Lab Chats: Exposure Film Lab, UK

Name: Exposure Film Lab
Location: Hereford, UK
Established: April 2016
Film formats: 35mm, APS, 120, Remjet motion picture film (4X5 coming soon…)
Scanners: Fuji Frontier SP3000

Who are we chatting to?
Name: Matt Rees
Position: Owner/Big Chief
Film stock of choice: Portra
Camera of choice: Mamiya RZ67
Quirky fact: The only digital camera I own is on my phone.

Tell us about the history of Exposure Film Lab.
After finishing my photography BA I became increasingly tired of sending my film overseas to get the level of quality I was looking for, I soon realised that other photographers were doing the same. I then embarked on a huge amount research into my favourite scanner the ‘Fuji SP3000’ and different ways of film processing. I’m a bit of a film nerd and ended up creating a ‘dream lab’ setup in my head after about a year of research on all things film. Finally I went about turning my dream setup into a reality. It was a massive learning curve, processing and scanning mine and friends work until I became ready to open the lab to the public in early 2016.

© Dan Freeman

You’re located in countryside England, do you find your clients are local or more widespread?
We have clients all over the world and as far as Japan, but our core customer base is throughout the UK. The film community is surprisingly strong in Hereford for such a small city. We have a great art college, and the tutors insist on all photography students learning the basics of shooting film.

Who does the Exposure Film Lab team consist of?
We’re a really small lab. I still process all films myself and scan the majority of it. There is also Steve Fratson who scans and is our image editor, and Tom Rees who handles all film cutting, storage and dispatch duties.

© Millie Clinton

How does Exposure differ from other labs?
I set up the lab in response to what I felt was big gap for film services in the UK. 
When setting it up, I wanted to tailor it to what I felt was missing from other labs. One goal was offering good quality, neutral tiff scans at an affordable price. I still feel this is our main selling point for a lot of our customers and something I could never find as film photographer in the UK.

I also wanted to drag the film processing lab into the modern age. All scans are transferred online and the ordering service is completely online, in real time and simple to use. No more dealing with order forms or asking for quotes. You can create an account with us and you won’t even need to retype your address each time.

Our small size has also been a big benefit. We’ve had a lot of clients who have come from bigger more established labs because they feel like they have a lack of consistency of who scans their film, a lack communication and personal responsibility. You can email us and you’re talking directly to me, there’s no middle management or corporate structure. Because of this we’re able to tailor the service for the individual rather than a one box fits all type mentality. I’ve become a bit of a control freak and have held off growing the lab as I want to oversee every aspect as much as possible.

© Sophie Morris

What is the biggest challenge when developing and scanning?
Apart from keeping all of the great, but often very old, equipment working in top condition (which is a skill in itself!), the biggest challenge is usually understanding and translating a clients personal preference and what they hope for from their scans from us. Tastes differ vastly and one person’s ‘warm’ is another person’s ‘neutral’, and sometimes people will have expectations of how a particular film stock ‘should’ look. Since opening the lab I’ve become a lot better at interpreting requests such as, ‘more cream’ into actual technical differences that can be implemented.

Are you noticing any particular trends in what you’re receiving from clients? 
The light and airy/pastel look is still very popular, but lately the trend has been more towards more natural looking scans without too strong an aesthetic, more of a documentary type approach.

The lab appears to work with quite a few wedding photographers, how does this differ to working with other clients?
Wedding photographers generally require a different approach to other clients. A lot of photographers are looking to keep as much headroom as possible in their scans, and it is important for them to be able to add their finishing touches with post processing. Whereas wedding photographer are often very particular about a way they want their scans to look and are looking to do little to no post processing. A lot of our wedding clients will often pick their keepers and send them straight to the client. That’s just the nature of that business and having deadlines to fill. In a way shooting a wedding on film and using a good lab can work out as more efficient than having to go through and edit thousands of digital raw shots for example.

© Gina Dover-Jaques

Is there a particular body of work that you’ve processed that is memorable?
I wouldn’t say there is particular body of work as such, but rather clients that have become memorable. It is fantastic watching photographers grow, from just starting out to becoming established photographers with careers in the field.

What rising talent is coming through your lab that we should know about?
Dan Freeman for great documentary. Check out his Instagram.
Sophie Morris for super contemporary portraiture. Check out her Instagram.
Millie Clinton for dreamy portraits. Check out her Instagram.
Gina Dover-Jaques for stylish contemporary wedding photography. Check out her Instagram.

© Dan Freeman

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out shooting film, what would it be?
The number one problem we encounter is simply just underexposure. Over exposing negative film looks great but shooting at box speed is also fine, just be aware that often shooting at box speed and using the on-board camera meter will result in underexposure depending on the scene. Never trust your camera meter! I’d recommend all photographers getting an external meter and taking the time to try metering in ‘incident mode’ and comparing it with your camera results.
Have fun, experiment and shoot film!