SOMEDAY MY PRINTS WILL COME … THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S LAMENT

You know the Disney song, right?

“Someday my prince will come” — Snow White sings it to the seven dwarfs in the Disney animated classic from 1937. It was the beginning of serious animation. Who could forget?

When I was learning photography, back in the early 1970s from a friend with a good education in photography and an odd sense of humor, I learned a different set of lyrics. But first … the back story.

For black and white film (it was all film at that point … digital photography was decades in the future) … we did our own developing and printing. The university I had attended — and for that matter, that my friend had also attended — had a dark room which he ran. Whatever photographic work the school needed, he did it. But it left a lot of time for personal projects and having a spacious, well-equipped dark room and laboratory was a dream come true. All I had to supply was paper and chemicals. I learned a huge amount in those few years during which I had access to the facilities.

One of my last photos developed in the darkroom, the wood-stove from the camp in Maine

Color was different. For color work, we were dependent on a (very) few custom photography labs. You could cheap out and drop your film off at the drug store — if you didn’t mind negatives covered with scratches and bad prints on the cheapest paper. If, however you wanted some quality proofs and prints made by hand from negatives properly developed, you needed a trustworthy (expensive) lab. The equipment to develop and print color was too big and too costly for an individual. Oh how times have changed!

Custom labs took a long time. They called themselves “custom” and they really were. They hand developed the negatives and prints, though proofs were generally done by machine unless you specified otherwise. Usually, we ordered proof sheets and from these, selected the frames we thought were worth blowing up.

Today, you can get amazing, high quality work from laboratories that will take your files over the Internet and mail you prints on paper, wood, canvas, aluminum, or whatever. They will do it quickly and usually at competitive prices. In the old days, custom work was the province of professional photographers. This meant weddings, babies, other events big and small. Also, material for magazines and advertising agencies. Most of the pros used large format cameras which were (still are) so expensive they may cause fainting on the spot.  Like, for example, a Hasselblad, the preferred camera of NASA where the camera body alone costs more than my house …  and don’t even ask about lenses.

Being an amateur, my print orders were never at the head of the queue. So, I’d wait. Sometimes weeks just to get proofs … which would be the first time I even knew if the pictures were good. It was a time of great anxiety.

While we waited, we sang:


“SOMEDAY MY PRINTS WILL COME …
Some DAY, my PRINTS will come …”

Eventually, they did. Have I mentioned how much I love digital cameras?

21 thoughts on “SOMEDAY MY PRINTS WILL COME … THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S LAMENT

  1. Interesting. I never had the opportunity to do my own developing and I really only discovered photography in the digital age. Photos in my childhood were only taken on holiday or special excursions

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    • I started taking pictures when my son was 1 year old. That’s when a friend gave me a camera. There were years when I didn’t take pictures … a whole decade, in fact. But it has been interesting moving from film to digital and I really enjoy digital. It’s very freeing.

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  2. I don’t think many people would have the patience to wait so long now. Even the stores that had the machines went from 24 hour delivery to 4 hour to 1 hour in the space of a couple of years and now even that is too long for some.

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    • They had 1 hour developing back then too, but not quality processing. You could take your stuff to the drug store and it would be ready in under an hour, but the negatives came back scratched and often off-color. It didn’t matter to most people, but if you were a wedding photographer and getting paid, you couldn’t afford scratched and off-color negatives. If you wanted them fast from a custom shop, you paid more. Usually, I wasn’t getting paid for the work, so I waited. But if it was a job, I paid for 24 or 48 hour service. Even now, if you want quality prints, you aren’t going to get them in an hour. Not stuff that will survive years in a frame, with quality paper and ink.

      Professionals wait. They have no choice. You can’t produce top quality photographs on a standard home printer. You can if you spend a lot of money maybe, but it’s really a lot less to pay a custom house and have them shipped to you.

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        • About five, maybe six years ago I had a bunch of 11X14 prints made and framed them all. Since then, there’s no more room for pictures. We actually have quite a few pictures, including paintings and drawings that are in closets. No room for them. It’s also expensive to frame professionally. But there are some places you can send pictures and they send them back printed on canvas or wood or aluminum and they look really amazing.

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  3. Definitely one of the better uses of technology – digital cameras! I have a dresser draw full of prints on 6×4 or 7×5 that i have not looked at for 15 years or more. I just bought a new card for my camera for $12 – it will hold 12,100 5megapixel photos! I may never fill the card in my lifetime.

    love.

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    • Every now and again, I get a new card because it’s faster or bigger and because sometimes, those little chips fail. Not very often, though. Only twice in all these years. That’s a very good rate and I don’t even treat my chips well.

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  4. One of the projects we did in my (ahem, cough, hack) gifted class in 8th grade was learn how to make a camera out of a Quaker Oats can. Then the teacher set up a dark room in a maintenance closet to let us develop the one-shot photos we took of the school from the outside. I really remember little about that other than the grainy black and white image I took and the fact that those photo developing chemicals smelled awful…

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  5. I remember those days. My dad had built me a darkroom in our garage. It worked perfectly but was way too hot in the summer. Did I ever tell you how many girls I picked up with a camera around my neck? Funny, it doesn’t seem to work any more.

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