Photography Blog

James Tarry's photography blog. Ramblings from a photographers over active mind. Email now or call +44 (0)7855 742 633.

Why I'm turning my back on photo labs...

We are constantly reminded that "film is dead", film stocks are dwindling and that photographic labs are in decline, and I hate to contribute to that but the time has come for me to stop using the professional lab. But why?

In it's simplistic terms, I'm fed up! It's well documented that I've had less than good luck with labs. Bad scans, awful processing, getting negs back scratched and covered in dirt, 'over charging', refusing to help a customer with an incredibly simple request.... it's all happened.

Last month I spent my time shooting on the 4x5 camera, I sent off 19 slides, and waited for the proofs to get back to me. This week they arrived. Sadly all that work was wasted, all but a couple were destroyed by light leaks. I may have well just thrown £80 (not to mention the cost of film) down the toilet.

There are several theories why this has happened:

 1/ I've a leak in my camera

2/ it was a bad batch of film

3/ I exposed the film during loading/unloading

4/ It was opened in transit

5/ The lab messed it up by opening the package in light.

I can safely rule number 1 out, the camera is in mint condition. Number 3 is out too as all loading and unloading was done in pitch darkness and there was no light leakage on them caused by me. Bad batch? Nope not having that either as I have had some that have been ok from same box. 

That leaves opened in transit or lab and the annoying thing is I will never really know the answer. The light leak is heavy on one negative and then slowly recedes through the images which suggests to me the parcel was opened and shut by someone else in light conditions. 

It is frustrating.

As my film work becomes more important to me, I need to have total faith that they will be handled in a similar way, and the bottom line is I don’t have that trust anymore. So I have decided the only real way to prevent this happening in the future, to always know and have full control is to do it all myself. Any errors or mistakes that happen then is my fault and I will have known exactly why. 

So, I popped down to the helpful people of Silverprint in Elephant and Castle, London and stocked up on all the chemicals and tanks needed. Keen to prove that it wasn't the camera or the batch of film I developed my first two images this week (they were taken at same time/loaded/unloaded as the 19 I had sent off but I held them back) and surprise surprise, not one issue with them at all!

It's been 20 years since I last developed a negative, the results are hugely satisfying, the nostalgic smell of the chemicals bought it all back and long term, it will work out more cost effective. There's a lot of info on the web re: how to develop, most of it sheer overly complicated gobbledegook so I might try and write a simple "how do" in a later blog. All I know for now is I feel happier knowing my work is in my hands and not someone else's.

Once I've developed a few more B&Ws, the plan is to move on to colour (notoriously more difficult) and eventually/potentially handle all scans and prints too. I want to completely remove the lab from any workflow. I feel slightly sad about that, but well, "once bitten twice shy, three times a fool........"