I lecture at the College of Digital Photography on Photoshop and very often I hear students tell me that friends and family will say to them that using Photoshop is cheating. I have also heard some photographers say that they are “purists” and don’t do any Photoshop “manipulation”. I find that this kind of comment is usually because of a lack of understanding of what photographers used to do in the darkroom before digital photography and Photoshop came about, as well as a lack of understanding of what Photoshop can actually do and how a photographer should use it effectively. The tragedy is that there are many digital photography “purists” who are not using Photoshop and so are not getting the absolute best results possible, their digital images might be very good, but with a little tweak here and there in Photoshop, that image could become spectacular.
In an article that I read while putting this blog together, the opening line from Kodak’s website on darkroom techniques says this: “No one is a complete photographer until he or she gains a fundamental knowledge of darkroom practice” This is more true now than ever. What used to happen in the past when we handed our film into the lab to be developed was that they would check each image and make subtle corrections to colour and contrast anyway. The photographer was never consulted on this, the lab just did it. The photographer then picked up their images and Voila! They looked great and the photographer walked away thinking that they were a great photographer based on the results they got. Very often, they didn’t realize that there had been some adjustments made to their images “behind the scenes”
Digital has changed all this now. Very often, when you drop off your digital images at a lab to be printed, you walk up to the computer screen at the front of the shop, load your images onto their machine and then go to the counter to confirm when the prints will be ready. Most of the time, no image adjustments have been made (apart from the ones made in camera – more on that in later posts) and so the image is exactly how it looked on your camera. The lab prints the images. You then come to collect them and when you look at them, you can’t understand why they are so “dark” or why the colour seems so flat or the clouds are so dark? This is because the lab has not made any adjustments to your images and very often the photographer will blame the camera or say that digital is just not as good as film was. Well, the reality is that digital photographers need to take control over their image processing and not leave it up to the lab or anyone else for that matter. Once we do take control of the image editing process and master the techniques offered in Photoshop, the benefits will be obvious….
So what happened to the Darkroom?
The darkroom of the past, the one with all the chemicals, Fixers, Stabilisers etc has now gone virtual. In the past, the darkroom was the only way to get images captured on film to be printed. The same is true for digital, with a difference though…the computer and using photoshop is the only way of getting images off your digital film (the memory card with the images on it) and into the lab to be printed.
In the past, the darkroom was used to develop and process images, but also was used to correct and enhance images. The key here is the words “correct and enhance”. The first step was to develop the images so that photographer could see what they had, but then, they would go to the next step and start correcting images or areas of an image. They would correct exposure, lighting, colour, saturation and many other things in the image. They would also then use the creative side of the darkroom and enhance certain images, or adjust certain items within an image to create an effect. This was all done in the Darkroom. Today, this is all done in Photoshop….not much has changed.
What processes were done in the Darkroom?
The list of processes that could be done in a Darkroom is incredibly exhaustive, whole books have been written on this topic and still today there are some photographers who use the processes or even alternative processes to create a fine art image, these are often called alternative processes and can have some really dramatic and exciting results. If you are curious as to some of the processes that can be done in the Darkroom, then click here to go to Wikipedia’s list of processes.
This post is the first of probably three or four posts about the darkroom, digital or otherwise, so keep coming back and read up more about it.
The next article will give more details on what the darkroom can and cant do and what Photoshop can and cant do…who said the darkroom is dead?