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Digital Photo Labs

Photo Printing in the Digital Age

Digital photography has leveled the playing field for amateur and professional photographers. Skills once acquired during arduous hours in the darkroom are now replaced by point and click novices using Photoshop. A consistent grief among amateur photographers is the lack of professional printing. Uploading photos onto a website is easy, but obtaining quality prints can be a struggle. Let's take a look at some important questions to ask and see which San Francisco photo labs make the digital mark.

Before heading off to the proper photo lab, there are a few questions to ask yourself. Providing the answers to these questions will point you to the right developer. The first question to ask yourself is: what do you wish to achieve with your digital photos? Everyone wants quality photos that garner "oohs" and "aahs" and showcase your photographic eye. However, developing custom enlargements, standard prints, digital proofs, or collecting them on a digital CD might demand different processing.

A good example of this is the Blow Up Lab (located on Dore and 9th Streets). As their name suggests, they specialize in digital enlargements ranging from letter size prints (8.5-inch X 11-inch) to behemoth Godzillas (60-inch X 144-inch). Depending on the quantity, the aforementioned enlargements range from $17 to $840 and can be printed within 48 hours. The Blow Up Lab will even develop a life size cut out of any digital photo (running about $149). Just keep in mind, not all digital photos will translate into great enlargements. The quality of your digital camera and the resolution of your photos play a large part in the end result.

The second question you should ask yourself deals with digital photography experience: how knowledgeable are you about digital photography? Are you familiar with pixels, dots per inch, file sizes or formats? Matching your level of photography experience with the right photo lab helps with comfort levels. For those with less digital training you'll feel more comfortable at a consumer photo lab. Weekend photographers and aspiring photojournalists are usually behind the counter answering questions and providing helpful suggestions. Commercial photo labs tailor their services to business and high-end photographers and are less patient with newbies.

Known for their helpful customer service, Photoworks (located on Market Street and Church Street) aims to please both amateur and professional photographers. The men and women behind the counter treat everyone with courtesy, professionalism and, on occasion, razor sharp wit. Don't construe them for a run of the mill One Hour Photo just because they provide great customer care. The color quality of your digital prints will turn out vibrant with their ICC (international color consortium) profiling. Capitalize on their volume discount and you'll receive fifty prints for fifty cents each. Prices include your choice of border style (sloppy, clean, letterbox), AFGA Sensatis photo paper, cropping, and fixing of minor photo flaws. If you're feeling lazy and don't feel like hoping on MUNI, upload your photos online with their new photo manager.

The last question to ask has to do with costs: how much do you want to pay for your digital prints? Photo prints can vary in price from lab to lab. Undoubtedly, you can find dirt cheap digital prints online but remember that you're getting what you pay for. Color leveling, cropping, flaw corrections, and borders are usually set at default manufacturer settings and forgo customization.

The New Lab aims to please both consumer and commercial based clients. Located on Bryant and 4th Street, the New Lab is a high-end photo lab. Professional photographers have gravitated to the New Lab's exceptional E-6 (slide processing) and C-41 (color processing) services since the 1980s. They've moved into the digital realm by adopting digital scanning, imaging, and prints. If you're willing to pay the high-end price, New Lab won't disappoint. They take photo processing onto a new level by taking a scientific approach to their work. Digital prints are in 300 DPI (dots per inch) and laser exposed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper. Their prints produce maximum sharpness and great color contrast. 4-inch X 6-inch prints run approximately $2 a print with a minimum order of $15.

The growing digital market opens new doors for aspiring photographers. Professional grade digital cameras and high-end photo printers are now affordable to the average consumer. Depending on your time and experience, however, bringing your photos to a professional photo lab might be worth your while. Who knows, maybe they can turn your pixeled mush into a digital masterpiece.