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Discussion in 'Photography' started by Bob_Wilson, Aug 29, 2005.
Is there anyone, besides me, that still does black and white photography in a real darkroom?
I have fond recollections of it... but I haven't shot an image on film in about three years. You lose some of the magic when you go digital (though Photoshop is a different kind of magic). In the end, convenience, price, the environment... all make it too easy to abandon the darkroom. It's the end of an era. With Kodak announcing that they will no longer produce B&W paper after this year, and Ilford's financial woes and buyout... it's only a matter of time until the B&W darkroom goes the way of the 8-track. On one hand, many photographers are losing the "printer's touch". But on the other hand, shooting digitally tends to make good photographers better, faster (when it comes to shooting). EXIF data and instant feedback are so valuable to the learning process. While I miss the dark room, I'll never turn back. -Scott
Just prior to the digital invasion, I built a two room darkroom, one for film processing and one for printing. While I may end up switching to digital for 35mm format, I will keep my 4x5 for film as long as they continue to produce it. I had not heard that Kodak was going to stop producing black and white paper. That is not good news. I use Ilford Multigrade because I think it gives a better image. As a side note to the rush to digital, I recently took some 4x5 Ektachrome in for processing to Custom Color, the largest lab here in KC. I mentioned to the clerk, "I guess you don't get much of this since digital has taken over." The response surprised me. She said that they are processing more 4x5 color than they have ever processed in their 35 year history. Evidently when the professional photographer switched over to digital, they got rid of their medium format equipment. Now when they have to do a job that requires a medium format, they are forced to use 4x5 sheet film.
I really wish home darkrooms were still popular, I might be able to sell my processing stuff. My couple of tanks, toner, 4x5 film hangers, even my 4X5 film holders are just sitting here now. If you were to ask me, digital photography and Photoshop has turned photography from an art that required photographic skills to nothing more than a computer game. Brent Now what do I do with my SQ-a?
Brent, I am not sure I would go that far. One of the things that separates a good photogrpaher from a snapshot shooter is the ability to select the right composition, lighting, and in Henri-Cartier Bresson's words the 'Decisive Moment.' Photoshop is certainly easier in some ways than producing the same in a darkroom, but I have yet to see any digital black and white prints that come close to the works of Ansel Adams, A. Aubrey Bodine, or Yousuf Karsh.
I also disagree with that. It is true that digital has made photography more "accessible" than ever before - and you get a lot of rank amateurs taking and printing snapshots and thinking it's the same result a pro could get. Personally, I think that's great - let them have fun with it and learn... but most of them I wouldn't call "photographers". On the other hand, there are those who take the time to learn about "Making Images" vs. "Taking Pictures". I know a lot of people who have moved from 35mm and medium format film to APS and Fullframe DSLRs. They certainly haven't lost touch with the art of composing an image. And they have found much to be excited about in a "digital darkroom". I teach classes in digital imaging, and even in the younger people who started out in digital, there is a good percentage of them who are serious about learning digital as a fine art. I am "tutoring" a couple of acquaintances on photography - those who have bought digital cameras and taken all the snapshots they can stand - and now they want to learn about exposure, optics and composition. They learn quickly, too - much more so than if they were shooting film. I think that says a lot for the technology. -Scott
Scott, I agree whole heartedly with you that the technology facilitates the learning process because most people have access to a computer whereas very few have access to a darkroom. However I suspect that the learning curve for chemically based photography would have the same slope as for digital if one had ready 24-hour access to a darkroom.
Yes and no... it has the POTENTIAL for the same learning curve, perhaps... but it depends largely on the patience of the learner. As a teacher, I find that attention spans are not what they used to be. It comes down to speed, accessibility and convenience. I've got a digital darkroom that cost me a few hundred dollars for software and a printer. I don't count the cost of the computer, since I would have one regardless. My only consumables are ink and paper, which are arguably cheaper and easier to store and dispose of than chemistry. No environmental hazards or chemical sensitivities to worry about... (one of the reasons I stopped working in a darkroom is due to chemical sensitivity). And, with 5, 6, 8 or more megapixels and the quality CCD and CMOS sensors today, coupled with a solid knowledge of digital processing and a quality inkjet or dye-sub printer, results begin to rival medium format film. Add to that the speed of the digital workflow... one of the most important variables after image quality... I can go from the click of the shutter to a dry print in under 15 minutes, even processing to exacting standards. It makes it hard to justify a chemical darkroom - for me. I wasn't an early adopter, and I still appreciate the chemical darkroom... but I've moved on. I've visited a darkroom a couple of times in the last two years, but have not done any chemical processing or printing. -Scott
Scott, As to cost, I suspect the per print cost for digital is just about the same for silver based prints. If you make many prints, the cost of ink will drive you out of house and home, and glossy digital printer paper is not much cheaper than a good multi contrast RC paper. Of course even the best photographer will use more paper to produce a final print from a darkroom than he/she would digitally because he/she can see the “final” results on the CRT long before the expenditure of ink and paper. Disposal of used chemicals is a pain in the ass, but not impossible. An investment of a couple hundred dollars and a couple of do-it-yourself weekends will allow a person to solve the associated disposal problems. However, reaction to photographic chemicals is a difficult problem to solve. The only prophylactic measures of which I am aware are to use long sleeve shirts buttoned up at the neck, full length trousers, shoes and socks, a surgical hat, protective gloves, putting on clean clothes after a full soap down shower immediately following every processing session, and washing your processing garb separately from everything else. Even those measures will not help severe reaction to photo chemicals. I apologize if I have overreacted to your post or mischaracterized the intent of your comments. Again I applaud you for taking the time to help the average digital snapshooter take better pictures.
Actually, that is a much over-inflated estimate. The fact is, a moderate speed computer with a half a gig of RAM and a basic video card will suffice. Photo editing is most decidedly not demanding of the video card. A stock card is adequate. A rough estimate: Moderate speed computer, half gig of RAM, basic video card... I'll go with a top end Mac G5, which tend to cost more than a PC: $3000 20" Apple flat panel display: $800 Good sized external firewire HD: $200 Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer: $800 Photoshop CS2 Educational Price: $270 Total price: $5070 Honestly, you could knock $1000 of the price of the computer by going with a moderate speed Windows PC and sacrifice very little. You could shop around and get a high quality display for another $300 below what I listed above. Now you're down to $3770. Add display calibration hardware and you'll get up to $4000, total. Except for the student pricing on Photoshop, that's all list price. The wise shopper could do better than that without sacrificing quality. That gets the student adequate processing power, a quality display, a good start on storage, full-blown Photoshop at the student price, and one of the top rated inkjets in its class, capable of printing 13"x19" prints. I didn't plan on debating system prices, but $8000 is twice what a solid digital darkroom will cost you. -Scott
Like I said, I hadn't added it up. My previous experience with the digital side of photography and desktop publishing taught me that I needed to max out speed, ram, disk, and video if I wanted to do what I wanted to do without either taking too much time or crashing the system. I didn't plan on debating as well, but I think you will agree that even though I was off your estimate by $2,930, that the average home computer does not come up to the performance of the system you described. All that aside, I hope that your digital classes continue to be successful and thanks for the discussion.
I think the big thing is that digital is putting photo processing in the hands of those who would never get into chemical. People will most likely have a computer already. Cameras come fully equipped with softwa to make reasonable quality alterations and take care of filing etc. They don't *have* to use Photoshop. They could spend < $100 on Paint Shop Pro (I used it for three years) and get the same excellent results. They could spend < $100 on Picture Window Pro - a stripped down app that addresses the needs of photographers rather than the 800lb gorilla that is Photoshop. Or they could spend $0 and use Gimp. You don't even need a printer. Unless you're spending money on the higher end models (like Epson R2400, HP 8450, Canon i9900 etc) then you'll likely get as good if not better results by taking them to your local digital lab getting them done en masse. Several supermarkets in the UK are now offering 50 5x7" prints for £5. No home printing can match that, and the quality is fine. Darkroom skills are a wonderful thing to have, but they're not for the digital age. Maybe we all would benefit by learning how to develop film, but in reality most people don't have the space, time, money, patience and inclination to do so. I know I havent!