When I tell someone that I've switched from darkroom to digital printing, they usually say: It's a lot easier, isn't it?
And I usually say: Yeah, it's a lot easier.
Somebody, please define "easy."
make what Ansel might call an 'expressive' print, with the inkjet
requires more, not less knowledge, than the darkroom print. I'm
not kidding. It may be many years from now, but at some point, masters
of the digital print will be just as revered as old masters in any
other craft. Maybe they are already and I just don't know them.
was able to make fairly good prints in the darkroom when I was about 15
years old, and some of them are still around on people's walls and in
their scrapbooks to this day.
some point, I began to study the Zone System, and
experimenting with various film / developer combinations, and settled
on my paper and Dektol dilution and the type of enlarger light that I
wanted, and from there on it was laborious, but not
complex. Every once in a while there would be a hiccup for a few months
while I experimented with another film. But there was nothing complex
about it. Mostly trial and error.
are more variables involved in fine art digital printing than
darkroom printing. In that sense, it is harder, not easier than
printing in the darkroom. I think I could take someone - and when I
taught photography I did - into a darkroom and teach them how to
develop a roll of Tri-x in D-76 and make a pretty good print on fiber
paper in say - two days. If they're a real slow learner, maybe a week.
How long to make a fine print was usually related to having a good
negative to work from.
Do you want
me to make a list of the variables, and pieces of knowledge, involved
in a digital workflow? I've been meaning to do this, but every time I'm
ready ( and this is after many years) I pick up some new technique that
seems critical. Today, for example, I finally got a very good sense of
what unsharpening was all about. Yes, I have been applying an unsharp
filter after all my adjustments were made and the print was ready, and
the prints looked good. But did I really know what the Threshold slider
was for? Did I know how to determine what percentage of unsharpening to
use, other than going by eye? Did what I was seeing on the screen
indicate how the unsharp would look on paper? (Answer to the last is
And this is one of the most
basic techniques to understand in the digital workflow. I suppose I
could list about ten other pieces of knowledge that you need, but once
I list them, there will be the eleventh, so for now, I just mean to
give you an idea of the difference between the darkroom and the digital
Another small example: you
want to shoot film? Fine, you may even have someone develop it for you,
and they give you your negatives back in envelopes, and you stick those
envelopes somewhere, and there is your backup.
want to shoot digital? You want to shoot it for a living? You had
better understand something about how to make backups and backups of
backups. And yet, don't get me wrong - in some ways digital is easier; just not in the way that most people think...