My amateur answer is that I average 45 mins to get a passable first RC print from a neg. I do drum processing and typically 2 or 3 sets of test strips per image, I haven't properly calibrated my printing yet but I do know what settings work well for my own film development processes. Taking a customer's negs is far, far more difficult.
If you're doing this professionally, you must be far faster; you need to make use of all possible automations because your time is the most expensive thing by far. You need:
- an automated print processor to minimise your dry-to-dry times, particularly while evaluating dodges/burns
- a fully calibrated f/stop-based print process, e.g. BTZS, so that you can read a few densities from the neg, dial in a contrast directly and know, on the first exposure, that you have 90% nailed it on any paper that you have in stock
- calibration across papers means you can prototype complex dodge/burn sequences on cheap+fast RC then (with tweaks to filtering and exposure derived from the calibration) repeat the print on FB on your first try
- automated print washing that doesn't interfere with your workflow
- a bunch of annoyingly bulky and/or expensve machinery like hot-air print dryers (for RC), drying racks and drymount presses (for FB)
- probably an ability to cut mattes and access to a supply of cheap pre-cut mattes with ~24x19cm holes
- probably an ability to print colour too
- name recognition backed by a bunch of gallery shows.
If you're not already running a photo lab, I don't think it's a business I'd want to get into. There's a reason all the pro labs are going out of business: who is going to pay $200 for a hand made 16x20 when they can get a digital one for less than 10% of that price? Let alone a $100 8x10 vs $3 digitally.
I always tell my wife I will be in the darkroom for 45 minutes. I have four drying racks, so my maximum output per session is 4 prints (more if I keep some wet). Typically it will be 3 hours before I come out of a printing session with 2 or 3 prints made. One to my satisfaction. I may go in later and make that last print. Then I have to go back after first wash to tone, then go in after the final wash to lay on the screens. Toning and washing are often done the next day.
I have to say that I'm the low man on this totem. Of course, I'm not ready to compete with the pro-labs for every-day services yet. Right now, I'm infatuated with my own process and I don't have any orders on my desk for any printing. I will say, though, that I want my own work to be just the starting point. There is another lab in town (a great one, to be frank) that does custom black and white optical printing. I'm a big fan of their work, but they are the only game in town. I'm not yet on the level in which I can compete with them, but I want to be.
I have mixed feelings about some of what I'm reading, but I mean no disrespect (far from it!). Yes, cost is everything, but what about value? I've read thread after thread about the longevity of silver-gelatin prints outlasting almost everything else, save glass plates, and the labor-intensive craft that is a pure analogue process from vision to print. More than half of the struggle in this art seems to be educating the public, the consumer, the client, about why your product has value that will last.
I'm not a printing expert, yet, but I will be - and no one can convince me otherwise. Yes, there will be difficulties and failures along the way, but I'm not afraid of that. I'm not afraid of practicing the art. I am a little nervous about the business side, which is why I'm asking a lot of questions, reading a lot of books, and practicing as much as I can. I don't care if I'm working on small scales for a long time. I believe that there is a place in our society for custom optical printing done by a real hand with real light.
Other than the one pro-lab, no one else is offering that kind of service. Remember, I'm starting with my own work to build a reputation and planning to move up when I'm ready.
Again, thank you all for contributing to this discussion - your honest and justifiably blunt comments are exactly what I had hoped for.
All the best,
To be blunt I think you need to be technically excellent and publicly recognised as such before hanging up your shingle to do this kind of work. Once you have people asking for you to print their negs then you worry about how much to charge and how long it takes.
If your customers are happy to pay what you ask then all good but if they baulk, you can probably then think about how to optimise process and/or whether the time you spend on a neg is reasonable.
Well, to be fair, I never did ask how much I should charge, only how much time was generally spent making a good print. The OP was designed to set up a benchmark to which I could compare my work. I freely admitted that I wasn't ready quite yet.
So, I'm not worrying about it. I'm just planning, asking questions, reading, and practicing.
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Lots of advice here , I am not sure how many of them 1. make their sole living from photography, 2. are a sole business owner.
I am both and would like to give you my thoughts, that come from 22 years doing what you propose to do.
Dallmation Labs is a good benchmark, I believe they are who you are referring too
If you feel you are as good as them , then having their competition is better than having none. When I started my small lab in Toronto there were 5 other silver labs, not to mention the other commercial labs. My friends said I was crazy starting out against established labs.
I opened, set my prices in the middle of the pack and started working. You will be amazed at how much support you will find, there is already an established market and people will try you out. If you undercut and deliver same/less quality work you will have a hard go at it as your competitor will figure out a way to snuff you. You will need to charge the same, see below. The established lab has figured this all out for you.
If you charge the same, work your ass off, deliver quality work , you will start sharing clients and see some success.
What concerns me is I am in a the fourth largest city in North America, and frankly the enlarger business is pretty much international based rather than local.
Your competition in NC have digital fibre prints, enlarger prints and as well an international following. I am suggesting that there may not be enough local work to sustain your family, no matter how you present your work as archival benchmark.
If you have other services to offer , like framing, mounting, installation, scanning you will have a much better opportunity to get local business.
If you only see this as a part time business, and you can find some loyal customers then you are good to go..
Here is how I see the business side of thing.
Add up your hard costs, Rent, phones, hydro, water, leases,insurance......
Divide them by 12 and you will see how much you need to produce just to break even.
Then price up your materials, Silver Gelatin btw is probably the most expensive product to work with.
As a small business owner( photographic trade) you will come to the conclusion you will be working 360 of the 365 days of a year, trust me on this one.
You will also need to consider your family and how they will handle your work scheduale. This is very important just ask any owner of a small business that is in the service industry.
You will also need to add in your share of personal financial needs, food, rent or mortgage, kids clothes and teeth.
Adding this all into the equation , then divide that number by 360 and you will see how much per day, per week, per month , per year to survive.
All of this is pre tax , so add in a bookkeeper to take care of that issue.
Any money above this is yours.
If I was to do this over again I would, but here is the one thing I would have changed.. Rather than Rent I would have purchased my space, live above and each time you pay rent you are putting equity into yourself.
Once you become a small business owner you are delegated to the lowest of low when it comes to the banks,so prepare yourself, you may get lucky with them, but try to pay cash for all your purchases and lease when you can.
you will cherish your 6 days off each year.
Originally Posted by rwreich
My sessions are typically 4 hours. One print or 20 prints, all the same. Setup and get going is not worth for only a few prints. I usually print 15-20 per session, 8x10 to 16x20.
20x24 I do about 10 in that time frame. Always fb.
Bob - I hear great wisdom in your response, and for that I am grateful. Yes, I was referring to Dalmatian Labs in my post about a local pro-lab, and they are really very good. Some of the prints I have seen in the lobby are really excellent. I don't plan to undercut their prices at all, and for what it's worth, I'm not interested in matching their offerings with regard to digital-FB. In fact, I'm not into hurting anyone's business - I believe that some competition would be good for everyone.
In the end, I'd like to remain committed to my photography side first and perhaps pursue the darkroom services as a part-time endeavor. Right now, I do own my own space and live above the darkroom (in my basement), but I would have to lease or borrow presentation space. I will carefully consider your excellent advice, Bob, thank you for your contribution.
NB23 - Are you making 15-20 from the same negative, or from different negatives? I'm finding that each new negative requires some studying before application and that takes more time.
Now is a perfect time for new printers to come on the scene, just make sure you have enough services to feed the money machine.
Dalmation is a great lab and I have known about their services for years.
When I did commercial work in the days of film, I tested all my processes and workflow. I could take a negative and make an 8x10 print in 10 minutes or less. It was just for money. Now It's for fun and I don't mind spending extra time in the darkroom. You gotta get your process dialed in if you want efficiency. Take copious notes. I've heard W. Eugene Smith made negs of his favorite prints to be more efficient. Saves dodging and burning.
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We are monkeys with money and guns.”
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