I would love to say the first thing that stuck out to me upon entering my new workplace on Friday morning was the warm smell of coffee or even the lively chatter that filled the room—but it wasn’t. Now, don’t get me wrong—those things did stand out to me, too (the chatter, the coffee, the fact that it was Friday and every Friday Mike brings donuts). What overwhelmed me in the best possible way was how at ease I felt. As I pulled into the parking lot, secured my face covering and stepped out of my car into a new job, I couldn’t help but notice that those first day jitters simply weren’t present as they had been in the past with other jobs. And while I’d love to account that to my own personal growth in the past year blah blah blah, that simply wouldn’t be true. It had everything to do with the people here at PhotoVision—and how they welcomed me into the family even before my first day.
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet Brian, hop on a call with Stephen or email back and forth with Ashley and Emily, you’re missing out. I remember back to the days when I used to be nervous to call my old film lab or ask them questions out of fear of embarrassing myself or bothering them. Even after hearing, “Communicate with your lab!” and encouraging others to do the same, I often held back. I now realize that there should truly be no fear in the matter. The entire PhotoVision team is made up of humans who understand that mistakes happen. They watch ”The Bachelor” (Seriously! We got into some pretty exciting conversations about Matt’s love prospects on my first day.). They love their dogs (Oh, their dogs! I’ll save that for another journal entry). And they not only want you to succeed in your work and business, they want you to love your work AND your process.
As I sit down in the break room and pull out my laptop to journal about my second day here at PhotoVision. I receive a notification on my smartwatch. If you’re a film photographer — hobbyist or pro—it’s one that likely sends jitters down your spine. “Email from email@example.com: ‘Hey Kallie! Your order 117212 is complete! View + Download your images . . . .’” You know the rest.
What’s extra special about this order is that I knew it was coming. But I was still excited beyond belief. In fact, “Order 117212” is not only my own personal travel work, but the first order that I scanned and color checked. And boy, was it a process!
Every hour I am humbled more by the expertise and care that fills this lab. Today, as I found myself looking over to my neighboring station, where I could see Mallory feeding film through her scanner, gloved fingers moving quickly as she adjusts the color and density of film scans with her carefully-trained eyes, I interrupt, “Do you mind showing me how to hold adjustments in color check . . . again?” She laughs and does so with great patience.
In my two days here at the lab, I have simultaneously unlearned previous editing habits while also learning how to see color from a film technician’s point of view. Red. Cyan. Green. Magenta. Yellow. Blue. These are the colors of my life, apparently. And it’s not always easy to identify cyan from blue or magenta from red. For me, at least. My coworkers are pros when it comes to color. They’re able to scan around 100 rolls a day with precision and accuracy—all while keeping a photographer’s image preferences in mind. I managed to slug through exactly 8 rolls of 35mm on my first day here at the lab, so 100 rolls blows my average-roll-per-day count out of the water.
Today, I also spent time with a color learning program (developed in-house!) that tested my ability to recognize color casts. I’ve been told that once I am really able to see color, my television screen will never quite look right. (Here’s a fun fact I learned from my time at PV! Did you know every person sees and interprets color a little bit differently? That’s why when you shop for a TV in a store, many of the display monitors are adjusted differently on purpose. That way you will buy the TV that looks subjectively best to you. And I think that’s absolutely hilarious.)
Today I had the experience of scanning other photographers’ film for the first time (three photographers, to be exact!). It was both a thrill and an honor. After practicing on my own negatives, today was the day I ventured into the realm of handling someone else’s work. I did so with great care. And as I sat in front of my Frontier SP3000, I found myself thinking, “This is just so cool. I love my job.” Does this sound a little too much like the inner dialogue of a Hallmark Holiday Movie? I’m sorry. But it’s the truth! I’m a total nerd about film photography. And being a part of the scanning process only made me love it more.
I’ve been a photographer for 8 years now, and I’ve made thousands of images. But I’ve never really had my hands on another photographer’s work. Not like this. Sure, I have sat in 4 hour photo critiques and assisted other photographers at weddings, but I’ve never before had the responsibility of caring for another photographer’s negatives and ensuring they’re scanned to their liking. It was a magical experience, feeding the frames through my scanner, curious about the next exposure.
My work Circa 2016 Vs. today (2021).
Another thing I noticed is how much easier it is to scan another photographer’s work versus my own. My critical eye slips away and I see only color + density. Sure, I take note of the beautiful light and careful composition—especially when an image is striking—but I tend to accept what is before me with greater ease. When I scan and edit my own work, however, my mind wanders—“Maybe I should add just a little more warmth into my shadows?” or “Ugh! How did I miss the horizon line directly behind their head?” But when I have another photographer’s work before me? The adjustments fall into place with ease. In fact, I think that’s one of the incredible benefits to shooting film in our modern era. By the time your film is in your inbox, you know your negatives have been attended to by an entire team of people, many of whom have been doing this for years—I’m talking decades. So there’s much less guesswork to be done on your end—you can trust the images in front of you. This saves you time, money and most, importantly, your sanity.
Day 4 Journal Entry
In my short time here at the lab, I’ve scanned the work of various photographers—and one thing remains the same in nearly every roll. Imperfection! Crooked horizons, goofed exposure, cut off feet, etc. As Brian Wood has said to me again and again, we are our own worst critics. And I know for myself, I find that especially true. When I find myself wincing at a botched shot, I try to remind myself that even the “best” photographers take average, or even bad, shots. Because the best way to get “the shot” is to simply shoot. In these examples, the first shot is "off" where the second is a keeper!
One of my favorite photographers, Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009), took over 150,000 photographs during her lifetime. That might not sound like a lot, but considering this was in the film era, and she wasn’t a professional photographer but a hobbyist street photographer, that number is expansive. If you know her story, you know that while she documented some of the most beautiful cityscapes and took engaging portraits of people and architecture in Chicago, NYC, LA and worldwide, her work wasn’t seen or recognized by popular culture until after her death. Why? Well, many of her negatives were never even printed until after her passing. It wasn’t until John Maloof, a Chicago collector, acquired some of Maier's photos in 2007 and shared them online in 2009 via Flickr that her images “went viral.” Her work has now been the main attraction of various exhibits, and the 2013 documentary about her, “Finding Vivian Maier,” received critical acclaim.
OK—so why am I sharing this? To encourage you, of course! Maier had an eye, that much is undeniable. All of the greats do. But she also botched thousands and thousands of shots. As many professional street, wedding and portrait photographers also do. Much of her success is simply due to how prolific she was. Because in order to capture the essence of a human, it takes technique, timing and a little bit of serendipity. So keep shooting. Keep culling. And keep making work. Not every image you make will make your Instagram feed or client’s wall, but with every image, you’ll get a little bit better at seeing, timing and capturing the magic around you.
As my workday winds down here at PV, I begin the process of shutting down my scanning station. Naturally, I begin reflecting on the various things I’ve learned in just 5 days here at the lab and I glance over my scribbled notes-to-self that sit on my desk. Are you curious to know how I plan to adjust my shooting approach for my three shoots this upcoming weekend? Because from the perspective of a new film technician, I’ve noticed a few critical ways I am able to adjust my shooting to get the most out of my future scans:
Step back. Don’t get me wrong—I love a tight portrait or detail shot. But believe me, you’re going to want to try inching back just before you press the shutter button (just don’t forget to re-focus). Why step back? Well, have you ever photographed a flat lay, for instance, and cut off the very edge of the details in your frame? (see example below) Maybe you’ve even sworn to yourself that you know you got the entire scene in the frame when you shot it. Well, many professional cameras (AKA that 645 you’re using) feature a viewfinder with 100% coverage—vs. the 97% coverage you may see if you’re using a consumer camera. This means that what you see at the edge of the viewfinder when you’re out in the field might not actually end up in your scans. This is because your film must be manually fed through a film carrier in order to be scanned, and in that process the scanner automatically crops off the very edge of your composition. Moral of the story? Step back. And give your clients that extra bit of foot room.
Location and light really is king. But you probably already knew that, didn’t you? Well, it doesn’t hurt to hear it again. It’s astonishing how different one roll of film can look from the next, from the same photographer, scanned in order. Your location, the time of day you’re shooting and how your subjects are styled really make all the difference. If you feel like you’re struggling with inconsistency from one shoot to the next, carefully consider how you can educate your clients as to where and when to have their shoot, as well as what they should wear.
Digital photos will never look exactly like film. Sure, maybe you have incredible Lightroom or Capture One profiles or presets to help you achieve your signature look, but stop trying to pull out your hair adjusting those HSL sliders and grain. Digital is another medium—and your work will never perfectly match film. Take that information as you’d like and own it. For me, I plan on shooting film in the situations I can, and shooting digital in the scenarios where film just doesn’t make sense. By selecting these media at different times and during different scenarios on, say, a wedding day, I can actually appreciate my digital images in a different way without the pressure of making them look perfectly like film.