PHOTO COMPOSITE; INSET BY DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Morohoshi family posed in the "wedding chapel" at King Photo. From left to right: Wayne, Take, Lisa (in back), Gail and Glenn. The company was one of the last in Hawaii to offer film processing, though now it focuses on digital scanning and printing.
King Photo rides the digital wave
The 30-year-old, family-run business has made the transition to digital from film processing
STORY SUMMARY »
King Photo Service, run by Take and Gail Morohoshi and their three grown children in Kakaako, is one of the few photo-processing companies that managed to ride the digital revolution.
Although the company was still offering film-processing services for diehards until just about a year ago, it was also one of the first to embrace digital technology in the islands.
Through word of mouth, the photo processing company has managed to maintain a loyal clientele base seeking quality service.
King Photo also has expanded its offerings to include events photography, weddings, photo restorations, photo printing supplies, mounts and film-to-CD conversions.
Professional photographers still go to King Photo to get their shots printed for competitions. Some go to ask Take, a photo veteran of the both the darkroom and digital age, for advice.
The family-run business celebrates its 30th anniversary in December.
King photo service
» Owners: Gail and Take Morohoshi
» Address: 547 Halekauwila St. #206 (between Punchbowl and South streets)
» Telephone: 524-6400
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 am. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lisa Morohoshi and her mom, Gail worked together to get a rush order out at King Photo. Take and Gail's children, including Glenn, seen in background, all grew up together in the photo lab and continue to work closely with each other.
FULL STORY »
For Gail and Take Morohoshi of King Photo Service, watching their old film-processing machines compacted at Sand Island was pretty traumatic.
They represented 25 years of work transferring photos from negative to paper for hundreds of customers -- besides, they were trusty machines worth a couple hundred thousand dollars, and they worked perfectly fine.
It's just that no one wanted them any more because everything photo had gone digital.
"We couldn't even give it away for free," said Gail Morohoshi.
It was a difficult decision to make some five years ago, but one that had to be done to keep business going as more customers went digital and the number seeking film processing began to dwindle.
Those that didn't convert to digital went out of business as film processing went the way of the dinosaur.
King Photo was one of the last outposts still offering film processing for diehards until just about a year ago, having kept one machine. But the company was also one of the first in the islands to embrace digital technology, selling digital cameras as early as 10 years ago, and investing in all-new equipment. Today, King Photo has stayed afloat by expanding its offerings.
In December, the business celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Besides pulling deleted photos out of memory cards, King Photo offers prints from CDs and memory cards, converts film prints to CDs, restores old photographs, and sells photo mounts and camera-cleaning kits, as well as printers, ink and supplies from Kodak, Canon, Hi-Touch and Mitsubishi Electric.
King Photo also photographs events including company parties, corporate events and sports matches, including the Pro Bowl.
Take and his son, Glenn, have been photographing the Pro Bowl's team shots and all the National Football League stars for years.
Perhaps lesser known is that they also offer photo packages for civil wedding ceremonies at the second-floor shop on Halekauwila Street. A family court judge holds regular hours, and couples can get married and have their photo taken beneath a wedding arch in the photo studio.
A line of between 10 to 12 couples snakes outside the office, waiting to get married every afternoon. The couples have the option of choosing a photo package in the studio or at Ala Moana Park or Kakaako Waterfront Park, as well, if they wish, for a little more.
Many professional photographers, including newspaper photographers, have long gone to King Photo to get prints, especially for photo competitions. Among them are many greats, including the late Big Island photographer John Kitchen, and the late surf photographer Jon Mozo.
Some clients have been with King Photo for as long as they've been in business.
Part of it has to do with quality service and trust in the family running the business -- Gail, Take and their three grown children, Glenn, Wayne and Lisa.
All three pitch in and practically grew up in a photo lab.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Take and Gail Morohoshi founded King Photo 30 years ago, when film was the only way photographs were processed. The company they run with their two sons, Glenn and Wayne, and daughter, Lisa, was one of the last in Hawaii to offer film processing, though now it focuses on digital scanning and printing.
Take, 69, is the creative force behind King Photo. He is at the shop pretty much every day, from Monday through Saturday, although he admits that he now sneaks off, from time to time, to play golf.
Many times, customers come in to talk story with the photo veteran with decades of knowledge -- which spans from the dark age of the darkroom days, with all of its chemicals and film processing techniques, to the digital age's new and constantly changing technology.
Morohoshi is happy to share what he knows, especially if it results in a better-quality photo. He knows the ins and outs of all the equipment he sells, and teaches customers how to use the cleaning kits as well, figuring it's better to equip them with that knowledge than to have them pay for the service.
The business has done very little advertising, relying instead on word-of-mouth. But the word-of-mouth seems to have been effective, even though the business has had to move seven times.
Photo King started from a small, 600-square-foot spot on King Street (where it got its name) on Dec. 18, 1978, and eventually migrated to Waipio, where at 4,800 square feet, it was one of the largest photo centers processing film on the island.
Other homes included Cooke street and Mapunapuna. Eventually, Photo King migrated to South Street, and now, Halekauwila Street, its latest home.
photography A passion
Photography has been Take Morohoshi's passion since he was a child, holding an old-fashioned film camera in his hands. Even today, at the age of 69, he's apt to fiddle with a camera while sitting in the office.
He moved from Japan to Chicago as a young man to take commercial photography classes at the Ray Vogue College of Design and then stayed and worked in a lab for 15 years.
It was there that he met his wife, Gail.
Their dream was to return to her hometown of Hawaii and to start a photo business here. It was a dream that had its challenges, but one that Take refused to give up easily.
"It was a dream," said Gail. "He had to do it."
Son Glenn Morohoshi does most of the event photography, ranging from company parties to sports events and weddings. At weddings, what he can do is bring a portable lab so that the photos are ready for guests after the reception.
Take's other son, Wayne, is the computer whiz. Daughter Lisa also pitches in, sometimes bringing her 1-year-old. All three children want to keep the business running when Take decides to retire, but that won't be anytime soon.
King Photo has had to adapt to the times, as fewer of their clients were coming in for film processing, and fewer wedding photographers, as well, were coming in to get prints published. More wedding photographers today just offer their clients CDs. School portraits and prom photos also went digital.
More consumers are going to Costco, Longs Drugs or Walgreens to get their digital photos printed for low prices, but Gail said some do occasionally walk into King Photo for a print, and then notice the difference in quality.
At the same time, more photographers are also buying their own printers.
Having straddled both eras, Glenn says he appreciates them both, though he personally goes with digital now and believes a whole new generation of photographers would be lost if they were to do it the old way.
With digital, photographers can see right away whether or not they got the shot they need on location, and make corrections right away.
Yet Glenn appreciates the art and skill that went into printing up contact sheets and old-fashioned photos in a darkroom. Back in the old days, he says, photographers were required to shoot with more skill because they had to invest more time and money into it.
"Everything was costing you money," he said. "Every shot had to count."
In Waipio, he remembers when King Photo had several darkrooms along with big machines for film processing. There was also a person designated as the dust checker, and a spotter, who would take a paintbrush and fill in any spots with the appropriate color.
"Now it's just a desktop computer," he said.
Today, changing a color photo to black and white can be done with the click of a mouse.
"It's evolving," he said of today's digital technology. "I don't look at it as what we were doing five years ago. It's constantly changing, and it'll be interesting to see what happens in the future."
At the same time, the Morohoshis appreciate tradition. They continue to offer kimono dressing portraits for Japanese children hitting the ages of 3, 5 and 7 every year at the Japanese Cultural Center.
As for Take, he still remembers his way around the darkroom. He also has a few of his film cameras stored away at home -- among them a Canon, a Nikon, a Rollyflex and Mamiya.