Lab Chats: Lighthouse Film Lab, RU

Name: Lighthouse Film Lab
Location: Novosibirsk, Russia
Established: 2014
Film formats: 135, 120, 220
Scanners: Noritsu HS-1800, Fuji Frontier SP-3000

Who are we chatting to?
Name: Aleksandr Ivanec
Position: Owner
Film stock of choice: Kodak Portra 400
Camera of choice: Pentax 67 + Pentax 105mm f/2.4
Favourite photographer: I am a fan of Rodney Smith, I have always been honored by his sense of composition and style. This is a classic that will always be relevant.
Quirky fact: I spent most of my life swimming, played for the Russian national swimming team for six years, but one day I realized that I could not live without film photography.©  Aleksandr Ivanec

Tell us about the history of Lighthouse Film Lab.
We are a laboratory founded in Siberia, this is a region where snow lasts for at least six months a year. The lab opened for customers in 2014. We spent the first half of the year scanning at my home and developing at my friend Vyacheslav’s house next door, he’s been developing film manually with Jobo CPP-2. Fuji Frontier SP-3000 was the only scanning option back then, but after half a year we had to rent an office, because the demand was greater than we expected.

We were lucky to immediately begin working with the most sought-after wedding film photographers in Russia. Lots of them were having to send their film to the US labs, so the order cost was quite high (mainly because of the shipping and currency expenses). Some of them had encountered negative experiences when developing films at local mass-market labs. We used the workflow of the American labs as a model, mainly because of the feedback and relationship between the lab and photographer which is crucial part in film photography, as well as workshops and training courses.

We traveled across Russian cities with lectures and workshops. It’s still not obvious and clear for the majority of amateur photographers that buying a Contax 645 doesn’t make you great photographer at once. Many of them don’t know about the variety of options of cameras and lens existing on the market.

© Tamara Gigola

Introduce us to the team at Lighthouse.
Our team consists of five people, mostly with degrees in fine arts. They are passionate enthusiasts. There are also a few people who help us during the season. Our lab is a kind of one big family.

Can you give us an insight into the film photography community in Russia?
There are a lot of talented photographers in Russia, some constantly take photos on film, others prefer film exclusively for individual projects. The number of photographers who make their first steps in film photography grows every year. Film photography is at the Renaissance stage in Russia. As soon as digital cameras have come to the market, film photography remained in separate parts of the country. This fact is still surprising for the digital photography generation. Our goal is to populate the film movement, make it affordable and accessible.

© Vadim Slabzheniniv
© Nikita Sursin

Do you have an international client base, or do you mainly serve Russian photographers?
Yes, our clients are mostly photographers from Russia – approximately 80%. The rest of our clients are from CIS and Europe. We also work with photographers from Australia, Indonesia and South America.

You work with two scanners. Do you recommend one over the other for certain film stocks/results, or does it come down to personal preference?
I can talk about this for hours. These are fundamentally different scanners. We’ve written comparative review of the scanners, although the majority of customers tend to order Frontier scans. From my point of view, Noritsu seems to be underestimated, although it has excellent specs. Customers order Frontier or Noritsu on purpose – if they don’t know what to choose, we ask them to send examples of the expected results to define their preferences more clearly. It happens sometimes that we scan on both scanners to show the samples quickly, so the client can choose the desired result. In my opinion, the Kodak film (the whole family) is more suited to Noritsu, but everything depends on the conditions, light, exposure and, of course, the taste of the client. Here is one piece of advice: you need to do the research and try different scanners, especially if you are at the beginning of a film journey.

© Maria Municina

What is the biggest challenge when developing and scanning?
The main challenge is to define what the client actually needs. Previously, when there were fewer clients, I talked on the phone with every one of them. We discussed the conditions of lighting, which equipment to use for shooting or which film stock works better for a particular shoots. I’ve met with so many clients in person, I even flew across Russia to get to know each other better. Now the employees are in charge of communication – I solve the issues if any arise. If the client doesn’t mention any scanning preferences, we reach out to him or her via email, phone or social media and evaluate what they need, what contrast, darker or cooler exposure – maybe there are the shades and tints that the photographer uses most often. 

© Janna Teplova

Is there a particular body of work that you’ve processed that is memorable?
I remember one of our clients very much, unfortunately I can’t give you the name, he took nude self-portraits of his family. It looked so harmonious, naturally and intimate. I realized that everyone who truly loves each other should take such portraits once. 

Who should we be keeping our eye out for? What rising talent is coming through your lab that we should know about?
This is not a simple question; a large number of names immediately come to my mind.

Unfortunately, we can’t always post the scans, but you can see most of the lab routine on our Instagram.
I would like to highlight Sergei Sarakhanov @sarakhanov as well as Roman Pashkovskiy. In my opinion, they are outstanding portrait artists.

© Sergei Sarakhanov

Incredibly creative photographer, Pavel Borshchenko, has a unique approach to photo concepts.

© Pavel Borshchenko

Alexander Kalinin is great at his art shoots.

© Alexander Kalinin

Goran Hrubi is talented at depicting his children maturing.

I also really want to mention Kseniya Bunets from the wedding industry. She always keeps up to the unique style of shooting which represents her inner world.

© Kseniya Bunets

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out shooting film, what would it be?
I’m not too tired to say it – do the experiment. It’s great happiness when the first experience is successful. It is worth figuring out which exposure and film stock suits you, someone takes pictures at the box speed, someone likes the results with an exposure of +2 or even +3 steps, you won’t realize it until you do the research. I can’t limit myself to one piece of advice but if I have the opportunity to give a recommendation – if you want to get a stable and predictable result, use a light meter. Cameras measure reflected light, and this often leads to dark frames if you do not apply the correction. Check your camera before shooting and if it works on batteries, carry a spare couple of batteries. Remember that lubricant of the mechanical cameras may thicken in the cold, which also leads to unpredictable results. Feel free to ask for any questions or help from the lab, it is absolutely appropriate if you want to step up in the film photography direction. 

© Nataliya Obukhova

What does the future hold for Lighthouse Film Lab?
There are a few ideas at the moment. We want to start printing and maybe we’ll move to another region one day. 

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