The Top 5 things you need to be telling your Film Lab


If you think about it, a good 90% of how you want an image to look happens before you even take the first shot. The film stock you choose, the lighting you’re in, and the way you rate your film are all going to contribute to the final image. So why do we need to worry about how it’s scanned? Scanning and Developing are the last piece of the puzzle and it is 100% worth it to learn how to communicate with your lab and give them the information they need so they can get you amazing results. You know, the scans you almost don’t even have to touch? YUM. The real trick is understanding what to say to help them achieve that. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard - of course you know what you like - how hard can it be to tell someone what that is?? But having worked as a scanning technician for a Pro lab myself for almost three years (whaaaatup The FIND Lab!?) I’ve noticed that it’s a common struggle for many film photographers. I’ve put together a list of my top five things that will help you speak your lab’s language!

1. Understanding the right vocabulary

Warmth. Contrast. Brightness/Exposure. These are the words that make up the language we scanners live by. The first step is to look at each of these and decide where you like your images. Unsure of how to do that? Take a look at your own editing style, pull up some images that you LOVE whether you’ve shot them or someone else has. Are they warm images? Cool? In the middle? Is the image bright or more moody looking? Do you love imagery with nice deep blacks or do you lean towards high key, low contrast shots?

2. Zero in on the skin tones

For portrait photographers the best way to puzzle this out for yourself is to take the same handful of favorite shots and focus on the skin tones. Even if you prefer neutral color in your imagery the skin tones of your subjects are most likely going to fall into one of these categories: Peachy, Pink, or Golden. The sooner you learn to recognize what KIND of warmth you like, the better you’ll be at relaying that to your lab. Now, it’s okay if you have absolutely NO idea what I’m talking about right now - I’ve got you covered. Head over to my pinterest account where I’ve set up a few boards labeled “Golden”, “Peachy”, and “Pink” and take a look at the images I’ve pinned. You’ll notice that the golden skin tones have more yellow to them, pink skin tones are just that - pink, and peachy skin tones are a “meet me in the middle” type. Go check out the boards and decide which group you fall into:

3. Example imagery

Sometimes it’s really hard to SAY what it is we want. And lets face it, as artists the majority of us respond better to visuals than we do to words. So, if you’re not sure how to vocalize what you like, then send some photos instead, and let them do the talking for you.

4. Before & afters.

There are going to be times that you get your scans back and they’re all wrong. It’s frustrating. I get it. But here’s a really great trick for communicating the issue to your lab: send before & afters. When you get your scans back and you end up spending more time editing them than you think may be normal, send a diptych of the original scan on one side and your own edits on the other. As a scanner, it is really helpful to see where it is you would have liked the scan to be. That being said, there are only so many adjustments we can make in the scanner (we’re working with machines from the 90’s people.) There may still be small tweaks that need to be made in post, that’s normal, but sending before & afters can help your lab know how to get you that much closer to perfection on the first pass.

5. Make Notes

It’s pretty simple, no one can read your mind (who knew?) so if you shot something differently (aka silhouettes or bracketing) just give your lab a heads up by making a note of it in your order form or by emailing them. It’s always better to be proactive!

Happy Shooting!


Melese MillerComment