How To Choose The Perfect Photo Lab

I believe that as film photographers, our lab is our creative partner.  

It is the photographer’s job to choose a film stock, find the light, pose the subject and create the photo.  It is the lab’s job to properly process the negatives and scan the images in a way that meets the photographer’s vision and expectation.  Both bring their expertise to the table.  And the end result is a beautiful image born out of working together.

The importance of this partnership can not be overstated. The lab you choose will effect the look of your photos.  You can take the same negative and have it scanned at five different labs and it will look different every time (trust me, I’ve done it!)  

So how do you go about finding the perfect lab?  With all the choices out there, how do you know which one is right for you?  How do you find your perfect partner?

  1. Do your research:  Look at the work that is coming out of the lab?  Check out their Instagram feed.  Compare the work you see there to the work you see from other labs.  The differences may be subtle, but they are there.  Do they work with photographers who's work you admire?  Once you’ve found a lab that you feel would be a good fit for you and your work, move on to step two… 
  2. Introduce yourself:  Many photographers are shy about this, but I think it’s really important.  Pick up your phone, or sit down to you computer and just introduce yourself!  “Hello!  My name is_______, I’m using your lab for the first time and I’m so excited!”  Something like that.  It’s important because once you’ve introduced yourself you can go on to step three.
  3. Communicate your preferences:  Labs are staffed by people.  And people can not read minds. If you want your film to look a certain way it is your job to a) choose a lab that is capable of producing good work, and then b) tell them what you like!  “Hello!  My name is ______, I’m using your lab for the first time and I’m so excited!  I shoot primarily color film and I’m going for a light, airy look with soft, peachy tones.  Here are some example of work of mine that I just love!  Thank you!  And again, I’m so excited to be working with you.”
  4. Keep the lines of communication open, even when times are hard:  This step is really important!  If scans come back that you don’t love.  Please don't complain abut it on Facebook!  Talk to your lab about it first!  Give them a call.  Have them pull your negatives and give you feed back.  Perhaps it was an exposure issue on your end, or perhaps it was a scanning issue, but if you don’t pick up the phone and ask, you will never know.  Remember, a good lab wants you to love your work.  And they will be happy to help you trouble shoot when you have problems.

Another good sign that you are with the right lab is that they will be open and welcoming to your communication.  They will be willing to help you grow as an artist.  And they will recognize that you are in the creative process together.  

Richard Photo Lab is the perfect fit for me!  They are consistently awesome.  They are always open to talking and helping me trouble shoot when I need it, which has helped me grow as a photographer.  And they support me and my business, knowing that if their photographers are successful they will be too. 

They are my creative partner.  

We are in this together. 

How to choose the perfect photo lab. Tips for film photographers by Sandra Coan

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