My pet peeve is when people post film photos and don't tag their lab.

You're in some Facebook group or scrolling on Instagram, and you see someone ~drooling~ (why is there so much "drooling" in the film community?) over their film scans they just got back from the lab. Oh, they love them. Isn't film so magical? I did this!

Alright, yes, they did take the photo, and they maybe even tweaked the image some after they got it back, but unless they also scanned it, they had another VERY important partner in this process. I am proud of them for taking on film, and also we need to give credit where credit's due.

I don't think photographers are intentionally not including their labs in their successes and artful path; I think it's a question of education. They don't realize what is going on behind the scenes. I find people are always underestimating how much work goes into scanning their film well. I hear "I shoot film because I hate editing" all the time, and it baffles me. Because if it's just editing they hate, maybe they should move to digital only and hire a phenomenal editor because a good film lab is doing that level of work on their images. They don't realize how much effort someone else has put into their film, nor how much artistic power they've ceded along the way. They don't realize even the tweaks they decide to make on a final image are wholly dependent on and limited by the image they got back from the lab.

What is your lab scanning technician doing?

I am intentionally leaving out the more commoditized aspects of what a lab scanning tech does. Why am I doing this? Because there's not a lot of secret sauce that goes into making sure your negatives aren't dusty and sleeving them. Is it important? Yes. Can you be more or less efficient at it? Sure. But these are your baseline expectations of a lab; they're not that distinguishing "it" factor that keeps you going back to one versus another. The "it" factor is in the in-scanner adjustments and post-processing tweaks.

Most of the labs you are having your negatives scanned at (unless they're really fancy or you need some hyper special type of scan) are using either Noritsu or Frontier scanners. There are various iterations of them. Some scan 35mm only, some scan medium format and and and. But suffice to say, these are your primary two camps before we start veering off into drum scan and Imacon world. These scanners will be at least 20 years old. Probably older.

And with ancient technology (I'm pretty sure I still had an LG flip phone and T9'd in 2010), comes more limited capacities to get bomb results. Sometimes minimalism helps beget creativity, but also, we all love our insane color depth cameras like GFX's and the d850. Your lab tech is scanning each, individual photo, then using most likely a special keyboard and manually shifting the cyan/ red, magenta/ green, blue/ yellow, density, and contrast THEN attempting to get stylistically consistent results across your entire rolls (potentially shot in 36 different lighting scenarios). Sometimes even by memory because they can't see more than one image on their screen at a time.

Then, depending on the type of service you've paid for, they may take these scans and further perfect them in Lightroom or Photoshop for you based on additional preferences you give them ahead of time.

Keep in mind, your tech isn't just doing this job for you. They're retraining their brain for each and every customer's stated preferences on a roll-by-roll basis. It takes a certain kind of brain for this. To do it well, you need a well lit environment, excellent color vision and sense for color nuance, as well as the patience to do this for hours and frames on end.

The extent of the color grading options in-scanner for a Fuji Frontier SP-3000

The same frame can give so many different looks

People seem to inherently know that a digital image can be edited to look many way. Maybe we have Instagram to thank for that, who knows, but there isn't one correct output. People treat film differently, as if it's a monolith. It isn't. The exact same film frame can be edited to take on so many different vibes. Given this huge variation in output and the effort the lab scanning technician is putting into your frames to achieve it, I see them as active participants in our art. We love to #thefilmweshot, and yet so many people don't even #thefilmlabtheyused.

Leaving off a tag hurts the film community

The crux of the issue is when we don't tag our labs, beginner (and even some seasoned) film photographers believe these are the images that they got straight from their lab (or close to). So, when they send their film into another lab and get bad scans back, they think they're bad at shooting film or this is "just how film looks." They don't understand there's a secret sauce on the scanning side and how it's impacting their final output. However, if they saw that scans from one #TaggedLab were always kind of dark and green and inconsistent and scans from another #BetterTaggedLab were vibrant, colorful, and consistent, then they could vote with their pocketbook on what lab behavior should be rewarded and enjoy the process of shooting film even more.

This isn't theoretical. I was getting my hair done the other day, and found out my hairstylist had recently taken up film photography and loved it. Like me, she uses it as a form of therapy. She's pretty green though, not just to film photography but photography more general. She's an artist with a great eye for color (obviously), and we got to talking about the labs she used and how she "just had this feeling [her] scans could be better." She also showed me another artist on Instagram and asked me how I thought this creator got the colors and look they did. We talked about what goes on behind the scenes at a film lab and everything seemed to click in her brain. I taught her how she could more effectively collaborate with her local lab if they're willing and found her a mail-in lab that I think might fit her more retro cinematic aesthetic effortlessly. But the artist on Instagram didn't tag their lab. The lab she was using didn't put effort into educating their clients. And as a result, her growth as a film photographer stagnated.

Next time you post, #TagYourLab

If you're tagging any other vendors in any other beautiful scans you put out into the universe of your work, you should #TagYourLab.

If you'd be annoyed if you collaborated on a project with an artist and didn't get credit, #TagYourLab.

If you just want to promote good people doing good work, #TAGYOURLAB. So much of how we making buying decisions these days is based on what we see and like that others are doing. The world doesn't need another sh*tty film lab, pumping out sub-par scans for customers who don't know any better. If you love your scans, this is a great way to support a thriving film community that rewards labs that teach, pay attention to your desire as an artist, and help output imagery that will outlast trends.

So, why don't you tag your lab, Dani?

Good question. I would tag a lab that scanned my film, but I don't tag labs I only have develop, because I do believe that process is more mechanized over artistic. If I found an amazing local lab, I really vibed with the owners, and I wanted to see them grow, I might. I think it's cool to support good people doing good work and trying to make their dreams come true. However, since I believe the secret ingredient to great film scans is in the scanning process and I digital camera scan all my own film, I don't have to. I am 100% the artist on the project making the significant creative decisions, and as a result, I do what I want.