Lab Technician Helps Amateurs to Develop


Orange County is teeming with one-stop color photo labs, particularly the “one-hour” or “30-minute” labs.

What’s difficult to find is a lab to process black and white, especially the full-service kind that will crop, burn and dodge, bleach and spot your photos. One of the few is the Black & White Lab in Santa Ana, owned by Susan Fleming.

“I know that the amateur who doesn’t do his own printing is not getting a fair shake,” Fleming said. “They are not getting the most out of their work. There is nobody committed that I know of, other than the person who actually shoots the pictures and prints the work in their own darkroom, who is committed to being creative.

“Most labs are into making money. . . . I’m a perfectionist and that takes precedence over everything. Plus, I have a respect for aesthetics; it’s an ethic to me. Something that has visual impact is more important than anything else.”


She believes that anyone can read information and follow the steps in processing film but that few respect the aesthetics of the photographer’s work.

“They are trying too much to make something look real, but black-and-white isn’t real in the beginning, because we see in color,” Fleming said. “So I think the approach should be to break it down into terms of the darks and whites. Then you try to get the details in the areas (the photographers) want.”

She also believes in using fiber-based paper instead of the more commonly used resin-coated (RC). You get a more extended tonal range with fiber-based paper and you can bleach (lightening up selected areas of the print) with it to open up or highlight certain areas. You can get in-between paper grades by strengthening the developer or extending or pulling the development.

Also, fiber-based paper is archival if handled properly. Fleming recommends Agfa Brovira, Oriental Gallery and Ilford Gallery paper. Noticeably missing in her list is Kodak’s entry into fine quality print paper.

Most of Fleming’s business is of a commercial nature, but she is encouraged by the half-dozen amateur photographers who frequent the lab.

The amateurs “are always so excited that I will sit and talk to them about their work before it’s printed,” she said. “I discuss what direction I see in it. We look over the proof sheets for cropping and try to make it more interesting. And then, by doing that, it is a learning process. Then they can go out and shoot more in that direction.”

The 38-year-old photographer-turned photo-lab entrepreneur studied drawing and painting at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and UCI. She started out shooting fine art but opened a portrait studio in Tustin to earn money. Next she opened a photo lab.

The Black & White lab is at 1810 E. Carnegie Ave. and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. Prices range from $10 for a 5-by-7-inch custom print to $40 for a 16-by-20 custom print.