Nestled near the center of the Santa Clarita Valley by Bowman High School and Congregation Beth Shalom, Richard Photo Lab stands as one of the few remaining bastions of film, where enthusiasts and professionals alike can still learn and develop.
The facility’s storied fables began in Hollywood, according to current owner Brian Greenberg, who purchased the photo-development and framing lab back in 2005 when it was located there, and moved it to its current location after spending about six years in Valencia.
While digital photography has significantly changed the landscape for film for the last 20 years, Greenberg and his team enjoy serving the needs of amateur enthusiasts, event professionals and marketing campaigns that rely on the look, feel and process that true aficionados know that only film can provide.
“We are still one of the largest film processors in the world,” Greenberg said during a recent phone interview. “Even though we’re small, because (the film market) has definitely shrunk … we’re probably still top-five largest film scanners, film processors — and we get film in every day from all over the world.”
And due to a combination of the facility’s expertise, as well as a resurgence in the use of film in recent years — for a number of reasons — Richard and company enjoy working with a growing community of enthusiasts, artists and professionals who truly care about the quality that the lab can create on film.
“If there are people in the photo, there are a lot of photographers that prefer to shoot film,” he added, “and certainly in the last five years or so, film sales have been on the rise.”
Capturing the moment
The film market is said to have hit its peak in 2003, but media experts have noticed a yearslong trend of increasing film usage. A 2017 Time article featured a Fujifilm executive noting the current level of film use was rising, while the number of rolls developed each year was about 2% of its 960 million-roll peak.
Greenberg reminisced about when he had Richard Photo Lab when it was so common to develop film, it wouldn’t be uncommon for his La Brea and Beverly location to receive visits from Hollywood luminaries like Sophia Loren, who were not only the type of celebrity they’d be developing photos of, but also their potential walk-in clientele.
Despite shifting demands, Greenberg said the Richard Photo Lab niche largely serves photographers seeking the unique quality film offers in its ability to capture people, which digital filters have been unable to duplicate.
“There’s still a large community of professionals that prefer to shoot on film, for a wide variety of reasons,” Greenberg said, “but mainly the look at what film does with skin tone (is why it) still is their preferred method of shooting. And when you get really into the side-by-side comparison … that’s really why there’s people that still shoot film,” he said, noting for keepsakes like portraits, major events, as well as commercial shoots that have people in them, some of the biggest photographers will still insist on film.
But it’s not just about the final look at Richard, Greenberg said, it’s also about providing a number of services for photographers who are not just looking to shoot as many pictures as possible and hope they end up with something that works. The process of development, as well as the cost to some degree, prompts a different degree of deliberation for the photographers they work with, which Richard seeks to support.
The appeal of using film for many isn’t just in the outcome, it’s for the process behind the photography for many photographers, according to Colleen Ashley, creative manager at Richard Photo Lab.
She finds film photography something she enjoys using when she takes photos of her young daughter, or when she’s looking to capture family in a special “keeper” moment, she said.
“And again,” Ashley said, “the slowdown and the thoughtfulness that goes into each frame that you’re taking, you know, you can’t just … click through the entire roll.”
For Josh Premako, who enjoys photography as a hobby but also shoots events and portraits professionally, a place like Richard not only allows him to get the most out of his pictures in a way that doesn’t happen if you happen to find a Costco or pharmacy that still develops film.
“The truth is, the process really does force you to think a little bit more consciously about the images you’re creating,” said Premako, appreciative of the higher standard that a facility like Ricahrd offers.
“They’re taking a lot of care for what they’re doing,” he said, adding that if he has questions about how a particular type of film would work with a specific camera, it’s really helpful to have a local resource where he could go and ask questions and receive help.
Richard also hosts events to support the community of photographers using film, Ashley said, which more recently has been accomplished with virtual events, such as “Film Happy Hour,” which she hosts on the lab’s Instagram account, @RichardPhotoLab.
“We do talk a lot about what’s the best way to get the results that you want, which is absolutely talking to us telling us when you’re happy and when you’re not happy,” Ashley said, noting the discussions cover the business side of things, also.
“Ultimately, if our photographers stay in business, we stay in business,” Ashley said, “so their success is our success.”
Richard Photo Lab is located at 21515 Centre Pointe Parkway, and can be reached at (661) 200-5300.