With the age of digital photography, it seems that there are more “pro” photographers than there are Starbucks locations. While the line between “professional” and “serious amateur” has been permanently blurred, I think the lab is an essential part of any true professional’s workflow. If you take your craft seriously, here are a few reasons why you need a pro lab.
1. Let’s start with the most obvious – better prints! While many amateur One Hour-type labs use similar equipment to the pro labs, the personnel running the machines can be quite varied. One week you have someone very good and very detail oriented… the next, someone who isn’t quite into it. Consistency in your prints is something that is important, so why throw a variable into the equation?
2. A pro lab will also offer specialty high end products that consumers can’t generally get. I’m not talking about keychains or buttons – everyone can order those. I’m talking about having a wide variety of finishes, canvas wrap styles, etc. The more options you have available, the more you can customize your company’s product offerings.
3. There is a great deal to be learned from other pro photographers and a pro lab will help you to network with others. Next time you are at a photography trade show, drop by your lab’s booth and visit with them. They can put you in touch with other photographers in your area and give you the chance to swap ideas with you peers. You just can’t get that at a drugstore lab.
4. Along those lines, labs help fund a lot of your education. If you’ve ever been to a convention, chances are the speaker’s fees were paid -at least in part- by a photo lab. By helping with the cost of speakers, the labs allow us to reap the benefit of being exposed to a wider range of talented photographers.
5. Last, but not least, is image. If your client flips over the print, do you want them to see the name of a store? It just doesn’t give you a polished look.
For those who are interested, my lab is Whitehouse Custom Colour – a lab that I have done business with for years. I realize there are several excellent pro labs out there. To find the one that is best for your needs, you will need to do a little research. Ask your photographer buddies what lab they use – then try them out. A good lab can be an excellent partner in your success, so make sure you are using one that can help deliver you to the next level!