Finding the one you love isn’t always love at first sight. As much as we’d like to believe in soul mates and perfect matches, life doesn’t necessarily work that way. Occasionally it takes multiple partners, horrible breakups, and some serious conversations in order to slowly fall in love. But once you do find the one, you sing their praises from the highest rooftop and your undying faithfulness is the stuff of legends.
Of course, I’m talking about finding your film lab.
Film shooters are pretty darn serious about their film, and they can be fairly particular about who handles it. That’s why finding the perfect film lab for your precious film is key to having a smooth workflow. Of course, most people would just say, “why not develop and scan yourself?”, and to them I reply, “well, there is this pesky thing called LIFE”. I don’t have the time or energy to develop and scan my film right now. Maybe that will change, but probably not. I’m a huge fan of outsourcing those things that don’t make you happy. The thought of developing in a darkroom with chemicals instead of spending time with my kiddos and husband, just makes me grimace. So I outsource to a lab who does all of that for me.Finding the perfect lab takes time. I played the field, so to speak. I tried all the big names. I tried Noritsu and Frontier scanners (I’m a Frontier girl, all the way). Just as I experimented with film stocks, I experimented with labs to see who I liked best. After a few months of jumping from lab to lab, I found THE ONE. I honestly did have a “love at first sight” moment. They GOT me, but more importantly they were willing to work WITH me to build the relationship we have now. Some of the others wanted a pretty penny to do that.
Since I’ve been around the block with different labs, let me share some of the lessons I learned (mostly the hard way) to ensure you find your perfect lab.
1) Research the bulk of the work that comes out of the lab. Is it mostly light and airy? Do you love light and airy? Then start there. If you are like me and love vibrant color and contrast, then light and airy film labs may not get you. Yes, labs adjust to your preference, but from my personal experience (and the experiences of others I’ve chatted with), it’s best to go with a lab that produces a look consistently that you mesh with. I spent a lot of time with one lab trying to get them to scan my film with more color and vibrance, but they just kept washing it out. It looked great, but it wasn’t my style.
2) After you have decided on a lab to try out, TALK TO THE LAB! Seriously, folks. I cannot stress this enough. Before you send your film, call the lab manager and have a chat with them. Discuss with them your style and what you are looking for. Let them recommend a scanner and editor for you that best fits your work.
3) Send samples of what you want. Don’t expect your lab to read your mind. That is a huge relationship blockade. Open communication is key. I sent files of what I was looking for. When I was just starting out with film and didn’t have examples of my own film, I sent samples of my digital work and film images from other photographers I was drawn to. The more information you can provide, the better the lab can narrow in on your style.
4) DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL THEM IF YOUR FILM ISN’T RIGHT. Seriously, no one likes having the “this isn’t working” conversation. But a healthy relationship means talking out the good AND the bad. If your film comes back and you don’t love it, call the lab. Speak to your editor and explain to them what you don’t love. Is it too magenta? Too much contrast? Not enough? Did they account for the highlights but you wanted them to focus on the skin tones alone? Be specific. Working out the kinks takes time. You have to be willing to go back and forth and invest the time and effort to make it work.
5) If you invest the time and it STILL isn’t working… break it off. I spent months with one lab that just couldn’t get me. I felt bad, but it’s not personal. I needed a lab that nailed my style. Eventually I found that lab and after working through my steps with them, we are a match made in heaven.
There are a TON of amazing film labs out there. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the others. I think it’s about your personal preference and style. But you DO need to be ready to work on your relationship with whomever you choose. So who is my lab of choice (you know you are all wondering who my film lab soulmate is)? I’m in love with The FINDLab. They just GET ME. So perfectly. I get my scans back and RARELY have to touch them. That’s what outsourcing should be to me. I don’t want more work. I want less, so having a lab that makes my film ready to go is key to my workflow.
Now I’m sure everyone has a different story to tell, but this is mine, and if it helps others get an idea for how to even start looking for their perfect match, then I’m one happy little film shooter. So get out there, shoot some film, and find your true love.
Some awesome film labs to try:
Outside of the United States: