I recently posted an article showing an example where I edited a digital image in Adobe Photoshop. Starting with the original photograph straight from the camera, I showed how the image changed during each step of the process. I wanted to follow up that post with a similar article on traditional darkroom printing where I show the process of taking an image from the original film negative to the final print.

The Darkroom vs. Adobe Photoshop

With Photoshop, the rudiments of editing a photograph is fairly straightforward. While you can spend a lifetime learning the intricacies of Photoshop, you can learn the basics fairly quickly. Not only that, Photoshop allows you to experiment and see your changes in real time. Making a print in the darkroom is not that simple.

The learning curve with darkroom printing is very steep. You can’t step into a darkroom for the first time and emerge a few hours later with an acceptable print. It takes hours upon hours to learn how to make a competent print in the darkroom. Unlike Photoshop, you can’t quickly make changes and see the results. Making a print in the darkroom involves intuition and guess work. Nothing is ever exact and no two prints are ever the same. The nuances of creating a print can only be learned through hard work and experience.

The Nature of the Craft

It’s the difficulty and painstaking nature of the craft that ultimately makes it so rewarding. It’s not about clicking a button to see what happens but rather more about looking deeper and imagining what can be. It takes time. What can be done in Photoshop in a few minutes might take all day in a darkroom.

The process all starts with the film. The film you choose can have a big effect on the final print, from the grain structure and sharpness, to the overall tonality of the image. Developing the negative is an art in and of itself, but for now we’ll focus on making an actual print, assuming you are starting with an acceptable negative.

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