Career as a photographic technician
Kevin Andrews works as a photographic technician. He develops camera film and prints the images on paper.
Can you describe your role?
I process and print film as well as looking after the maintenance of the processing machine. The company offers a wide range of services, including photocopying, laminating and restoring old and damaged photographs. Although I specialise in photo processing, I help out with other services at busy times.
What type of customers do you have?
I do processing for a number of professional photographers. They usually have special instructions, so I spend time discussing their requirements. They might want their prints to look warmer, so they ask me to bring out the yellow tones when I print. Although I take a lot of care and effort to make sure everyone's prints are of good quality, it's especially important that professional photographs look good, so I spend extra time on them, double checking that everything is perfect.
How do you process and print a film?
I pull a short length of film out of its cassette and clip it to a leader which is inserted into the processing machine. The film goes through the processing machine, and then onto the lab machine for printing. Before printing, I scan in each image and look at it on screen to decide whether it needs any adjustment. When I am satisfied that the picture looks as good as possible, I press a button and print the photograph.
How long does it take?
The machines are very quick, so on a busy day I could process and print around 40 films.
What else do you do?
I look after the maintenance of the processing machine. That involves filling the machine with the necessary chemicals every two or three days, depending on how many films have been processed.
I also change the paper on the processing machine, according to the size of print the customer has ordered, or whether they want a matt or gloss finish. It's important not to expose the paper to light, so I put the cassette which holds the paper into a 'dark bag', which is a large rubber sack. By putting my hands into the bag, I can work with the paper and still protect it from the light.
What about health and safety precautions?
They are very important and I have taken a few courses on the safe handling of chemicals, for instance. I wear an apron to protect my clothes and goggles to protect my eyes from splashes, I also wear gloves when handling film to make sure I don't put finger marks on negatives and prints.
What qualities do you need to be a photographic technician?
Attention to detail is extremely important. You also need a good eye for colour. Sometimes you need to explain to a customer why their prints didn't turn out as they expected. That requires patience and good communication skills. It's important to be calm and methodical, because if you become flustered you can make mistakes.
What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy talking to the wide variety of people that come into the shop. It is very rewarding when they are delights with their prints.
What work ambitions do you have?
I love taking photographs and would like to do it professionally one day. The skills I have learnt on this job have helped me to take better photographs. I've also leant a lot from the professional photographers who use our services.
Kevin's route to becoming a photographic technician
- GNVQ Intermediate Art and Design.
- BTEC in Art and Design, specialising in photography.
- HND in Commercial Photography.
- Joined a photo lab as a trainee lab technician.
- Moved to current job.
- Contact a local photographer and ask if they will give you work experience. You'll learn what makes a good photograph, and pick up a lot of the tricks of the trade.
Photographic technician related jobs
- Machine printer
- Medical photographer
Salary of a photographic technician
- New technicians earn around £10,000, progressing to £15,000-£16000 with some experience.
- Skilled and experiences technicians can earn up to £35,000.
Career as a photographic technician
- There are no minimum academic requirements, but GCSEs/S grades and interest in science are helpful.
- Professional processing laboratories may ask for grades A-C/1-3.
- Entry to a BTEC National Diploma in Photography requires four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications, and a portfolio of work.
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