Own business: professional photo lab


There have been several popular printing and scanning franchises on the market for a long time, which quite satisfy the most average and unpretentious demand. Why is it most profitable today to open a professional photo lab or “prolab”? Read more about this trend below.

The Art of Photography

The art of photography has suffered from another technological breakthrough and is in decline, as most professional photographers and business players in this market segment believe. Yes, they will agree with them, in general, and the inhabitants who have a taste for photography.

All that can be offered to the mass consumer today by typical, saving on everything “development” is the low quality of the picture and its relative (!) Cheapness. But once such franchises were proud that their quality control is high and allows you to have grandiose results. But, alas, they could not keep this notorious quality in the realities in which a small network business is forced to work, put on a stream, and at the same time forced to dump. Night shifts, round-the-clock work, an amazing staff turnover, and the personnel policy itself, as a result of which only guest workers with low motivation were willingly hired, non-compliance with sanitary and all sorts of norms, did their job. But technical progress also “helped” them.

Long gone are the days when acquiring your own “soap dish” made you the soul of the company and the chronicler of all appearances. The time has passed when every inhabitant of your city enthusiastically snapped off large films, capturing miserable interiors, plates with Russian salad and drunken faces of people unfamiliar to him. Everyone ate. Because of this, the days of photo labs are numbered – this is fixed by market observers quite officially.

Despite the mass of unprofessional photographers with undeveloped taste, most people related to photography are still true amateur photographers. They are, as they say. They know. What is “exposure” and “aperture”. And the number of such people is only growing, as literature, and periodicals, and Internet communities, and the cameras themselves have become available to many.

Photo equipment

So, having acquired the technique of their dreams, people want to make prints of the captured frames, but they have nowhere to do it! The quality that a typical photo lab can offer, of course, will not suit them – all their preliminary work, skills, as well as the cost of their camera – will not affect the print, it will not be any different from the print made from the “soap box”. Yes, and the film can spoil. These people need a professional printing studio!

But among other things, those who do not perceive photography as art, today are content with the fact that they can post their creativity on virtual resources – on social networks, on a flash drive, on a phone, and even on a camera. Now it is unprofitable to print these low-quality pictures on paper (an additional expense!) And store them at home, taking up the space of the apartment with thick photo albums. All trash today is stored in the virtual, maximum – on a CD.

And now, having reached the bottom as a photograph, we begin to slowly rise and are already witnessing a renaissance in this area. So “prolab” (professional laboratory) is the most demanded business for those. Who looks into the near future.
Profitability vs. Earnings Compared
To begin with, let’s compare the earnings of a professional photo lab with those of a typical processing and printing shop, and you’ll get the idea.

  • 100 thousand dollars a month (3 million rubles) of gross income – a prolab;
  • 20 thousand dollars a month (600 thousand rubles) of gross income – photo lab.

And this despite the fact that the income of a typical point today consists mainly of the sale of related photo products, up to frames for a photo.

If you start a prolab, then in some types of services from the list (from the range) profitability reaches unthinkable figures – from several hundred to 1000 percent. Take, for example, developing black and white film.
The cost of reagents is less than a hundred dollars.
Monthly turnover – a little less than a thousand.
Working with slides
The cost of consumables and depreciation – less than three thousand dollars a month
Monthly turnover – 16 thousand dollars.

Your clients

In addition to lovers of professional photography, all freelance photographers will be your regular customers. In addition to them, your customers – those who are engaged in advertising, modeling agencies, publishers of all kinds of consumer “gloss”, especially provincial gloss.

Features of the technological process
Here (according to the magazine “The Secret of the Firm”) is a list of services that you are required to provide, positioning yourself as a professional photography studio:

  1. manual printing from the negative both on color and black-and-white paper;
  2. contact printing – that is, test prints;
  3. machine optical printing;
  4. large format inkjet printing;
  5. possession of developing technologies for all types of films (including slide films, the so-called E-6 process);
  6. the ability to apply an image on various textures: paper, tracing paper, canvas, Metallic
  7. possession of digital technologies: scanning, fotozhaba, recording on digital media.

In order to achieve the quality of a professional photo studio, you need to follow a simple principle: “Jews, do not spare tea leaves!”. Professionals use only high-quality licensed imported reagents, do not save on paper. The rejection of printed images is high: out of four prints, three go to the trash can – and only one to the client. In addition, you must get a frame machine (frame-immersion processors of two types: 1) for negative and 2) slide film) and a rotary machine.

Color transparencies (slide) films (Process E-6) are processed in a Tecnolab Delta 60 TV frame machine.

For negative films (C-41 process) a Tecnolab Delta 55 TV frame machine is purchased.

Black and white negative films are developed in a Jobo rotary machine.

Professionals say that the best quality is ensured only in those frame machines that work on the principle of parallel transfer.

How it works?

Films to be developed are attached to frames. Then they are sequentially transferred from the bath to the bath with intermediate washings (between immersions in different working solutions). Therefore, nothing extraneous touches the films. The computer control system for the characteristics of the solutions, as well as the saturation of the washing water and reagents with nitrogen guarantees: 1) the absence of color distortions, stains, spots on the surface, 2) further long-term storage of photographic materials in the archive, 3) the absence of scratches left by passing machines.

In addition to the frame machine, to prevent the same scratches on the emulsion, you will need to equip the laboratory assistant’s workplace with a compressor with compressed air that removes dust from the room.

The cost of equipment for a photo lab

The equipment, of course, is not cheap. Consider leasing. It allows you to start a digital photography business with an initial investment of about $25,000. As the number of customers grows, you can buy more powerful equipment, renting out the old one under trade-in schemes.”

So how much does the whole set of equipment cost? From 200 to 300 thousand dollars. By purchasing equipment as a property, you reduce business risks to a minimum. Because such highly liquid equipment is an investment. Even if the business does not work out, the equipment will be bought with great pleasure.

Payback. Loading.

The ideal to strive for is 10,000 films per month or, in terms of photographs (prints), 200,000 photographs. These are very high figures, but reaching them is necessary for a completely successful business. In general, in two years of successful work, you can go to zero. What will make you grow faster? Bet on digital photography. Bid on the sale of related products. Cooperation with advertising agencies (which will be your clients).

Pitfalls of photography business

The equipment is tricky. There is only one salvation from this – market players are strongly advised to conclude a service agreement with both a direct supplier and a distributor, if the purchase is not made directly. If for a year (warranty period) you have no problems with the equipment, then it will not arise. According to statistics, factory marriage is 5%.

The second problem is dependence on software. When buying equipment from some companies, you run the risk of becoming dependent on their licensed software, which is updated almost every month for others! Therefore, before signing a temptingly cheap contract, check if they will get their money by selling you software. Usually not quite honest players do this.

Photo lab staff

  • 1 accountant (outsourced)
  • 2 shop assistant
  • 2 print operators
  • 2 film developers
  • 1 technologist (he is responsible for the production process and quality control)
  • It is best if you yourself, the owner of the business, take on the role of a technologist, at least until you find a high-quality and worthy replacement for yourself.


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