Photographic Machine Operator

Job Duties

Photographic machine operators work with various types of photographic-related machines, including mounting presses and motion picture film printing, photographic printing, and film developing machines. Both amateur and professional photographers depend on these workers to complete their final photographic product.

Photographic machine operators often specialize in various types of work and have specialized job titles. 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. These technicians mix developing and fixing solutions, load film into the machine, immerse the negative in a stop-bath, transfer it to a hyposolution, reimmerse it, and, finally, dry the image. Color printer operators produce color prints from negatives using color printing equipments. They determine settings, set controls, and produce a specified number of prints.

Job Skills

Photographic machine operators need to possess good manual dexterity, due to the high percentage of their jobs spent working with their hands. They must have excellent vision, including normal color perception, because of the visual nature of the work. In addition, they should have highly-developed hand-eye coordination.


In 2002, photographic machine operators earned a median hourly wage of $9.05. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $6.53, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $15.60. The median hourly wage was $10.15 in photofinishing laboratories, and $7.20 in health and personal care stores, the two largest employers of photographic machine operators.

Training and Education

Employers of photographic machine operators usually prefer to hire high school graduates or experienced workers. Photography courses that include instruction in film processing can be advantageous, as can the ability to perform simple mathematical calculations. These types of courses are offered by high schools, vocational-technical institutes, private trade schools, and colleges and universities.

Photographic machine operators typically receive on-the-job training from their companies, manufacturers’ representatives, and more experienced workers. New employees gradually learn to use machines and chemicals. On-the-job training usually lasts from a few hours to several months. Some workers update their skills by attending periodic training seminars.

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In 2002, photographic machine operators held about 28,000 jobs. 40% worked in retail establishments, mostly general merchandise stores and drug stores. 30% worked in photofinishing laboratories and 1-hour minilabs. A very small percentage were self-employed.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of photographic machine operators is expected to increase more slowly than the average. The main cause of this slow growth is the increased popularity of digital cameras. Consumers who own digital cameras and technology will be able to download and view pictures on their computer, as well as manipulate, correct, and retouch their own photographs.