The Phoblographer Answers: Why Does Instant Film Not Work So Well in Cold Weather?

If you’re one of those photographers who uses Instax film, Impossible Project film, or have your hands on a little bit of Fujifilm Peel Apart, then you’ve probably noticed just how frustrating it can be to use instant film in cold weather. This is an issue photographers have been facing for a really long time, but if you consider it carefully you’ll realize how much it makes sense.

In this short article, we’ll explain exactly what happens.

The Instant Film Process

When you load up Instant film into a camera, the pack of film is protected by a dark slide of some sort. When this is ejected, you’re ready to shoot. So you typically end up taking your camera, snapping a photo and either the camera itself ejects the image or you do so manually, depending on what kind of camera you’re using. Each exposure has its own development chemicals that are spread through the photo via the rollers used to eject the image.

Either way, the Polaroid (we’ll call it that for ease) is exposed. In warmer weather and environments, the images get developed with ease. The colder it is, the longer it will take or the greater the possibility of it not even developing.

What Goes Wrong?

The film development (no matter what type) typically needs to take place in warm environments. The same thing happens with Instant film. Your exposure has development chemicals and, in warmer environments, they have no issues going through the exposure via the rollers. But when cold weather happens, the film development chemicals either freeze up (due to the laws of chemistry) or become less effective.

With peel apart film, what photographers used to do in fairly cold environments is place the exposure into something called a cold clip. This clip was then placed under the photographer’s armpit or in a jacket pocket to develop using body heat.

But if the environment is too cold, then the chemicals won’t even pass through. This is less apparent with both Fujifilm Instax and Impossible Project film. But the films are still affected in some way or another.

How to Fix This

If you’ve got the option of manual exposure ejection, then you’re in luck. Shoot your image as you normally would. Then head inside to a significantly warmer environment of anywhere warmer than 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the camera warm up, but do it slowly and naturally lest you cause fogging to happen with the lens or let something weird happen to the chemistry. When your camera is all warm, eject the photo. This works with all film types.

If your camera automatically ejects film, then things get a bit more complicated. Luckily, that’s only with Instax and Impossible film, which have a more robust chemical mixture. When the camera ejects the film, you’ll want to put it in a pocket, under your armpit or somewhere else very warm and where the film has body heat to work with. Try to grab the film by its sides.

Eventually, it will develop clearly.