“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

Ansel Adams

Lost Film


My worst nightmare just came true. Eight rolls of exposed film have gone missing. They are lost in the mail, possibly forever. This is the challenge of shooting film: once it leaves your hands, it’s out of your control. You just have to trust that it will all work out. And while most of the time it does, there will be the occasional screw-up.

Three weeks ago, I packaged and mailed 11 rolls of film to The Darkroom just as I always do. I tracked its delivery online and the day it was due to arrive, USPS stopped updating the tracking number. This is odd, I thought, but I still had faith. Then I get an email from The Darkroom asking me if I was planning to send them the remaining 8 rolls from my order separately. What do you mean? I asked. There should have been 11 rolls. Apparently, only 3 rolls made it. The other 8 had somehow never arrived. It seems that my package must have been damaged in transit (or, God forbid, someone stole my film!) and only part of my shipment made it through. Ironically enough, the 3 rolls that made it were all slide film.

Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I discover that my second shipment of film has gone astray! I sent another 11 rolls of film to The Darkroom a week after the first package and tracking this shipment on USPS has revealed a problem. For some reason, USPS has forwarded my second package to God knows where and have claimed that I had made an error in the address. Not bloody likely! I used the shipping label printed directly from The Darkroom’s website. There was no error on my part. So now I have no idea if the second package will make it to The Darkroom or if I’ve lost another 11 rolls. Sigh. Once is bad luck, twice is incompetence!

Out of sheer frustration, I called Canada Post and filed two complaints—one an insurance claim for the lost film and the other an investigation into the whereabouts of my second package. I’m still waiting for an answer. I have lost all faith in Canada Post (and USPS) and don’t expect any kind of resolution on their behalf. Even if they pay out on the insurance claim, my photos are lost forever.

However, there is one silver lining in all this. Throughout this entire ordeal, The Darkroom has been amazing! They have answered all my questions and even offered to speak with USPS on my behalf. They have a great relationship with their local post office and will let me know if the missing 8 rolls ever turn up (it’s happened before where loose rolls have made their way back to The Darkroom after getting lost). And they will speak with the postmaster to look into the whereabouts of my second package. Hopefully, it will be found and rerouted to The Darkroom.

So what have I learned from all this?

First, package your film so that it is as strong and damage-proof as you can make it. This will also deter anyone from tampering with your package. And make sure that both the destination and return addresses are big and bold so that there is no confusion.

Second, I will no longer trust Canada Post and USPS to deliver my film safely. I will send my packaged film through FedEx from now on. They may or may not be any better, but I can’t risk another issue with the mail.

Third, The Darkroom rocks! Their customer service is second to none. They have exceeded all my expectations in helping me to resolve a problem that did not originate with them. I can’t say this enough: They do a quality job from start to finish and have never disappointed me. I will always send my film to them.

The photo above is not the film I lost, although a roll of Fuji Sensia was among the missing. It’s just a photo of some expired film I purchased six months ago.

  1. Dustin Hern
    Dustin HernJun 26, 2016

    I use FedEx flat rate shipping for all my film and they’ve never let me down. I use their smallest box (not a bag/sleeve/padded envelope, whatever you want to call it). I can go to FedEx and stock up on supplies (I don’t send out film at a lighting pace, so I usually pick up 3-5 sets of boxes and label sleeves at a time and store them with copies of my lab’s order form), and I print a label when I place my shipping order. I’m pretty sure using the label given to you by FedEx is mandatory.

    • Dan
      DanJun 26, 2016

      Thanks Dustin. That’s reassuring. I’ve been using bubble mailers (that’s what the padded envelopes are called), but I think from now on I’ll use a small FedEx box as you’ve suggested. It’s nice to know that FedEx has been reliable for you. Thanks for the good advice!

  2. Adam J Bavier
    Adam J BavierJun 27, 2016

    I’m really sorry to hear about your troubles. What I do when shipping film is to put all the film in a ziplock back, then tape that shut, write the destination and return on the bag, then place all that in another sturdy box with bubble wrap around it and writing the destination and return a 2nd time. This accomplishes two things. 1. keeps the film dry if the box gets wet, 2. if the box is ripped open or crushed open all the film is securely together and labeled with the destination and return address.

    • Dan
      DanJun 27, 2016

      Hi Adam. That’s great advice, thanks. I honestly thought I was packaging my film properly and didn’t think the bubble mailer could be damaged that easily. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I won’t make the same mistake twice!

  3. Amit Chakravarty
    Amit ChakravartyJun 29, 2016

    Really sorry to read this. For these reasons, I prefer to develop and print the negatives myself. Also, the joy of photography lies in this…

    Keep shooting film.

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