Get ready to have a good belly laugh at my expense. I deserve it...
Over the weekend, I had 2 shoots. One with a brand new model (Pam) and one with a young lady I have worked with before (Ashley). My intention for both shoots was to exercise my studio skills. I had researched and read and memorized a number of lighting patterns and set-ups in preparation for the shoot, and had even planned out what I intended to do way before my shoots with Pam and Ashley.
Unfortunately, I am scraping the proverbial pennies from the under the sofa cushions to fund these two shoots. My photography budget is blown for the month so I bought cheap film instead of my normal Kodak NC160. My justification, I really just wanted to make sure highlights and shadows were in the right place.
Pam came over Saturday and we did a shoot outside utilizing open shade and a reflector (note: holding a reflector in one hand while trying to hold the camera in the hand with a broken elbow is painful and extremely difficult). Then, due to the outfits she brought with her, moved into the studio. Taking the advice of many of y'all, I used plain old white seamless, two lights set 1 stop over my main on the background (even flagged them to control spread), main in a Halo (read: softbox/umbrella) set at f5.6, model 8 feet or so from background. Though it was Pam's first experience modeling, she had done some, errr..."dancing" before and is a long and lean woman. Her figure and fitness were making for some good images.
Sunday was Ashley's turn. We'd done a Naiads shoot together a few months ago (image below is her from that shoot), and were both anxious to work together again. She had some great ideas and wanted to do a "pin up" shoot. Again, I researched, looked at old-style pin-ups, read about some lighting techniques, and set everything up. I had a full size matress with a tiger stripe top and a leopard print pillow set 8 feet in front of white seamless. I set one background light behind the mattress and set it to f8. I had two lights at f5.6 at 90 degrees mattress right and left high and pointing down onto Ashley for an even light. She was in an sexily innocent black baby-doll and had brought and old-fashioned looking phone. The set-up was perfect. The shoot was great. She was seductively innocent and sexy.
I was pleased with what I saw thru the viewfinder with both ladies and couldn't wait to see the results. Like I said above, however, my funds are dry, and I couldn't afford to take the 6 rolls we shot to my regular and reliable pro-lab (at $15/roll that would have been $90!!). Instead, and since I really just wanted to make sure the lighting patterns were right - I could get reprints done of the *really good ones* - I took my film to BJs Warehouse (just like Sam's or Costco).
********** BIG MISTAKE!!!! **********
Proof #1 - some of the negatives have roller marks down the middle of them - minute ones, but they are there just the same. The "lab" tried to blame it on my camera, but I insisted that since the scratches aren't on every roll and don't exist on ANY of the b+w work I process myself shot with the same camera that their equipment is filthy and needs to be serviced.
Proof #2 and a 101 lesson in mini-labs - those machines are set to print an "average" exposure. Let's say "average" is a factor of 3 on a scale of 0 - 5 with 0 being paper white and 5 being darkroom black. Your scene is a red house (3) against a bright blue sky (2) in a green field (3). Your average is 2.666666, pretty damn close to average and will make a good print. Now, what I shot was 2/3 of a scene bright white (the white seamless) at a value of 0 and 0 and other third the model - call it an average on her of 3. That makes my negative's AVERAGE tonal value 1, and the damn print machine won't automatically read the negative to make corrections. It just prints as if the scene were 3 -- making my subject 2 stops or so under-exposed! I know it is the lab's fault because other images, such as tight in head-shots, are exposed correctly with no changes on my shutter speed, aperature, or light output.
Saving Grace - the negatives that are not scratched look to be exposed properly. I can also tell from the underexposed prints that there are some really good shots there. All I have to do is have them re-printed by a lab that knows what the fark its doing.
Lesson learned? Damn right. I won't be taking ANY film to BJs ever again. In fact, I'll just have to learn to wait to process my film until the money is there to have it done properly. Or I could start getting paid for doing this.....