How To Find The Right Lab
So we know it's really important to have a good lab. It really is. So then the question is, how do you go about finding a good lab? I know for me, when I first got started this felt really really overwhelming. And I didn't even know where to begin. So I just want to walk you through some few steps on what you can do. How do you start looking for a film lab? Because it is so important. The first thing is do your research. Start looking around. Find out who people are using. What are the big labs out there. All of that kind of stuff. And then, dive deep. Go visit their website. Read up about their process. What kind of equipment are they using. Are they using dip-and-dunk tanks which you want to process your negatives or are they using rollers. All that stuff matters. So, look at that, research it. What kind of scanners do they use? Do they have Noritsu and Frontier? Do they just have Frontier? Do they just have Noritsu? Why? All that kind of stuff is important. And most labs will have a...
ll that information. They're going to tell you as much as you need to know, or as they think you need to know. But definitely do your research. Look at their website. Find out the basics. The other thing that you want to do, is you want to look at their work, right? Are you seeing consistent work come out of there? An by consistent I don't mean that all the work looks the same, but by consistent I mean that it's all consistently good. And we've all seen bad scans. I just showed you some. They're really, really dark. So it's important to look at these labs. Do your research. Do they work with a high number of film photographers? Do they only work with film photographers? Do they do a mix of film photography and digital? Which by the way is fine. Richard Photo Lab works with digital photographers too, and does processing and printing. But they also work with a high volume of film photographers, and so I know that they're used to working with film photographers. They have good equipment. All this kind of information that is so expensive. And they put out consistent work. That's a big one. So, there are labs scattered around. You know, the Walgreens down the street from my house, will process your film, but is their work going to be good? Is their work going to be consistent? That's something I look for when I'm looking for a lab. Who are their clients? That's a big one. Because chances are if you're looking at a lab and you notice that you're seeing a lot of photographers on their feed or on their website, that you admire and whose work that you love, that they're probably going to do a good job with yours too. If some of your favorite photographers trust this lab, with their work, they're going to do good work for you too. So I think that's really important. It's not everything, but it is nice to see who clients are working with. Are they working for photographers who shoot film professionally or who do this all the time, and they're trusting them with their lab I think that that's important. So once you've figured out all these things, this is going to be the Sandra Coan guide to dating film labs. So, once you've gone through all this thing. You've done your research. You found a handful of labs. Yeah, they've answered all the questions. They have good equipment, They have well-trained technicians. They produce beautiful work. Their work is consistent. I love these people that they work with. I'm going to give them a try. Okay, then what? Do you just send in their lab, and just be like. Okay, I hope it's pretty. What do you do? And I say no. I really believe that, working with a film lab is a relationship, which is why I talk about it in dating terms. Partly to be silly, but partly because it's really true. You are choosing a creative partner. Whichever lab you're choosing, is going to have a huge influence on the look of your work. That's important. So you just don't want to just like, throw it out there and see what happens. So I always encourage people, even though it feels scary, to pick up your phone, introduce yourself. Write an email. Just be like, "hey friends. My name is Sandra Coan." I'm a film photographer I'm using your lab for the first time." Just a little introduction. Let them know about you. Let them know that you're excited to use their lab for the first time. And then, communicate. Communicate what you like. This is all about preferences. Maybe you want your Portra 800 to have that peachy creamy look. Maybe you really love cool tones. Maybe you like dark and dramatic. Maybe you wan to stay away from light and airy. We all have preferences. There is no right or wrong. But you do need to know. What do you like? What do you want? And then you communicate that, to your lab partner. So you're writing you email, "hey, friend. I'm Sandra Coan. I'm a film photographer, whatever." And try your lab for the first time. "I shoot mostly Portra 400. I love rich contrasty images with a good pop of color. And I tend to prefer a Noritsu," or "I would like to see if it would be possible to have this scan on both the Frontier and Noritsu. I'm still trying to figure this out." Communicate what your preferences are. And most labs, have a place somewhere on their website where you can do this. It's a little comment box. You can check. I think some labs have, do you want neutral? Do you want contrasty? Do you want light? Do you want bright? All these different preferences. Don't be shy about telling people what you want, because the lab wants you to be happy too. You're their client, right? If you're successful, they're successful. They want you to love your scans. And the only way that's really going to happen is you communicate what your preferences are and really go out there and do it. Which can be hard. And then you guys, keep lines of communication open. Even when things don't go well. And I can't stress this enough. I always feel like a little sad in my heart when I'm on Facebook and I see somebody say, "Oh I've been using so and so lab forever and they've been great, but I just got this bad batch of scans and I'm shopping for a new lab, who do you recommend?" I'm like wait, we all make mistakes, right? These labs are run by people. And people make mistakes. Things happen. Things change. So, don't just break up with your lab, if you have one argument. You have to keep this going. So keep those lines of communication going. If you do get scans back and they're not exactly what you want, or they missed the mark. Call them. Say, "hey, I've been working with you for a while. I love my work. I got these scans. And something is totally off. Can you help me problem solve this?" Ask them to pull your negatives. You can see so much from a negative. As we saw earlier with those negative scans. So maybe, the problem is on their end. Maybe, someone didn't have enough coffee that morning. And they just kind of screwed up, or maybe the problem is on your end. Maybe there is something going on with your equipment, or your meter is low on batteries and you're getting wonky readings, and you're accidentally under exposing. Maybe something is going on. And the only way you're going to know that is if you pick up the phone and you communicate with your lab. Ask them. Any good lab, that's worth it's money is going to take the time to answer those questions. They're going to want you to be happy. And they're going to want to have that conversation with you. And it doesn't matter, where you are in your journey. I've been teaching film photography for a while now, and this is something that people will always say. They say, "I could never call up Richard photo Lab," because I'm just learning. They work with these amazing photographers, I can't do that." I know you're their client. You are just as important to them as anybody else. They want you to be happy. They want you to love your work. And that is true of any reputable film lab out there. So if you have a question, if something goes wrong. Call them up and ask them. And I can't tell you, I did that when I first started with Richard, when we were trying to work out my color pack, and al of that. And sometimes, things come back and I'm like, whoa this is totally, no! I can't. And they'll, okay let's talk about it, what went wrong? What do you like? How can we fix it? Let's find that, where your preferences are, and just fine tune that communication. And I can't tell you, doing that not only helped the look of my work, but it helped me grow as a photographer, because these people, these people who are working in these labs, they're experts in their field, they're experts at what they do. They know so much. They know so much about, developing, and scan negatives, and negative density. All this stuff. And so when you take the time to ask those questions, and they give you feedback, you're going to learn so much. And it's really going to help you grow as a photographer. Keeps those lines of communication open, okay? Even when it get's bad. All that said, if you're working with a lab, and you're like "friend." You're back and forth trying communication. Sometimes it doesn't work out, right? And that's okay. You can break up with the lab. And you can try something else. But, please just don't do that right away, when you've committed to working with somebody. Give it a little bit of time for that relationship to grow. And certainly don't get on a forum and just complaint about it without going to the source, and trying to fix it. That's my little PSA. It's very important. Luckily, in the United States we have a handful of some really fantastic labs. So, like I said, my love is Richard Photo Lab. Richard is my boyfriend. We are going steady. But, any lab on this list is going to meet the qualifications that I just talked about, as a good professional lab. All of these labs have good equipment. They have well-trained staff. They have good technicians who know what they're doing. You can call them up. You can ask them questions. They're going to help lead you in the right direction. They're all, all really great. And Photo Vision is Oregon, so you can keep it local. Keep saying I'm going to pop in on them. They're just outside of Portland. But all super nice people. You can get on the phone with any of these labs, and they're going to help you learn. For those, creative live viewers who are not in the United States. Here are some great labs outside. Canadian Film Lab, actually, until pretty recently, were a Uk film lab. They moved, now they're in Canada. Spoiler. Hence the name. They're great. Carmencita. I've never sent film there. But they have a great reputation. A lot of my European clients who come in for workshops and stuff use them, and they do great work. So definitely, you can check them out. That said, our U.S. labs will also take film from international destinations. I know Richard gets film sent into them all over the world. And I'm sure these other labs do too.
Would you include a picture of a gray card to help the scan technician. This is from Bob and I guess we think about with digital taking a photograph of a gray card to help you, once you get into the lightroom. Is that something you might do?
I never even thought of that. Bob, that's a really good question. I've never done that. I'm pretty sure if that's something that labs used, they probably already have that there, right? Because they're working all the time. Tell Bob, I'm going to call Richard Photo Lab tonight and I'm going to ask them.
I guess you would use the gray card for that scenario, like your first shot?
Cheat it like you would with a digital where you shoot your gray card with the little cover thing?
For the color balance and--
Oh no, that's a great point. I didn't even talk about this because I just take it for granted. But, the beauty of film photography. Each film stock has its own color profile and stuff, but when it comes to white balance, it's kind of a non-issue because film is daylight balanced so you're pretty good. I mean if you're shooting under tungsten lights, or you're shooting here. Tungsten is going to look yellow and that sort of thing, but generally you don't have the white balance issues that you do with digital.