For the past year or so I had been thinking about creating my own Richard Photo Lab Color PAC file. I've been using the one created by Johnny for about 2 years and just love it, but am finding I want to have something with my own "signature" on it. I contacted Elan at the lab to begin discussions on what I am looking for. I had a fuzzy idea in my head that I wanted Johnny's scan preferences, with just a touch of Jose Villa's color/bright preferences - but just a slight amount.
The purpose of having a Color PAC file is so everything is handled at scan time in the lab, and really requires nothing to be done at home when the scans come in. Maybe a crop or straighten - but that's it. Up until this point, I have been using Johnny and Jose's as is - and just starting to adjust them a little more to my preference in results. I'd like the lab to do this step for me.
What is a Color PAC
The Color PAC is a personalized, ongoing, professional consultation and scan preferences coined by Richard. (See their FAQ for details.) It's not preset buttons on the scanners, nor is it post-work curves, software or filters. In a nutshell, the Color PAC is a portfolio of your work sitting in a binder on a desk with notes to preferences on how the scans should look when completed. When your roll arrives at the lab, one of the scanning masters open up your portfolio page in the binder and reference your "look" while scanning to match your standards. It's by no means mechanical or robotic. This is pure human-eye goodness and can only be consistently achieved by these dedicated professionals.
But there is so much more to this process than just creating your scanning profile - there is the artistic and business side of the fence. Richard really takes an extensive amount of time to not only know what your business (and life/artistic) goals and plans are, but to sit with you and help you develop them through a wonderful one on one consultation. As far as I know, no other lab offers this level of service in a color profile. We can get into that in more detail below.
My only experience at this point was sending my Portra 400 off to use Johnny's PAC or my Fuji Pro 400 H off to use Jose's PAC. I feel they each behave a bit different, for different reasons, on different scanners. Both have huge positives that I wanted to incorporate into my own PAC. My goal was to create something that can use any film on any scanner without requesting "tweaks" to the look from the lab - but more importantly, something that was uniquely me and was my signature look and feel.
So first off, you should see what Jose and Johnny's Color PACs look when done on the Frontier scanner using Portra 400. Note, that Jose's is designed for Fuji Pro 400H on the Noritsu - so it does wonky things on Portra 400.
Compare Color PAC of Jose and Johnny on Portra 400 / Frontier
Images on the left are of Jose Villa and the right are Johnny Patience. They do not perform any color adjustments during scan with these profiles. The color adjustments are all done in camera via exposure times. Longer exposure equals warmer tones; shorter exposure results in cooler tones. As you can see, Jose's PAC preference ends up with a much brighter scan than Johnny's and you can see some big differences in the shadows and highlights. For a much more intelligent discussion on what happens here, please see Johnny's article on the Secrets of Richard Photo Lab.
With the photo above, I did not like how Jose's handled the boat's highlights (Portra on Frontier), but just love what it did to the water. I liked the balanced exposure of Johnny's and the brightness right between the two.
Above is a compare of an over-exposed scene by 3-stops. I exposed for the shadows in Kelsea's sweater which caused really bright water; which I am OK with. With Jose's brightening an already bright negative, you lose the horizon but I really liked the colors in her gear. With Johnny's, you have a true-to-life color and the maintaining of the horizon. Again, my preference falls right between these two, favoring Johnny's a bit more.
One last quick compare on this scanner / film combo. Here, you can really notice the warmth added by Jose's on the left. Honestly, with this photo, I side 100% to Johnny's PAC preferences. The tones and the brightness - all controlled by exposure in camera - are just what I want for this scene. I feel it pops quite a bit more and Jose's looks almost muddy to my eyes - but the skin tones are spot on.
Also, something to note here. Jose's Color PAC is based off skin tones only. Johnny's is more of an overall scene. Since I rarely shoot people, it's tough to use Jose's Color PAC consistently.
That beings said, with portraits shot on Fuji Pro 400H done on the Noritsu, I am in love with what Jose's can do:
And with Portra 400 on the Frontier with Johnny's, pure gold:
But this adds a layer of complexity, as for some scenarios I want something close to Johnny's, and for others I want something closer to Jose's. This is where Richard steps in to make things they way I want them, all the time. I was also seeking a slightly more bright scan while keeping color 100% as the camera and lens saw it. So, with a call to Elan, the process began.
Step 1 - Attend the Webinar
Step 1 in this process was to schedule a webinar titled, "When Art Meets Business: Becoming the Scarce Six-Figure Photographer" that explains the PAC process in complete detail and why it's important to have your own branding. This was a live webinar where I got to interact with one of the labs excellent photo-geeks (I mean that in the most complimentary way!) as well as a couple other folks wanting to start the process as well. There was a great deal of conversation during this session, and even though I am not a "Wedding Photographer" the information was still very relevant and good to hear.
As an aside, I also made two new photography friends because of this webinar. It's most excellent that Richard puts us on the same webinar - getting people in the industry with similar goals bouncing ideas around.
Step 2 - Questionnaire
Once you decide to push forward, your rep (the wonderful and amazing Elan for me) from the lab will contact you and send out a very detailed questionnaire. This surveys your plan and what you hope to achieve with this process and gives the folks at the lab a generic idea of where you're heading. It's best to take your time and think this out to give as much detail as possible as it is one of the bases for what your new PAC will look like. The more thoughtful you are with the answers, the smoother your process will go.
Step 3 - Samples
This step took quite a bit of thought as well. It involved sending samples of photos you like (from others) as well as a set of your own photos you like. The photos from others are designed to goal set, while the ones from you will be used for adjustments for the PAC. The lab uses your photo set to create proofs that they physically send to you - so you and the lab are comparing apples to apples and not using vastly different monitor calibrations for discussion of your images.
Think hard about the samples being sent in. What do you like about them? What don't you like? How would you see the final image different?
I sent the lab a pretty wide variety; shots from the coast of NH, Bermuda, mountains, woods, city - with various lighting (clouds, clear skies, dusk) and from various stocks (Fuji Pro 400 120, Portra 400 120 & 35mm,m Tri-X 400 35mm) and various bodies (Leica M2, Plaubel Makina 670).
Step 4 - Business Plan Discussion
Once our schedules meshed up, Brian gave me a call and we talked about an hour on my business, life and artistic plan. It was a pretty unique call for him as I do not have a business plan (or a business for that matter). I am not in photography to sell my work or to make money, so our discussion went in several directions. We concentrated on my artistic and life goals. Brian revealed some amazing eye-openers for me, and some ideas that can really push my art forward (without it being a business). It's nice that Brian really takes the time to discuss options with you, to deep-dive into your thoughts on where you are, where you want to go, and how you can get there. He gave me a more broad understanding of where I stand in this field, and where some important things can happen - some ideas I never even thought of. I'll leave it at that. ;)
Step 5 - Proof Discussion
A few weeks later, Bill and I sat down (virtually) with all the proofs spread on a table in front of us. We discussed each photo in turn, what I liked, didn't like and what I'd like to see different. Bill would physically take notes, circle things, x-out things and so on with the physical print in front of him. These notes are for him and the scanner folks.
After over an hour on the phone, Bill was confident that he knew what I was looking for in my scans and within a couple weeks, the official Ray Larose Color PAC would be in place. I eagerly went out to shoot a variety of environments to give this a test.
Step 6 - The Color PAC Feedback Loop
Now, I am in this phase. Refinement. This week, my first roll came back with my Color PAC used. The roll was shot all over NH, from the mountains to the coast to capture various lighting (clear skies, clouds, shade) and a variety of subjects (woods, car, swamp, ocean) just so I could get a broad idea of how this behaves on Portra 400. One of the most important things for me to do was photograph different colors. I wanted to really see how the reds, blues, yellows, greens and browns would behave with my color PAC. Then I also did some portraits (just a handful) to see how skin tones would behave.
These rolls were scanned on the Frontier.
For these first two, bright mid-day sun, clear skies, taken with the Leica M2, Portra 400, 1 stop over. The reds are something I am particular about, and I think these look dead on (second shot in the 'Notch, looking at the reds in clothing).
Here, a winding path through the woods up in Franconia Notch, NH. Greens exactly how I was hoping:
Of course, an open ocean shot to test the blues. This is a Minke whale just off Rye Harbor while aboard the F/V Rimrack - overcast skies, mid-day. Reference the images near the top where I discuss the want for a balance between Jose's and Johnny's. I think this is dead on between them:
A people test (skin tones, etc):
And to test my yellows, The Basin up in Franconia notch and then the tans of a field in Auburn, NH.
Mixed light architecture:
My usual test-swamp. Mash-up of colors and lighting.
Finally, the woods up by the basin to test my browns:
And the rest are just various lighting shots (time of day, sun, clouds) to round things off.
This process has been completely amazing and highly recommend this to anyone looking to create a signature consistent look and to really get a strong grasp on your business / artistic / life plan through this in-depth series of consultations with Richard. I am so pleased with the process and the results we have come to so far. It's an evolving process, so I am sure to keep you up to date as we continue on our journey together.
Stay tuned for samples shot with Fuji Pro 400 H 120 on the Plaubel-Makina.
Photos taken with Leica M2, Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 1.5/50, Kodak Portra 400 with all development by Richard Photo Lab on my Color PAC.