the road, or some esoteric technology that may be suitably used?

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I recently had this strangle little idea to take some photos and just leave them undeveloped until I am nearing the end or my family is looking at them after my passing.

How disappointed do you think you'd be if, after being given a prognosis of a few months, you attempt to develop your film, but they're all fogged?

What if your family simply doesn't care to attempt to develop them and just discards them? It's very common. I've seen lots of discarded negatives, slides, photos, etc.

Is there a means of preserving it...

Develop now. Store in a cool, dry place.

... to be developed decades down the road...

Store in a freezer.

... or some esoteric technology that may be suitably used?

Scan and upload your photos to Facebook. After your passing, Facebook will periodically spam your old friends' and family members' feeds with your photos.

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    Plus 1 for the "develop now, store in a cool, dry place" option. also, archival storage materials and in a binder with something like "the secret photos my family has never seen, but I want them to when I kick it, so don't throw them away you nerds" written on it... (MY family would get a kick out of that statement, you might want to go with something a little less flippantly sarcastic) :D Also, label your vinyl collection the FaxTax Wax Stax ;) – LightBender Apr 20 at 15:03
  • As you said it’s better to develop the film and then store it safely. There is a better chance some one in the family might be interested to look at the negatives and get the images in a scanner than if left undeveloped. And who knows maybe the developing chemicals that we see today may no longer be available by then or too expensive to even give a try. – The_Vintage_Collector Apr 20 at 22:39
  • That is funny. Facebook is certainly becoming increasingly esoteric these days XD – FaxTax Apr 25 at 21:16
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If you leave something unfinished it will probably stay unfinished. People have enough to do tying up the normal loose ends after someone croaks. Schubert’s unfinished symphony stayed unfinished for a long time and most people are no Schubert.

The same effect can be achieved by developing the images and including their sharing in your will. Talk to your attorney about it.

Suppose the film is in your freezer. It will likely be cleaned out with the frozen fish, ice cube trays and the two scoops at the bottom of the ice cream carton.

Some films have a very short window for maintaining a latent image after exposure. Ilford recommends development within two months of exposure for PanF+, for example.

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Develop now, see and decide. A developed film suffers way less from storage.

  1. Films fog. Low temperature helps... to an extent. Low-sensitivity b/w films may be preserved for decades, but it is more of hit and miss rather than an established method.

  2. Films gradually lose latent image. Low temperatures help to an extent.

  3. Low temperature promotes condensation as well, leading to corrosion of the cylinder and scratching the film by the rust particles afterwards. Condensate may damage the emulsion as well.

  4. Long storage and/or low temperature makes the film fragile. You may not be able to unwind it.

  5. Developing chemicals and/or tools and/or knowledge may or may not be freely available after a while. These chemicals are dangerous (regulation never sleeps) and of niche use. I wouldn't bet on developer chemicals being freely available 20 or 30 years from now.

Then again, nothing stops you from trying and you need only some luck for succeeding.

If you try, ... good luck.

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Initially I didn't want to answer this question, as it seems a bit of a duplicate of other questions already on the site to me, but it seems to have gained some traction...

Some people seem to be writing off this idea as a futile exercise, but if my dad told me that he had a roll of film that he wanted to have developed after he died, I'd certainly see to it being done. It helps that both he and I are photography enthusiasts - worth keeping in mind.

As for practicalities, I'd suggest using a 35mm ISO 100 black & white film. My suggestion... Kodak T-Max 100. Traditional black & white film is better able to withstand slightly higher temperatures than colour negative film. As for developing/scanning - of course it depends on the timescale involved, but I think it will be very easy to find someone to develop 35mm B&W film in 10 years, and I think the chances of the same in 20 years are still very good.

Keep the film somewhere sensible - a fridge is fine - not in a box in the attic. Protect it from condensation - for example, keep it in a ziplock bag, and allow to acclimatise before opening. Tell someone in your family about your idea - see if they seem interested. If so, ensure someone knows the film is there and what they should do with it.

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    I very much agree with you that it is not a futile exercise, just a potentially disappointing one. When my great aunt died, in her fridge were a couple of exposed rolls dated from just before the accident that had crippled her for the rest of her life. They had been stored as well as could be hoped, but even knowing that it was a very slim chance, I had them developed anyway. I was heartbroken to discover that the last pictures she ever shot were lost to time. Developing now allows preserving the surprise without risking losing everything to unstable chemistry. – LightBender Apr 21 at 12:57
  • I'm sorry that the experience with your great aunt's photographs wasn't a success, but it does happen that amazing photos are discovered after a person dies. Vivian Maier and Garry Winogrand are prime examples. – osullic Apr 21 at 13:13
  • YouTube, in its infinite wisdom of what interests me, just suggested this short video to me - nice and interesting. 50 Year Old Film Developed – osullic Apr 22 at 17:47
  • @osullic I believe Maier developed the film she exposed around the times she exposed it. Very few of the negatives were printed during her lifetime. If her film had not been developed, it is unlikely an art collector would have acquired her work, found it valuable, and published it posthumously. – Bob Macaroni McStevens Apr 25 at 6:09
  • @BobMacaroniMcStevens most of her film was developed, but if you take a quick look at the 2 trailers I posted, both mention these photographers leaving undeveloped film behind. – osullic Apr 25 at 11:51
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For french speakers, hier is an interview from a photography chemist who explains that he regularly receives old film several tens of years of age to develop. Probably not stored in special good way.

If the quality is not the best he says that most of the time something is going to show on it.

https://pages.rts.ch/la-1ere/programmes/on-en-parle/01-03-2021#11975175 (around 10min)

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