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Choosing a Lab

Choosing a lab to develop your film is an important part of the photographic process. This is one area in which shooting digital can have a definite advantage in that you don't have to wait to see your prints or pay for processing. However, even if you shoot digital, you probably will need to use a lab at some point if you are making large quantities of reprints for local newspapers. When choosing a lab, there are several things to consider.

Quality of Work

If you are going to put a lot of time and effort into capturing great animal photographs, you need to make sure that you use a lab that will also spend the time and effort to make sure that your negatives are processed correctly and that your prints are of excellent quality.

In our poorer days, we tried every local drugstore and and supermarket around trying to find a good value for our processing but were more often disappointed than not in the quality. Most of these kind of developers either develop on site with machines run by inexperienced operators or send the film out (almost universally to same lab). Negatives were often returned to us scratched, burned, and improperly trimmed and the photographs were often dull and washed out.

Our frustrations led us to seek out some better, more professional labs. We now work with several labs that process our negatives with care and always give us properly exposed and nicely color-balanced prints.


For getting your film processed, you will most likely want to use a local lab since the turn-around time should be very fast. We are lucky to have several high-quality labs within a 15 minute drive of our house that can process a roll of film and make prints in a couple of hours or less. This lets us get our photographs out onto the Web and out to newspapers in a very short amount of time.

For getting reprints for your portfolio, you can either use a local lab or a mail order lab. We have been using Flair Pro Color Labs in Florida for the last couple of years and have always been very happy with their work.


Using a local lab will usually be more expensive than your local drugstore and this may be a problem for some shelters. However, many local labs will give shelters a discount or even donate processing services. If your shelter has arrangements with a local lab that is one less detail for you to consider. If not, talk to some of the local labs in your area and see what kind of arrangement you can work out. Often you can offer to give them free advertising on your shelter's Website and mention them in the text that accompanies your adoption photographs in exchange for free or discounted processing.

Also, if your shelter is a nonprofit organization, you often will not have to pay tax for processing. Ask the staff at your shelter for more information about this.


A good lab can often provide you with services that you won't find at the local drugstore. For example, our lab gives us a choice of glossy or luster finishes on Fuji Crystal Archive paper. They also give us a 4 x 6 contact sheet of all the photographs on the roll and print the negative number and color balance information on the back of each photograph. These extra services really make it worth using a local professional lab.

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