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Fast Processing Unlikely to Cause Color-Photo Fading

December 10, 1987|DON G. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Question: What precautions can the average person take to make sure film is processed correctly? In going through my photo album, I was dismayed to see that almost without exception color photos taken four or five years ago have already faded to an ugly sepia.

In the same album there are color photos taken 20 years ago that are still as brightly hued as the day they were put in the album. I have always used Kodak films, and the photos are in the same album, stored under the same conditions. However, until my neighborhood camera store closed (about five years ago) I had my film sent to Kodak for processing. These last few years I have used the local "fast processing" shops or the local supermarket film drop. Obviously this was a costly mistake as precious and irreplaceable mementos of family gatherings and vacations are now lost.

What should I look for in a film processor to make sure this doesn't happen in the future? Are all the "fast processing" places a waste of money?--B.D.

Answer: A "waste of money"? Not really. As a matter of fact, according to Randy McBride, the Los Angeles Times' photo lab manager, Times photographers frequently use the one-hour-type processing labs themselves, when they are on the road and away from the newspaper's own facilities.

Faded prints can be traceable to a variety of causes--ranging from bad (or out-dated) paper and chemicals to processing by untrained lab people to the way in which they are stored, says Ron Baird, a photographic specialist with Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y. Certain types of airborne gases, for example, are murder on them. "In many cases it's difficult to pinpoint the source without analyzing the actual prints."

The speed of the processing itself (the one-hour-type approach) doesn't really have anything to do with the quality of the resultant prints, both Baird and McBride agree. "In fact," Baird added, "a high-volume laboratory would tend to produce better prints, because it would be more likely to monitor the quality of its chemicals and paper more closely--and have better-trained people--than a lab doing a small volume."

At The Times, lab manager McBride adds, prints slated for immortality are stored in special, acetate envelopes in a gas-free environment, although no film producer--Kodak included--will give any guarantees beyond 20 years. Nevertheless, he says, prints stored "without any special care maintain their sharpness, routinely, about 20 years, at least."

If you would like Kodak to take a look at your prints and analyze what's gone wrong--whether it's poor workmanship, bad paper or chemicals, or the way you are storing them--Baird will be glad to give you an opinion. Send a couple of representative faded prints to him at: Photo Information Department, Dept. 841, Eastman Kodak Co., 343 State St., Rochester, N.Y. 14650.

Now, as to your fears that many of your favorite shots of friends and family are lost forever--not necessarily.

"The problem your writer has had," McBride adds, "is a pretty good argument for hanging onto, and filing, the negatives just as carefully as you do the prints. As long as you've got the negatives you can always replace a faded print."

Q: We recently bought a new teak dining room set. I'm wondering how the wood should be treated. It does not show any signs of shiny varnish.

About 30 years ago I bought some teak furniture that required being rubbed regularly with warmed, raw linseed oil. Using regular furniture polish was a definite no-no. Through the years, though, housekeepers I've employed have used wax on it and somehow the linseed oil theory has been lost.

It looks to me as if my new dining room suite is the same kind of teak. What is the current thinking about how this wood should be treated?--J.C.

Answer: I get the distinct impression that asking questions about proper wood finishing techniques is a little bit like trying to get a consensus on the perfect martini recipe.

At Ace Hollywood Wood Turning Co., 7823 Santa Monica Blvd., for instance, wood finisher Tony Ley makes the point that because you don't know what sort of finish the factory applied to the suite before shipping it, the safest course of action is to confine yourself to polishing it with water and a soft rag.

Back in fussier days, Ley adds, furniture factories routinely supplied buyers with information on the type of finish used and made maintenance recommendations. That was apparently the case when, 30 years ago, you bought your first teak dining set and got involved in the warm linseed oil regimen.

But at Blafer Wood Finishes, 3416 S. Orange Drive, Linda Livingston polled her fellow workers and found that the consensus favors the use of "any oil-based polish as long as the label specifically says that it is for use on wood. "

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