It's a shame, really. I've seen many small photo labs call it quits within the past couple of years. There are multiple reasons for this, but I am going to focus on only one—big business, and by "big business" I mean Walmart, CVS, and other super-ginormous retail entities.
Now, I'm not going to suggest that you don't shop at these places. That would make me a hypocrite. I shop at these places. I'd rather not, but what's a barely middle-class guy to do? The kids need school supplies and where else am I going to buy a cheap coffee maker?
My issue here isn't about trying to save a few bucks by purchasing your disposable, made in so-called "developing country" products at these stores. My issue is about thinking outside the big-box store when it comes to products and services that are simply better elsewhere.
Let me give you some examples as they relate to the business of printing photographs, processing black-and-white film, and framing.
Walmart will print photos from negatives and digital files. Do you, the customer, have much say over the outcome of the finished product? Does Walmart offer to make any size print, or are you pretty much locked into the old standards? Does Walmart even color-correct if necessary? No, no, no. How many choices as to paper selection does Walmart offer? Two, maybe? Even more importantly, will Walmart invite you to sit down and discuss your images with them to offer you advice? Absolutely not. They shouldn't. They don't charge enough for good service. People get prints made there because it's cheap.
How about black-and-white film? There are still plenty of people in the world shooting it and not all of them can or want to process it themselves. Where can you bring it? CVS? I don't know. Maybe. I can guarantee this, though. They won't process your black-and-white film in-house. It would get sent to a much larger lab for machine processing. It will not get the individualized attention it should. You will not get to choose a developer and they won't accept any special instructions.
When it comes to printing black-and-white photos, the disappointments only get bigger. Fiber based papers? Cropping? Contrast control? Localized exposure adjustments (burning/dodging)? Tray processing? That's all asking a bit much, isn't it? At least it's cheap.
What about something as simple as the picture frame? Let's just say that you took a photograph and that, when all is said and done, you print that image on your home printer as a 9x13. That is the size you decided this image should be. It just works. Now, what about a frame? Does Target sell 9x13 frames? I don't know. I never looked. I tend to think they do not. That's OK, though. You'd like to mat it anyway. You've decided that a window mat with 3" borders on the sides and top and a 4½" border on the bottom is just perfect. That would make your frame 16½"x19". Does Target sell this size frame? Of course not. That's a custom size. So now what do you do? Throw out your perfect 9x13 print, crop the image, and reprint it as an 8x10? I guess you could do that. It's not really what you want, but at least you can buy a cheap 11x14 frame with an 8x10 mat at Target in which to put it.
Is this all starting to sound a little like a sales pitch?. I suppose it is.
There are places that do what Walmart, CVS, Target, and the other big-box stores don't. PhotoSynthesis is one of them. We will spend the time with you to discuss exactly what it is you want, and that is what you will get. We will print your image any size you want within the confines of what our printer will do. Is 44" on the short dimension big enough? And would you like that on glossy, luster, cool tone rag, warm tone rag, canvas, any of a half-dozen different weight matte papers, or any of numerous fine art papers? What? We still don't have what you want? We will get it.
And black-and-white lab services? Just the opposite of CVS.
What about that 16½"x19" frame for your 9x13 print? Can PhotoSynthesis frame that? Sure, we can. Metal or wood? Which profile? Which finish? Regular picture glass, non-glare glass, or Plexiglas? How would you like that mounted? What sort of mat? Backing material? You're not sure? Let us help.
OK. So PhotoSynthesis will give you what you want, but will it be as cheap as what you don't want at Walmart? Sorry, but we can't afford to do that. I understand the need to save a dollar, but most people have settled for inexpensive mediocrity, and this has contributed to the demise of many small photo labs. Sometimes, though, isn't it worth spending that saved dollar on a better product and better service?
An Alley and two faces of love Olympia 2001
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