A film is a celluloid base coated with an emulsion of many layers including the most important – the light sensitive Silver Halide Crystals. The more light they’re exposed to, the brighter and less detailed the photograph will be.
When a film camera takes a picture, the camera lens briefly exposes a portion (frame) of the film strip to an image that’s being magnified through the lens.
This exposure burns an imprint into the emulsion and creates what’s called a latent image.
Once captured, that latent image can be developed into a negative, which can be used to create a photograph.
We call film that hasn’t ever been in a camera UNEXPOSED FILM and film that has been in a camera and exposed to light EXPOSED FILM. If you find a roll and don’t know it’s history treat it as exposed.
Colour negative film is exposed to light in a camera in a light tight box. If at any time you open the back and expose that film to light you will have exposed the film to too much light and lose the images. At Snapshot we use a dark bag to investigate issues requiring the opening of the back while film is still inside.
When you bring in an exposed film for processing you'll see or hear these words: DEVELOP, SCAN, RESOLUTION and PRINT so we’ll try to make sense of the terminology. In this guide we are focusing on commercial film processing (not DIY) of negative film (not slide).
Film Developing is the chemical means by which exposed film is treated to transform the latent image into a visible image.
The exposed film goes through developer, stop, then fixer chemistry to create a permanent image on the (now clear)celluloid base that is no longer light sensitive
The developed film is called a NEGATIVE – because colours are inverted (blacks are white, whites are black, reds are green, etc.)
The NEGATIVE needs to be turned into a PHOTO PRINT to enable sharing, displaying, framing or putting in an album.
In the past this was done by a traditional photo lab
Now this is done by a digital photo lab
Digital photo printing systems
Labs that develop films most likely have a commercial roll film scanner, made by a photo lab manufacturer, to digitise these.
The higher the resolution required, the slower the process so the higher the price. A 1200x1800px scan is only suitable for a 6x4” photo, a 2400x3600px scan is suitable for an 8x12” photo, and a higher resolution is required for larger prints.
Once the film has been scanned the lab cuts the long film into shorter strips and sleeves these in archival quality sleeving. Some labs save the scans to CD or USB but most send direct to the customer using a service like WeTransfer.
As per our earlier discussion these are your choices:
Only select if you can scan negatives yourself, or have access to a darkroom, or are just checking the exposure abilities of an old camera.
DEVELOP AND PRINT
This is the preferred option for photographers who grew up in the times of Optical Labs. You get a set of processed negatives back along with a set of photos. Before digital the photographer would keep these negatives for such time as they wanted reprints or enlargements in the future.
DEVELOP AND SCAN
This tends to be the preferred option for photographers who have grown up in the digital camera era and are used to working with digital images. They may print their favourites at a later stage. The lab we use sends the photographer the files using WeTransfer. You will need to indicate to the lab what quality (resolution) scans you require.
DEVELOP AND PRINT AND SCAN
The best of both worlds but the priciest.
By default Photographers who select DEVELOP & PRINT will be given their negatives when they come to collect their prints.
The opposite is happening with the majority of photographers who select DEVELOP & SCAN without the prints. Once they have the digital scans they seem to see no value in collecting their negatives – this is a world wide trend. Photo labs who are sending the scans to the customer via an online system are most at risk of accumulating these uncollected negatives. All labs are reluctant to throw out negatives but struggling to find a system to manage these and the space to store them.
There are many reasons you should collect and retain your negatives, even if they have been scanned:
We have made the decision to dispose of negatives not collected within one year from the date of processing. Throwing away negatives is not something we ever want to promote but if you choose not to collect them we will dipose of them.
We'd love to see you.