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Boutique Film Lab

February 19, 2018
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New Friendships

In parallel to my writeup about BFL, these photos will tell a story of a quick weekend getaway with one roll of Kodak Ektar, one roll of Kodak Portra, and a Leica M6. This is a view of Lake Michigan off M-22.

Working with a Lab

When we shoot digital images, we spend much more time editing our photographs than we do shooting them. When we take pictures on film, that task of developing is left in the hands of another person. The relationship between a film photographer and their lab is a true creative bond. The lab tech brings a photographer’s images to life.

For an upcoming project, I thought to work with a new lab. This new project has forced me to start the whole creative process absolutely afresh. I have come up with a few things to consider as I start this new working relationship with Botique Film Lab (BFL).

To get the ball rolling on this blog post, I grabbed two of my favorite rolls (more on this later), hopped in a car, and went on a road trip to Northern Michigan. These pictures are all from this shoot and everything is developed by BFL.

  1. Understanding the Process: Building any new relationship is about learning how the other person works. It is really important to learn about the logistics of shipping your film and getting your scans (and film) back. These are the things that often get overlooked when you are working with a lab. In the crunch of a photo deadline these logistical things are life savers.
    On BFL’s website, you put items in your shopping cart with any details about push or pull processing. In the comments section, you can include any details with special instructions or processing inspiration. I already know how I like my film developed, so I was able to send BFL some other scans in a link. Upon paying for these shopping cart items a shipping document is generated and you send your film off to BFL. When your film is done being processed, you get digital scans emailed to you and your film mailed back. I really loved that the filenames for each image indicate which film stock they are from. I didn’t have to go back to the negatives to figure things out.
  2. Communication: It is so important to start early with establishing a working relationship with your lab and especially the person who will be developing your film. Upon mailing in my film, I gave BFL a call just to give them a general sense of what I was working on. Like I said earlier, it takes a lot for me to surrender my negatives to another creative and just talking to someone can make you (me) feel better.
  3. Test rolls: I am primarily a medium format photographer but for this shoot I was working with 35mm film. The grain in medium format is totally different than on 35mm rolls and I like to process the film differently depending on the format. Both, when working with a new lab and working with new film stock,
    test rolls are a major key! Side note: I said that in a heavy DJ Khaled voice.
  4. Tweak: The main difference between a good lab and a lab at a pharmacy is how you get to make personalized tweaks during the developing process. Take advantage of the fact that a good photo lab will work with you to make sure the film developing is specialized to your specific shoot. Notes like that are helpful to your lab.


My camera introduces me to such dynamic personalities. This guy was harvesting grapes for wine and was kind enough to pause his busy day to take a picture with me.


There is a Yak farm in Traverse city. I had to stand on top of my car to get this shot. Hopefully I can make it back there next time to get a closer look.


Every road trip should have pitstops for good food and sometimes you are lucky enough to hang out with the chef.


Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Any thoughts?