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Photographic Processing Machine Operator Job Description, Career as a Photographic Processing Machine Operator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: On-the-job training

Salary: Median—$9.33 per hour

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Photographic processing machine operators turn the work of photographers into finished prints or slides, and transform photographs by enlarging or retouching them. They use several different machines in the course of this work, including developers, mounting presses, and machines for printing motion picture film and regular photographic film.

Many photographic processing machine operators specialize in a particular task. One type of specialist, called a film process technician, produces negative or positive images using machines that develop film by bathing it in a series of chemical solutions and water. Technicians follow a formula to create special "developing" and "fixing" solutions. The film is loaded into a processing machine where it is first immersed in the developer solution, which brings out the image exposed onto it by the camera. Other solutions slow and stop the action of the developer, fixing the image at the desired point. Finally, the negative is bathed in water, and then dried.

Technicians who operate equipment that makes color prints from negatives are called color printer operators. They use color printing equipment to produce prints according to the customer's instructions.

Photographic processing machine operators use specialized machines to develop film. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

An increasing share of photographic processing machine operators work with digital images, using computers as their main tool. These digital imaging technicians use special computer software to manipulate digital images of conventional negatives. This software allows them to adjust the contrast of images, eliminate backgrounds that are not wanted in the final image, or manipulate pieces from different photographs into a singe image.

About thirty percent of photographic process workers were employed in photofinishing labs and one-hour minilabs in 2004, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A smaller percentage, about one in six, worked for specialized studios or commercial laboratories that deal primarily with professional photographers in the advertising industry or other industries that rely on high-quality photography. A significant number also worked in the printing, publishing, and motion picture industries, as well as for retail stores.

Education and Training Requirements

Most photographic processing machine operators learn their trade through on-the-job training, although employers generally prefer to hire applicants with at least a high school diploma. New employees are gradually taught how to use the various machines on the site, and gain knowledge of the different chemicals they must use through hands-on training. Increasingly, employers are seeking applicants with computer experience, as the industry shifts toward more digital processing.

Getting the Job

College placement offices can often provide information about how to find a job in this field. Jobs with photo finishing labs and one-hour processing centers are often advertised in the classified advertising section of newspapers.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Some photographic processing machine operators may work their way up to become supervisors in photo labs or obtain management positions in retail stores. The job outlook for photographic processing machine operators is poor. The rise of digital cameras, which store images in electronic memory rather than on film, has sharply reduced the demand for photo developing services. As a result, the number of jobs available for photographic processing machine workers is expected to decline over the next several years.

Working Conditions

Photographic processing machine operators usually work in clean offices or laboratories with sufficient lighting and proper ventilation. As more and more commercial photo processing is done on computers, an office environment will gradually replace the traditional laboratory setting.

Earnings and Benefits

The income of photographic processing machine operators can vary quite a bit depending on experience and level of skill. The median hourly wage for an operator was $9.33 in 2004, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Median earnings were a bit higher, $10.44 per hour, for those working in photofinishing laboratories, the industry that employs the largest number of photographic processing machine operators. Full-time operators working in commercial labs often receive health and vacation benefits, while jobs in a retail or minilab environment are often part time and offer few benefits.

Where to Go for More Information

Photo Marketing Association International
3000 Picture Pl.
Jackson, MI 49201
(517) 788-8100

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production