How to Find the Right Lab for You
The lab you choose is super important. We've established that. They can have a lot of control over the way your image looks. So how do you find the right lab for you? What do you do? So, well, you start by doing your research, which is kind of a no brainer right? You start looking up. But check out their websites! Visit their websites. Read about their process, you know this is a great way to tell: do they talk about film photography, do they work with a lot of film photographers, do they have a well-trained staff, do they talk about the equipment they use. Most reputable film labs are going to talk about that stuff because they know it's important to film photography, and they know that film photographers are looking for it. So definitely take the time, do the research, go through and look at what they have to say. Look at their work. Instagram is great for this. I always tell people that film stocks, individual film stocks, have their own personality. I think photo labs do, too. Some...
labs are really good - I mean, they're always good at, if they're a good lab, at everything - but they tend to have preferences. Film labs have personalities too. So, look at their work: do they have consistently good work? Are you drawn to it? Do you like the style that they're sharing on Instagram all the time or in their blog and that kind of stuff? You can tell a lot about a film lab by looking at the work that they're turning out for their clients and their producing. Check out who their clients are. If you have a film photographer or a bunch of film photographers that you admire, and you notice that they're all using the same lab, that's a pretty good indicator that maybe that's a good lab. So if you see people who are established film photographers and they're using certain labs, it's kind of a good place to start. So ask people. Once you find a lab that you like or that you want to try, I really encourage people at that point to introduce themselves. Send an email, pick up the phone, and just say 'hey, I'm so-and-so, I'm just starting with film, and I'm really looking forward to trying your lab for the first time.' This is a really important piece because, you guys, labs are staffed by people, (Laughs) and people can't read minds. They don't know who you are. They don't know who you like. Well they don't know that either, but they don't know what you like, is what I was trying to say. So you want to communicate that stuff with them. You want to pick up the phone, you want to write an email and say 'hey listen, I'm trying your lab for the first time, just so you know: I shoot Fuji film. I love those classic Fuji tones. I like my work to be light and airy, or I like my work to be a little more dramatic, a little darker, a little moodier. I've really loved the work I've seen that's been produced on a Noritsu but hey, I would love to see what this looks like on a Frontier. Have that conversation, start that relationship because it really is so important. As we already saw, your lab has so much influence over the way your images look so you want to make sure that they get you, right? So I work with Richard Photo Lab; they're amazing, but I had a whole process with Richard. Richard, I always call him Richard like he's my boyfriend. Richard? Where we've sat down and over a period of six months really worked together to communicate. So I was communicating what I liked and they were really getting me and we put together what was called a color pack, which means that they have a three-ring binder of me and my preferences so when they get my film, they can pull my binder and look at what my preferences are and scan to that, which means I'm getting super consistent scans all the time, which is good for me. It's also really good for my brand. And I'll talk about that on Thursday! And then you guys, keep the lines of communication open. So, even if something goes wrong, say some day you get scans in and they're just terrible, instead of going on Facebook or some photography forum, and asking people what happened, call your lab. Have them pull your negatives. Have the conversation with them. Maybe something happened with your meter, or with your camera. Maybe you accidentally underexposed. Maybe it was a problem on your end, and they can give you that feedback and that's going to help you become a better photographer. Or maybe it's a problem on their end! Maybe somebody messed up. Maybe they did it wrong, maybe they just left something out or didn't scan to your preferences. And a good lab will be able to say 'Gosh that's on us! Sorry!' and they can re scan your order. But keeping lines of communication open is really, really important. Again, those labs are staffed by people, people can't read your minds, and people make mistakes. So make sure you're communicating with your lab. Now, I went ahead and put together a little list for you. So here in the states we have a number of really great film labs. Any of the labs on this list are going to fit that criteria that I was talking about, where they work with a lot of film photographers, they produce good solid work, consistently, they have well-trained staff, they have good clean chemicals, so that's really important. Like I said, I work with Richard Photo Lab and I think they're amazing! And then if you're outside of the United States, Canadian Film Lab up in British Columbia does amazing work, and Carmencita in Spain also does really amazing work.