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Tip: Smell Your Film Rolls to Figure Out Their Relative Age



Suppose you come home from a trip in which you shot many rolls of film. You want to develop your film chronologically, but found that you forgot to label them with their order. What do you do? I have a solution… a chemical solution (photography joke): smell your film.

I have a heavy addiction to smelling film whenever I get new rolls. After shooting my film, I one day realized that the film smell slowly disappears. This gave me an idea: I began sniffing my Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film to determine how old an unlabeled roll is.

If the film smells really chemically, then it’s a newer roll, so develop that one last if you’re trying to go in chronological order. If the film smells like nothing, then develop that one first.

When the film is exposed, the chemical smell starts to wear off, so your recent film will smell stronger. Eventually the film’s smell will wear off completely and you won’t be able to smell it any more, so this trick only works for a recently exposed batch of film rolls (rather than film that has been sitting around for a long time).

This trick usually works for me, but as with most tricks of this sort, your mileage may vary. For a foolproof system, just label your film.

About the author: Jack Lindeberg is a photographer who enjoys shooting film. He shoots with a Canon AE-1 program and a waterproof Canon SureShot WP-1.

Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Dennis Wong