Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators
A decline in employment is expected as digital photography
Most receive on-the-job training from their companies, manufacturers’
representatives, and experienced workers.
Job opportunities will be best for individuals with experience
using computers and digital technology.
Nature of the Work
Both amateur and professional photographers rely heavily on photographic
process workers and processing machine operators to develop film,
make prints or slides, and do related tasks, such as enlarging
or retouching photographs. Photographic processing machine
operators operate various machines, such as mounting presses
and motion picture film printing, photographic printing, and film
developing machines. Photographic process workers perform
more delicate tasks, such as retouching photographic negatives,
prints and images to emphasize or correct specific features.
Photographic processing machine operators often have specialized
jobs. 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. First,
technicians mix developing and fixing solutions, following a formula.
They then load the film in the machine, which immerses the exposed
film in a developer solution. This brings out the latent image.
The next steps include immersing the negative in a stop-bath to
halt the developer action, transferring it to a hyposolution to
fix the image, and then immersing it in water to remove the chemicals.
The technician then dries the film. In some cases, these steps
are performed by hand.
Color printer operators control equipment that produces
color prints from negatives. These workers read customer instructions
to determine processing requirements. They load film into color
printing equipment, examine negatives to determine equipment control
settings, set controls, and produce a specified number of prints.
Finally, they inspect the finished prints for defects, remove
any that are found, and insert the processed negatives and prints
into an envelope for return to the customer.
Processing machine operators who work with digital images first
load the raw images onto a computer, either directly from the
camera or more commonly from a storage device such as a flash
card or CD. Most processing of the images is done automatically
by software, but they may also be reviewed manually by the operator,
who then selects which images the customer wants printed and the
quantity. Some digital processors also upload images onto a Web
site so that the customer can view them from a home computer and
also share them with others through the Internet.
Photographic process workers,sometimes known as digital
imaging technicians, use computer images of conventional negatives
and specialized computer software to vary the contrast of images,
remove unwanted background, or combine features from different
photographs. Although computers and digital technology are replacing
much manual work, some photographic process workers, especially
those who work in portrait studios, still perform many specialized
tasks by hand directly on the photo or negative. Airbrush artists
restore damaged and faded photographs, and may color or shade
drawings to create photographic likenesses using an airbrush.
Photographic retouchers alter photographic negatives, prints,
or images to accentuate the subject. Colorists apply oil
colors to portrait photographs to create natural, lifelike appearances.
Photographic spotters remove imperfections on photographic
prints and images.
Photographic process workers and processing machine operators
generally spend their work hours 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.
Some photographic process workers and processing machine operators
are exposed to the chemicals and fumes associated with developing
and printing. These workers must wear rubber gloves and aprons
and take precautions against these hazards. Those who use computers
for extended periods may experience back pain, eyestrain, or fatigue.
Photographic processing machine operators must do repetitive
work at a rapid pace without any loss of accuracy. Photographic
process workers do detailed tasks, such as airbrushing and spotting,
which can contribute to eye fatigue.
Many photo laboratory employees work a 40-hour week, including
evenings and weekends, and may work overtime during peak seasons.
About one in four work part time.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most photographic process workers and processing machine operators
receive on-the-job training from their companies, manufacturers’
representatives, and experienced workers. New employees gradually
learn to use the machines and chemicals that develop and print
film as well as the computer techniques to process and print digital
Employers prefer applicants who are high school graduates or
those who have some experience in the field. Familiarity with
computers is essential for photographic processing machine operators.
The ability to perform simple mathematical calculations also is
helpful. Photography courses that include instruction in film
processing are valuable preparation. 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 photographic processing workers such as airbrush artists
and colorists. 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 photographic process workers.
Photographic process machine workers can sometimes advance from
jobs as machine operators to supervisory positions in laboratories
or to management positions within retail stores.
Photographic process workers held about 32,000 jobs in 2004.
About three in ten photographic process workers were employed
in photofinishing laboratories and one-hour minilabs. More than
one in six worked for portrait studios or commercial laboratories
that specialize in processing the work of professional photographers
for advertising and other industries. An additional one in nine
was employed by general merchandise stores, and one in ten in
the printing, publishing, and motion picture industries.
Photographic processing machine operators held about 54,000 jobs
in 2004. About half worked in retail establishments, primarily
in general merchandise stores and drug stores. About one in three
worked in photofinishing laboratories and one-hour minilabs. Small
numbers were employed in the printing industry and in portrait
studios and commercial laboratories that process the work of professional
Employment fluctuates somewhat over the course of the year. Typically,
employment peaks during school graduation and summer vacation
periods, and again during the winter holiday season.
A decline in employment is expected for photographic process
workers and processing machine operators through the year 2014.
Some openings will still result from replacement needs, which
are higher for machine operators than for photographic process
In recent years, digital cameras, which use electronic memory
rather than film to record images, have become standard among
professional photographers and are gaining in popularity among
amateur photographers as the cost of these cameras continues to
fall. This will reduce the demand for traditional photographic
processing machine operators. However, while many digital camera
owners will choose to print their own pictures with their own
equipment, a growing number of casual photographers are choosing
not to acquire the needed equipment and skills to print the photos
themselves. For them, self-service machines will be able to meet
some of the demand, but there will still be some demand for professionals
to print digital photos, as well as to develop and print photos
from those who continue to use film cameras.
Digital photography also will reduce demand for photographic
process workers. Using digital cameras and technology, consumers
who have a personal computer and the proper software will be able
to download and view pictures on their computer, as well as manipulate,
correct, and retouch their own photographs. No matter what improvements
occur in camera technology, though, some photographic processing
tasks will still require skillful manual treatment. Moreover,
not all consumers will want to invest in the software. Job opportunities
will be best for individuals with experience using computers and
Earnings of photographic process workers vary greatly depending
on skill level, experience, and geographic location. Median hourly
earnings for photographic process workers were $9.63 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $7.79 and $12.97. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $6.68, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $17.99. Median hourly earnings were $10.20 in
photofinishing laboratories, the largest employer of photographic
Median hourly earning for photographic processing machine operators
were $9.33 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned .between
$7.78 and $11.88. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.84,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $15.21. Median hourly
earnings in the two industries employing the largest numbers of
photographic processing machine operators were $10.44 in photofinishing
laboratories and $7.98 in health and personal care stores.
Photographic process workers and processing machine operators
need specialized knowledge of the photo developing process. Other
workers who apply specialized technical knowledge include clinical
laboratory technologists and technicians, computer operators,
jewelers and precious stone and metal workers, prepress technicians
and workers, printing machine operators, and science technicians.
Sources of Additional Information
For information about employment opportunities in photographic
laboratories and schools that offer degrees in photographic technology,
Photo Marketing Association International, 3000 Picture Place,
Jackson, MI 49201. Internet: http://www.pmai.org/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition