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Nature of the Work
* Employment opportunities for photographic process workers are expected to decline as digital cameras become cheaper and more widely used.
* Most photographic process workers receive on-the-job training from their companies, manufacturers' representatives, and more experienced workers.
Both amateur and professional photographers rely heavily on photo processing workers to develop their film, make prints or slides, and do related tasks such as enlarging or retouching photographs. Photographic processing machine operators and tenders operate various machines, such as motion picture film printing machines, photographic printing machines, film developing machines, and mounting presses. Precision photographic process workers perform more delicate tasks, such as retouching photographic negatives and prints to emphasize or correct specific features. They may restore damaged and faded photographs, and may color or shade drawings to create photographic likenesses using an airbrush. They also may color photographs, using oil colors to produce natural, lifelike appearances.
The following jobs are examples of the work that machine operators perform. Film process technicians operate machines that develop exposed photographic film or sensitized paper in a series of chemical and water baths to produce negative or positive images. They first mix the developing and fixing solutions, following a formula. They then load the film in the machine, which immerses the exposed film in a developer solution to bring out the latent image, immerses the negative in stop-bath to halt the developer action, immerses it in hyposolution to fix the image, and finally immerses it in water to remove chemicals. The worker then dries the films. In some cases, these steps may be performed by hand.
Color printer operators control equipment which produces color prints from the negatives. They read customer instructions to determine processing requirements. They load the rolls into color printing equipment, examine the negatives to determine equipment control settings, set the controls, and produce a specified number of prints. They inspect the finished prints for defects, remove any that are found, and finally insert the processed negatives and prints into an envelope for return to the customer.
Paper process technicians develop strips of exposed photographic paper; takedown sorters sort processed film; and automatic mounters operate equipment that cuts and mounts slide film into individual transparencies.
Precision photographic process workers, also known as digital imaging technicians, use computer images of conventional negative and use specialized computer software to vary the contrast of images, remove a unwanted background, or even combine features from several different photographs. Precision photographic process workers who work in portrait studios, on the other hand, deal in very high volume, and tend to work directly on the photo negative, rather than on a computer. These workers include airbrush artists, who restore damaged and faded photographs; photographic retouchers, who alter photographic negatives and prints to accentuate the subject; colorists, who apply oil colors to portrait photographs to create natural, lifelike appearances; and photographic spotters, who spot out imperfections on photographic prints.
Work generally is performed in clean, appropriately lighted, well-ventilated, and air-conditioned offices, photofinishing laboratories, or 1-hour minilabs. In recent years, more commercial photographic processing has been done on computers than in darkrooms, and this trend is expected to continue. At peak times, portrait studios hire individuals who work at home retouching negatives.
Photographic process machine operators must do repetitious work at a rapid pace without any loss of accuracy. Precision process workers do detailed tasks, such as airbrushing and spotting, which may contribute to eye fatigue.
Some photographic process workers are continuously exposed to the chemicals and fumes associated with developing and printing. These workers must wear rubber gloves and aprons and take precautions against chemical hazards.
Many photo laboratory employees work a 40-hour week, including weekends, and may work overtime during peak seasons.
Photographic process workers held about 63,000 jobs in 1996; less than one quarter of the jobs were for precision workers. Photofinishing laboratories and 1-hour minilabs employed almost 70 percent. About 1 out of 4 worked for portrait studios and commercial laboratories that specialize in processing the work of professional photographers for advertising and other industries.
Employment fluctuates over the course of the year; peak periods include school graduation, summer vacation, and the December and January holiday season.
Most photographic process workers receive on-the-job training from their companies, manufacturers' representatives, and more experienced workers. New employees gradually learn to use the machines and chemicals that develop and print film.
Employers prefer applicants who are high school graduates or those who have some experience or knowledge in the field. As preparation for precision work, proficiency in mathematics, art, chemistry, and computer science, as well as photography courses that include instruction in film processing are valuable. Such courses are available through high schools, vocational-technical institutes, private trade schools, and colleges and universities.
On-the-job training in photographic processing occupations can range from just a few hours for print machine operators to several months for precision workers like airbrush artists, spotters, and negative retouchers. Some workers attend periodic training seminars to maintain a high level of skill. Manual dexterity, good hand-eye coordination, and good vision, including normal color perception, are important qualifications for precision photographic process workers. They must be comfortable with computers and able to adapt to technological advances.
Photographic process machine workers can advance from jobs as machine operators to supervisory positions in laboratories, or to management positions within retail stores.
Employment of photographic process workers is expected to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Most openings will result from replacement needs, which tend to be higher for machine operators than for precision process workers.
Digital cameras, which use electronic memory rather than a film negative to record the image, are now available. Due to their expense, however, these cameras are typically used by advanced amateurs and professionals, and are popular in certain industries such as real estate and newspaper publishing. Therefore, conventional cameras, which use film to record images, are expected to continue to be the camera of choice among most amateur photographers. The film from these cameras is usually handled by photographic process machine operators and tenders who work in 1-hour mini-labs or off-site labs. Thus, traditional photo development will coexist, rather than compete directly, with electronic photography.
Once digital cameras and imaging become cheaper and more widely used by average consumers, the demand for photographic process workers is expected to be reduced. With this technology, consumers who have a personal computer and the proper software installed will not only be able to download and view their pictures on their computer, they will be able to manipulate, correct, and retouch their own picture, doing away with the need for photographic process workers. No matter what improvements occur in camera technology, though, there always will be some images which require precise manipulation and processing.
Earnings of photographic process workers vary greatly depending on skill level, experience, and geographic location. Median earnings for full-time photographic process workers in 1996 were about $314 a week. The middle 50 percent earned between $251 and $412 a week. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $203 a week while the highest 10 percent earned more than $611.
Precision photographic process workers generally earn more as their skill level and the complexity of tasks they can perform increases.
Precision photographic process workers need a specialized knowledge of the photodeveloping process. Other workers who apply specialized technical knowledge include chemical laboratory technicians, crime laboratory analysts, food testers, medical laboratory assistants, metallurgical technicians, quality control technicians, engravers, and some of the printing occupations, such as photolithographer.
Photographic process machine operators perform work similar to that of other machine operators, such as computer and peripheral equipment operators and printing press operators.
For information about employment opportunities in photographic laboratories and schools that offer degrees in photographic technology, write to:
Photo Marketing Association International, 3000 Picture Place, Jackson, MI 49201.
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