How to Solve Problems from Your Film Lab – Johnny Martyr Thought & Photography

Recently, a fellow film photographer posted a hastily taken snapshot of an envelope filled with loose negatives. They claim that a well-known and respected laboratory has removed all their negativity. It’s not clear if the problem is simply how the negatives are packaged, causing potential scratches or how bad the scratches are, if any. But they vowed never to use the lab again and stated that the post should be taken as a warning to others to stay away from them too.

It goes without saying that when a lab ruins someone’s work, it’s a very frustrating situation. One that unfortunately, you’re probably going to run into at some point if you film with any regularity and use a lab, regardless of reputation. Before about ten years ago, film labs processed all my paid photography work, so I was no stranger to dealing with them. When I have a problem, it’s usually much larger in scale than this photographer; I deliver 20-40 rolls of 35mm a month. I don’t have the luxury of simply changing labs in most cases and as a local business myself there is no point in publicly belittling anyone.

So while I can certainly understand the sentiments of these photographers, I reply to their posts with a different approach. My response got quite a few “likes” so I thought I said something right!

I’ve edited slightly and reposted my response below. I hope the readers will also find it useful.

I am also concerned about this. However, [Photo Lab Name] has been one of the most reputable film labs having supported our community for decades.

Rather than voicing about a single instance of the problem (and it looks really bad) on social media without any context (which, trust me, I understand but feels you may be acting out of anger), I would recommend reaching out to them and discussing the problem.

Not many laboratories do the job as well and reliably as they did 10 or 20 years ago. What’s left is pretty much helping us out at this point and is probably struggling like so many businesses.

Everyone has bad days too, and film labs are run by humans just like us.

Part of using a lab is communicating with them and working on problems. Many people just drop movies with them and hope to like the results without discussion. But it doesn’t work like that. Specific expectations need to be communicated to get them, because after all, different customers have different expectations.

I don’t recommend changing labs at the first sign of trouble. Often when an error occurs, it’s only one time and people are sure to take care of the customer who communicated it. If you just go to another lab, you definitely have other problems. And in the end, all you are doing is reducing your own resources.

I’m sorry about your movie and hope your next experience will be better. Good luck!👍

I don’t want to upset photographers any further, but I also want to point out that if they were shooting a reasonable amount of film, a reel that might not have been completely damaged, would not have generated such outrage. I see so many film photographers who shoot just one or two rolls of film per month. This slack approach is not only bad for the filmmaker, it is bad for the opportunity to improve one’s personal photography. Until you’re shooting at least ten reels per month, how are you likely to improve your work or make it worth the time the lab calibrates their methods for you? Are you going to be covering an important event with a digital camera that only takes 36 photos?

But yeah, that’s my response. Most of the other responses were promotions for other personally preferred labs or encouragement for the OP to process their own film. The typical response of photographers to processing their own film really annoys me.

As someone who took that step – ditching all of my labs (I used four labs simultaneously at one point) to process everything myself, I wouldn’t recommend this nuclear solution to any photographer. Firstly, it is not beneficial for the film ecosystem to stop lab processing from all community resources and secondly, some situations really require reliability and quality of working with the lab.

Notice that I said “work with the lab.” Using a laboratory always relies on two-way communication. Photographers need to work WITH their lab to produce quality work. It’s a team thing. Embrace it and I’m sure you can still get quality lab processing and scanning. Doing everything yourself is better for assholes like me! And hey, I’m still sending my colors.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting, and processing!

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