Process 038 ☼ How To Get Great Results Working With A Photo Lab
Giveaway: Nick Prideaux's new zine with Setanta Books
In today’s letter I talk to Albert of Carmencita labs about how to get the best results working with a photo lab, and we dig into how he started his lab as well. I’m also sharing new work from my summer photo walks in Zandvoort and Amsterdam.
This week’s giveaway is a zine by Nick Prideaux courtesy of Setanta Books.
Working With A Photo Lab
When you shoot on film taking the photo is only half the work. The rest of your result is determined by how well your images are developed and scanned.
I’ve had great experiences with labs all over the world, but there have also been times when my confidence in local labs was sufficiently low that I sent all my film across the world to Bleeker Digital, my long-time lab in New York City. Quite expensive, but it matters so much to me that my film gets developed and scanned by people who truly care, understand my work, and will do what it takes.
I’ve been looking for a great and friendly European lab to work with for a while so I made a plan to send batches of film to various labs in different countries to test the quality of the work and the way they engaged with their community. I was going to write about each experience, interview the owner, and share it here for European Process readers.
This plan was foiled when I sent the first batch of film to Carmencita Film Labs in Spain. The scans were great, prices reasonable, and I was so happy with their approach that I really just wanted to send them my next batch of film as well. More on that later, but my chat with Carmencita co-founder Albert about their business and community. (All images in this issue were developed and scanned by Carmencita and paid for by me.)
Wesley: When did you start Carmencita? What moved you to start an "old fashioned business" in these modern times?
Albert: We kickstarted Carmencita at the end of 2012, mainly because as we are photographers ourselves and couldn’t find a reliable source for developing and scanning our film within the EU.
I worked for a summer in the FIND lab under Jonathan Canlas' mentorship and when I came back I met Miguel. He wanted to start something similar to FINDlab in Europe but didn’t know how. After a few chats I decided to help him out and we never could have anticipated what was to come.
We found that film gave us the same feeling that made us fall in love with photography in the first place. Film was really marginal back in 2012 and we wanted to be able to source quality scans for ourselves and for the small analog community that worked professionally on film in the EU.
How would you describe the analog community in Spain today? What are they excited about?
It’s basically an avalanche of young people, mainly creatives but also regular human beings that feel drawn to film the same way people feel drawn to vinyl records.
I think the most exciting thing about film is that it is tangible. You are actually creating something and that it is off-the-grid from the digital world, even if we share it in social media afterwards.
I believe that the process of working in an analog set up gives you space to create in a different way. The other thing is that using old camera gear is an absolute joy. It gives you the immediate feeling of working with something that was built to last.
What is the most challenging part of running a photo lab?
I’d say running just a “photo lab” it is not an extremely difficult job. You have to be structured and work within the framework of protocols, measurements and be really careful with your process, so if you consider yourself just a photo lab it’s not much different than running a good restaurant probably.
In our case, we always wanted to be more than just a photo lab by providing scans, the feeling that there was someone behind the scanners who cared about your photography and the way you create your images.
For us, as analog photographers, a lab should be as committed to the project as you are, otherwise it makes no sense. Our biggest challenge by far is monitoring the entire process and maintain good communication with our customers so they truly feel they’re getting service with a personal touch customized to their needs.
In 2013 we had around 200-250 clients, which was fairly easy to keep track off. We knew each person by their name and were able to communicate easily by email. Within 3 years this grew to 2000 clients and now we’re at around 5000 unique clients per year. Providing a great experience to that many people is challenging and we’ve developed several internal tools to manage that.
Around 2015 I had to make a choice between staying small and catering only to few important accounts or growing and evolving so we could provide quality scans to a bigger group of photographers. I chose the latter because I myself was never an important account to any lab and we just wanted to keep film alive.
We believe film and quality scans have to be accessible to anyone that wanted to invest their time and efford and the Carmencita you know today is a result of that choice.
What is the most rewarding part of running a photo lab?
I’d say the community. Finding people that share our values and being able to bring something to the table for everyone is an amazing feeling. Also, working with photographers who we admire is an amazing feeling too. To be a part of the final process and the recognition as part of their work is amazing.
What should photographers know about working with a photo lab? Is there something they can do to help the lab do the best job for them?
The number one thing is clear communication. Tell the lab exactly what you like and what you don’t like in your scans. The lab should always be open to receiving your input and if they’re not, that’s a red flag.
Also, within all communication there should always be an underlying feeling of honesty. If your lab does not share info about their process or what they really do that means they’re trying to hide something and that’s a bit odd in my opinion. Talk to your lab and ask them, politely of course, about anything you’d like to know on how you film is processed.
In addition to Albert’s tips I wanted to add two of my own based on my experience.
Show Your Gratitude — People who work in any service business usually only hear from their customers when they have a complaint. You can change that by making sure to let them know, by name, when they do a great job. It’s a small gesture to say thank you in person or call the lab or give them a shout out on social media, but it means a lot to the people who spend hours of their time helping you make your images look good.
Provide References — If you can show the lab which feeling you’re going for, whether it’s color, contrast, or sharpness, this will dramatically improve your chances of getting close to that feeling with your work. Whether the reference is work you’ve made before or work by other photographers, include it in your note.
As I mentioned earlier, my original plan was to send film to a few European and share my thoughts on each. However, after this great experience with Carmencita I had a second chat with Albert, a few weeks after the interview above, and we agreed on a 6-month partnership for Process. That’s right, Carmencita is our first Process sponsor!
Carmencita will develop and scan most of the rolls I shoot and share here, which helps me keep Process a sustainable newsletter that can keep going and growing.
And as a perk to you, the Process reader, Carmencita is offering a free size upgrade for your scans if you use the code “PROCESS” at check out. (e.g if you order medium scans, you will receive large scans instead for no extra charge). Check out Carmencita’s online shop here and give their lab a try. They accept film by mail from anywhere in the world. Thank you Albert and team!
Every single copy of NOTICE, first and second printing, has arrived at our warehouse! When the limited edition zines arrive on Wednesday we start fulfilling all outstanding orders! Our shipping statement said it was nearly 1000 kg or over 2200 lb worth of books. That’s about two grizzlies or one hippo. We made one hippo of photo books!
ICYMI, everyone who ordered NOTICE during our initial three week preorder period gets this limited edition zine as a free thank you gift from us. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at how NOTICE was made from beginning to end. This zine demystifies the process and encourages you to create your own project, whether it’s online or in print.
In next Friday’s issue of Process I will share an extensive list of inspiring and helpful Youtube channels, newsletters and other photography outlets as recommended by you, the Process community, during last week’s contest.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
The good folks at Setanta Books announced #8 in their bi-monthly zine series featuring up up-and-coming photographers, published in collaboration with Open Doors Gallery. This issue features work by Nick Prideaux.
To enter send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Process 038 Giveaway”, before 11pm EST on August 23rd and answer the following question:
Photographers tend to focus on one or two areas of photography, for example portraiture + street, or landscape + still life. We can improve our focus area work by stepping outside of our comfort zone and trying a new area for a small project. Describe whatyour small uncomfortable project is in 3 sentences.
My answer: pre-pandemic my photographic practice focused on environmental portraiture for editorial and commercial clients. During the pandemic I didn’t have access to people so I went on long daily walks and explored still life photography in a suburban setting. This evolved into my new book NOTICE and since I’ve used lessons learned from that in my portraiture as well.
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