Photographic Processing Technician or Assistant

Photographic processing assistants work in the photofinishing industry, either in photographic laboratories or specialist shops. They process film and produce photographic prints from negatives. They may also work on developed prints and transparencies and copy artwork, such as designs or drawings, onto transparencies.

Photographic processing assistants can be employed either developing and printing laboratories or professional laboratories. In large developing and printing laboratories, photographic assistants deal with amateur film, such as holiday and family snapshots. Negatives and prints are sent by individual customers or via photographic shops to the laboratory. The assistants use high-tech machinery to process the film. They need to be confident in using computers, as laboratories use sophisticated equipment for electronic imaging, video scanning and image manipulation.

In professional developing and printing laboratories, photographic assistants deal with the work of professional photographers and business organisations. This work requires a higher standard of finishing and printing.

Some professional laboratories provide a range of services, such as:

  • complicated retouching to produce special effects or colours
  • copying work into different sizes or formats
  • making transparencies from a number of different sources
Others specialise in particular fields such as black and white photography. A photographic processing assistant employed in a professional laboratory has more scope for creative duties, whether the work is done by hand or with the use of computers.

In both types of laboratory, photographic processing assistants sort the film and feed it into equipment that scans, develops and prints it. They adjust the printing machines to produce truer colours. Other techniques include:
  • retouching prints or transparencies to get rid of blemishes
  • producing multiple prints
  • providing various mounts and finishes, such as turning photographs into posters or jigsaws
Digital Manipulator
After working in front of shop, one can progress to become a digital manipulator. A course in graphic design or a Photoshop diploma would be useful in this career. Digital manipulators do colour correction, and manipulate and computerise photographs. They work on photographs from film cameras, digital cameras and even phone cameras, and make photographs from old negatives or colour slides.

A typical day starts with checking the computers, clearing all the work or data that will not be used, and doing maintenance on the machines, which involves cleaning them. Then they attend a morning meeting. Throughout the day, they will do manipulations and corrections, and work to a deadline. They also may work on the retail side of the shop and advise clients, if the sales staff is unable to help them.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

There are no formal education requirements for relevant training courses though some training would be an asset. Physical Sciences and Art would be useful subjects.

What to Study

There are 3 ways to qualify as a registered artisan:

1. An apprenticeship is a fixed contract between company and apprentice, ranging in duration from between 18 months and 4 years. At the end of the contract, the apprentice writes a trade test leading to professional certification.

2. A learnership is a structured learning programme ranging from about a year to 3 years. A learnership comprises theoretical and practical training. Practical training is conducted on site (on the premises of the organisation). This has the advantage that the learner gets experience whilst training.

3. TVET colleges offer theoretical training to prospective artisans via the new National Certificate Vocational (NCV). During this 3-year programme (levels 2 to 4), learners complete a school-leaving certificate (NCV) similar to the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) in schools. They are also exposed to a practical workshop component.

All learners are required to complete a practical internship under the supervision of an experienced artisan. As an alternative to doing the full qualification, a learner can apply to do a skills programme at a TVET College. Skills programmes are short practical hands-on courses.

For more information about qualifications and skills programmes, contact your nearest TVET College. TVET Colleges are accredited and funded by a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) such as MerSETA or ChietaSETA. They also receive bursary funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the NCV programme.


  • printing companies
  • companies that specialise in origination
  • design studios
  • self-employment, with enough experience and capital, can start own business

Further Information

Printing Industries Federation of SA
P O Box 1396
Gallo Manor, 2052
The Braids
113 - 115 Bowling Avenue
Gallo Manor, 2191
Tel: (011) 287-1160 Fax: (011) 287-1178

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation work at a printing company
  • speak to a photo-lithographer or electronic originator and ask to observe them at work
  • work for the school newspaper or magazine
  • join the computer club of your school
  • consult the Registrar of Manpower Training about learnership programmes in your area

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations