One of the things I had to give up when I moved at the end of last year was the pleasure of taking a long lunch break at work and dropping by the little camera shop near my office to drop my film off for processing and browse the used camera case. The store does C-41 processing and scans in house and sends B&W and E-6 out to a lab in San Francisco. Their in store mini-lab does really nice work and I always enjoyed chatting it up with the folks at the front counter who are all long time photographers. And more than once, that camera case has separated me from some of my cash.
That little camera shop is now more than 40 miles from me and that means a change to my workflow; mail order processing. I’ve used a few mail order labs before and have had good results, but I have always had in the back of mind the thought that it would be a good exercise to find one lab, get to know them and they get to know me. It would be helpful to establish some presets for the various film stocks I used regularly, eliminate at least a few of the variables and heck...maybe even develop my own personal style.
Sometimes, life has a way of delivering what you wish for and as I was packing boxes and working through the various aspects of my move, I got an email through the blog from a film lab in Tennessee asking if I would be interested in giving them a try. Sounded like perfect timing!
Boutique Film Lab is a small, independent lab in Mount Juliet, about 20 miles outside of Nashville. Its founder, Ryan Tolbert is one of us--a film hobbyist who never had the intention of starting a film processing and scanning business. However, after years of sending his own work out, he decided that maybe he could do a better job himself. In the beginning, he was processing film in his kitchen sink. Soon, a few film friends started sending him their rolls to develop. As word spread, the kitchen sink operation grew into a full time business that now processes thousands of rolls a year from photographers all over the country
And while the business has grown dramatically, Ryan is committed to treating every customer relationship as a personal one and process each roll as if it was his own. He’s accessible and loves communicating with his customers. This is a guy who loves film!
In a way, Boutique is really a snapshot of where the film industry is headed. Hobbyists and passionate people who are devoted to analog photography are keeping film alive. And with big commercial labs closing, small custom labs like Ryan’s are going to be holding up the industry. And that’s good for all of us.
Here are some shots Ryan sent me of his lab. Clicking any of the images makes them larger.
Working with Boutique is easy. Fill out a clean, simple form on the website. There are processing and scanning options and Ryan’s prices are very competitive considering the personalized service you are getting from him. His website lists 5 business days processing time on C-41 and 7 for black and white or E-6. I sent him two rolls of C-41 and two black and white and had all my images back via an Amazon S3 download in 5 days. I received two nice emails during the processing letting me know the status of my orders.
I purposely didn't provide any special instructions when I mailed my film in, just to see what I’d get back. I liked the fact that my image folders were titled with the kind of film I had sent in. My photographs were of nothing special, but the scans I got back were very, very nice. Processing was spot on and the scans were some of the best I’ve had from any lab.
I posted a few of these on January 30th, shot with my Leica R6 in my review of Fuji Industrial 100 film.
And some Kodak Portra 400 overexposed by one stop in my Nikon F3HP…
I’ve always wanted to build a relationship with a lab and I am so encouraged by this first interaction with Boutique Film Lab that I’m going to make a commitment to use them for the bulk of my color (great that they can do E-6!) and most of my black and white photography this year.
You can find Boutique Film Lab here.
I say “most of my black and white photography” because one of the nice things I’ve just discovered about my new location is that there is a very cool rental darkroom about 10 minutes away from me. I’m taking the tour this weekend. I’m excited about having access to an enlarger and for the first time in many years…printing some of my black and white negatives!
New adventures await!