About 10 years ago, most photographers still used film. After the photo lab had processed the photos shot in black and white, the photographers had beautiful prints with deep blacks and clean whites. Now in the digital age, photographers who want similar photos without doing the printing themselves have a more difficult task. However, good prints in black and white or monochrome from a photo lab are possible.
For this article, photo labs are photo kiosks located inside retail stores and professional photo labs (free-standing or online) where photos are the main business. This article discusses how to get good quality, relatively inexpensive photos in black and white printed on paper from a photo lab. It is not intended for photographers looking for archival prints to display in museums or galleries.
Shoot in color. Do not use the monochrome setting. Take the photo in color and then have it converted to black and white. Most digital cameras do not produce good quality photos when the photographer shoots in black and white. Furthermore, some labs do not accept photos in black and white.
Also, since the conversion from color to black and white is the accepted standard, photographers should not take off the table having color photos should they need them later. The conversion from color to black and white is simple for a photo lab. Even at most photo kiosks, photographers can do the conversion themselves in a matter of seconds. Just ask the photo technician how.
Take a good photo. Try to give the photo lab a color photo that is exposed correctly. Photographers can help ensure a good conversion by bracketing the photo, which is deliberately underexposing one photo, overexposing another, and taking another at the exposure chosen by the camera.
Make a test print. Whether photographers take the photo to a photo kiosk or to a professional lab, they should be prepared to have test prints made. If using a photo kiosk, often the print quality is better after waiting an hour or so rather than getting the print instantly. At any rate, get a smaller test print made first if an enlargement is the goal. Look for clean blacks and whites. A print with a color cast such slight green or purple/red color is a poor one.
Note the type of ink and paper and location. The inks and papers used by the photo lab affect the way prints look. If satisfied with the results from a professional lab, try to find out the type of paper and ink it used and make a note of that for the next prints. Or simply continue to use that professional lab. The same is true for photo kiosks. Stick with the same location. Even within the same company, equipment maintenance and staff skills vary by the location of the photo kiosk.
Small adjustments solve problems. Sometimes, making adjustments to the exposure and/or contrast will fix an unsatisfactory print. Do all adjustments on a test print before printing the final photo. Unfortunately, some photo kiosks offer no way for the photographer to know the value of the adjustments so duplicating them for the final print may be impossible.
Is there a money-back guarantee? Of course, photographers making a duplicate print can take the print to a professional lab (or photo kiosk) for the technician to see. Before the photo lab makes the print, photographers should make sure they will not have to pay for the print unless it duplicates the one they brought in.
Seek a professional lab to resolve problems. Photographers having trouble getting a good print, should go to a professional lab. If it’s located in the city where they live, they can go and talk to the staff about expectations and the realities of the situation. Beware that high prices are no guarantee of quality.
Online professional labs. For photographers who want to upload their photos for processing and receive them by mail, among the websites to try are Adorama, Snapfish and Mpix.