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Photographic Laboratory Workers

The Job

Film process technicians develop exposed film or paper in a series of chemical or water baths. Before developing prints, they have to mix developing and fixing solutions. Once chemicals are carefully mixed, they immerse exposed film in developer, stop bath, and fixer, which causes the negative image to appear. The developer may vary the immersion time in each solution, depending on the qualities desired in the finished print. After the film is washed with water to remove all traces of chemical solutions, it is placed in a drying cabinet.

The technician may be assisted by a projection printer, who uses a projection printer to transfer the image from a negative to photographic paper. Light passing through the negative and a magnifying lens projects an image on the photographic paper. Contrast may be varied or unwanted details blocked out during the printing process.

Most semiskilled workers, such as those who simply operate photofinishing machinery, are employed in large commercial laboratories that process color snapshot and slide film for amateur photographers. Often, they work under the supervision of a master developer.

Automatic print developers tend machines that automatically develop film and fix, wash, and dry prints. These workers attach one end of the film to a leader in the machine and load sensitized paper into the end of the machine for the prints. While the machine is running, workers check temperature controls and adjust them as needed. The technicians check prints coming out of the machine and refer those of doubtful quality to quality control workers.

Color-printer operators control a machine that makes color prints from negatives. Under darkroom conditions, they load the machine with a roll of printing paper. Before loading the negative film, they examine it to determine what machine setting to use to produce the best color print from it. After the photographic paper has been printed, they remove it from the machine and place it in the developer. The processed negatives and finished prints are inserted into an envelope to be returned to the customer.

Automatic mounters operate machines that cut apart rolls of positive color transparencies and mount them as slides. After trimming the roll of film, the mounter places it on the cutting machine, takes each cut frame in turn, and places it in a press that joins it to the cardboard mount. Paper process technicians develop strips of exposed photographic paper. Takedown sorters sort processed film.

Photo checkers and assemblers use a backlit screen to inspect prints, mounted transparencies, and negatives for color shading, sharpness of image, and accuracy of identifying numbers. They mark any defective prints, indicating the corrective action to be taken, and return them with the negatives for reprocessing. Satisfactory prints and negatives are assembled in the proper order, packaged, and labeled for delivery to the customer.

Digital imaging technicians use computer images of traditional negatives and special software to vary the contrast, remove distracting backgrounds, or superimpose photos on top of one another. Precision photographic process workers work directly on negatives. These workers include airbrush artists, who restore damaged and faded photographs, colorists, who apply oil colors to portrait photographs to create natural, lifelike appearances, and photographic spotters, who spot out imperfections on photographic prints.

Laboratories that specialize in custom work may employ a retoucher to alter negatives or prints in order to improve their color, shading, or content. The retoucher uses artists' tools to smooth features on faces, for example, or to heighten or eliminate shadows. Some retouchers work in art studios or advertising agencies; others work as freelancers for book or magazine publishers.

Other photographic process specialists include print controllers, photograph finishers, hand mounters, print washers, splicers, cutters, print inspectors, automatic developers, and film processing utility workers.