View Full Version : Digital vs Wet
This is not another question regarding the quality of digital prints vs enlarged prints produced in the darkroom. In fact I think that for your average joe (me) it's much easier to produce a nice print digitally. That's actually the issue I'm wrestling with.
I'm a large format rookie. I started out developing my own black and white negs and printing them in a rented darkroom. I have since changed jobs and am working in a different town so I don't have the darkroom available anymore. Because of this I have started shooting color transparencies, developed, scanned and printed for me. I do my own photoshop work. I've got some nice shots (not great)and recieve lots of compliments on them. My black and white work was frankly not that great. However, my sense of pride and accomplishment in them was much greater. Isn't the fun of photography in the making of the picture? It's not that rewarding (for me) to sit in front of a computer doing unsharp masking. Isn't the process kind of the point? I realize that for professionals digital is here to stay. But for those of us who do it for the fun of it aren't we missing out on the satisfaction of mastering a challenging craft? This might be a pointless discussion but I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter.
I don't think it is a pointless discussion. I personally like doing the digital process--and I don't have room for an enlarger in my current place. I do all my 4x5 B/W in a Unidrum in my bathroom. I enjoy that part.
Don't you think mastering Photoshop is a "challenging craft"? I think it is.
At some point I want to mix the two: LF negs output on an inkjet for making Platinum/Paladium contact prints ala Dan Burkholder.
I think there is room for both--I certainly want to be able to use both methods.
There is no 'vs' in this one. Both are imagemaking methods that have their place. Some excellent work is produced by pixelography just as some excellent work is produced by traditional photography. The biggest two problems in the images for me are that both produce excellence in a very small percentage of the cameras used. This is reality in any art form. Second is that pixelography has yet to find out what it really is or wants to be. So far most of those who use it do little more than substitute it for the film cameras. They don't push the bounds and don't produce work that can really only be digital. Just another way to get a picture.
The main problem I see with digital cameras I will define simply. They are the whores of photography. You can't have a lasting relationship with a digital camera. You buy & use it and then dump it and buy & use the next one. Same with the computers used to work on the pixelographs. Same with the printers & the programs. Buy, use, dump & replace. Over & over & over again. You cannot have a long lasting relationship with computer products. Oh, you can keep them but after a few years they are paperweights as the technology moves past where you can still use them.
I can still photograph with a 1926 Deardorff. Friends still use 1890 vintage 8x10's and many still use lenses from that time. A long lasting relationship is possible with a large format film camera. Same with the film. We can still print 100 year old negatives. We still have 150 year old prints.
We don't know about pixelographs yet. We are bombarded with "archival" as if it actually means something. We just don't know. So far digital printing is the modern incarnation of RC papers. We print & hope for the best & that the accelerated aging testing is close to correct... all the while hoping that another surprise like 'ozone attacks' don't kill these 'archival' prints. And, when they get that one figured out something else will crop up. Eventually it will last but at what cost? Almost everything digital costs more than a solid view camera, a lens or two & a few film holders. Especially when one has to factor in what is needed to produce images.
There is no 'vs' in this one. Use what you want & like. Just do so knowing more surprises are in store as you rely on it, both positive & negative.
Isn't the process kind of the point?
Everything is the process.
If you don't like the computer part of it, then don't do it. Someone else could get a mule, coat their own glass plates, and develop them in a tent with poisonous chemicals, like Jackson... and if they enjoy it, and like the results, then who cares ? It doesn't matter. Just do whatever you find fulfilling.
I can relate to Robert. I have used view cameras for over two years now. In the begining it was transparencies what I shot. Yes, they are amazing on the light table, but... Later on I started shooting B&W and developing my 4x5 in the kitchen sink with pyro and contact printing on AZO. The process of learning was quite involved. I enjoyed that it was not that easy to make great prints. I feel what comes easy doesn't stay with us as a memorable experience. When I learned photoshop ( I thought I was going to output digitally) I enjoyed that it wasn't easy. Even today I feel I know so much and it is still nothing. Every now and then I hear a new technique from some one else that gets me thinking "How the hell didn't I think that?" I think it is the process what we have to enjoy. The print is meaningless without it. I also see a lot of judgements about one process or the other. The pros and the cons and one being of higher hierarchy over another. I think our minds have a lot to learn. In my case I have to learn not to waste my energy and time in worthless activity. I think many of us are in the same place. Aren't we?
I'm not sure I would say that mastering Photoshop is any less of an accomplishment than mastering a wet darkroom would be. I do think that as much time as a lot of us spend in front of a computer in our work lives that a hobby spent doing something away from the computer can give one more of a feeling of satisfaction.
I think different people are attracted to the two disciplines and they value different aspects of the experience. But it is okay too to have a partisan or non-object view of the comparison. I cannot look at a medieval church sculpture without thinking of the hands, mind and process that created that image out of undifferentiated sandstone. A Karsh photograph brings the same sense of awe because I respect the attention and craft that I know went into creating the particular image in front of me. Somehow, calibrating pixels and directing minute inkjets, no matter how elegant the system and the mind behind the creation, does not have the same impact.
One of the most inspiring aspects of traditional printing, for me, is that traditional printers are always on the edge of disaster when they are creating a print. They are orchestrating chemistry, paper, exposure, dodging and burning, handling, surface tension and many other factors in order to create a single perfect print. Only their skill, absolute attention and reflexes keep them from failure at any moment of the process, and needless to say, no two prints are the same. Does a digital worker have to cross that high-wire? They may spend years perfecting their skills and learning arcane techniques - with stunning, brilliant results. But they are still producing a linear product... essentially infinitely repeatable and unvarying. While traditional photographers struggle with tools and techniques that essentially always vary, and that only the great master printers can orchestrate to perfection. In my mind, these factors make the two mediums impossible to equate on more than the most superficial level - no matter how similar to traditional photography digital may become.
In traditional photography, we keep and can print negatives for a lifetime.
Will technology advance to the point where the photoshop files that we make today are, practically speaking, no longer usable? For example, with advances in printer technology, in the software, in computers, etc.? Companies love to introduce completely new standards, because people then have to purchase all new equipment and software.
Is it still possible to view a VisiCalc file? Yet at one time, these files were the standard that everyone used.
Good questions! As a corporate/commercial shooter, the need for digital is very prominant because of the ever growing need for images for Power Point and PDF's for presentations. I do shoot most of my work on film and can ALWAYS go back to them but they are then commited to electronics and shipped off quickly. Client's needs will range from Jpegs/PSD files to prints and 8x10 chromes. I cannot agree with you more about the gratification with doing the wet process and I am a hold out as far as loving getting my hands in the soup but am limited to doing this in B/W. Shooting for work, all the processes (except B/W and scanning) are automated and I feel no thrill with it... it is a necessary part and has to be done. The gratification I get that recharges my personal batteries is to take my little Linhof Tec III out with B/W sheets and shoot and get into the darkroom (albeit a very limited time because of life and all that yadda yadda!), lock the door, turn up the music and enjoy myself. This does a huge amount of good for my mental health (and is very much needed to keep me sharp) and will keep doing it as long as I can... I say jokingly to people ".. they won't take my 4x5 away until they pry it out of my stiff, rigamorticed hands..." but there is ALOT of truth to that! Robert, I have an on going, friendly arguement with a "digital" guy friend. He knows where I stand I and I know where his likes are but yes, the gratification is where you like and I, like you, love the wet process. Working with PS, the "craft" is also working the shot and as you are finding out, there is so much you can do to work the picture... yes, the learning curve is huge and sometimes undaunting to some people just starting out but learning what you will be using most is the first step. Fortunately, I have used PS since there weren't any "versions" and there are still some things I don't use... it is a huge program for sure! Just yesterday I was making an enlarged B/W negative with PS and the densitometer readings couldn't be better. Sometimes I think it is almost sacrilege to make a digital negative for platinum printing but truth be told, it's faster and you can do what you need to the negative to improve it...
In theory, digital photography and traditional photography are two different art forms and should be able to co-exist. But in reality, many silver based photographic materials are disappearing from the market. For those of us who choose to work in the wed darkroom, the overwhelming popularity of digital photography is bad news.
When even people in the LF forum stop doing darkroom work, how much longer do you think products such as AZO will be available?
D. Kevin Gibson
"In theory, digital photography and traditional photography are two different art forms and should be able to co-exist. But in reality, many silver based photographic materials are disappearing from the market. For those of us who choose to work in the wed darkroom, the overwhelming popularity of digital photography is bad news."
I don't think photography is about the way you use the darkroom but about how you use the camera.
For the first few hundred years after it's invention artists and people with vision were arguably more free in using it than we are today in interpreting the image they saw through it. While the invention of a chemical process to fix that image was a great advance in many ways it was also very limiting. It took perhaps a hundred years after that before photographers seriously tried to break out of that again. For that period and still today many photographers are still bound by the the straightjacket that fixed (wet) chemical image imposes. Stuck in the Renaissance idea and theory of a one point perspective (among other things) more photographs then ever are produced everyday - yet most of them are the same - boringly the same.
Digital has only just begun to be explored and it's possibilities tested. But it offers opportunities to both go back to some of that freedom that was there before the wet process of fixing an image was invented and also, perhaps more importantly, to explore completely new and exciting ways of seeing with the camera. It is the camera that is the thing, and what you do and see with it. Whether you convey what you see with a paintbrush (as was the case and still can be) or through a wet chemical process or through pixels on a screen or blinks of a laser on paper - it doesn't matter. They are all valid. The important thing is to not exploring what they can do and pushing the boundaries of both the materials and tools and our own vision.
D. Kevin Gibson
That should, of course, be: "The important thing is to not stop exploring what they can do and pushing the boundaries of both the materials and tools and our own vision."
There are different kinds of photography as you can see from the thread so far. When my primary concern is producing a particular image for a client then I use whatever will get the job done the way the client wants it done at the most economical price. For example, shooting catalogue shots of reproduction pewter for one client is always done with a digital camera because the end results go to the web and that is the least expensive way to get it done and get a good quality image.
When I am making images for display and sale and my photography is my art it is a different story. The most important aspects of my art are the image I see in my mind’s eye and the image I translate to a viewable form for others to see. I use whatever art and technology I have mastered to bring that image to the viewer. The original medium is always film, usually LF, less frequently 6x12 or 6x9 and even less frequently 35mm. I contact print 8x10 black and white on AZO paper most of the time but every once in a while enlarge to 16x20. I seldom shoot black and white in 4x5, usually shooting chrome. Today, I routinely have the chromes professionally scanned using drum scans and then printed at 8x10 through 16x20. Many of the prints that I create for sale are done using a giclee iris printer, others using lightjet technology. When I shoot color negative material I can go either way on the enlargements.
I can remember spending endless, tedious hours in the darkroom years ago doing unsharp masking or using second and third and even higher generation kodaliths to create specific effects such as very stark, minimal tonal variation, line drawing like images. Why go through that agony today when I can achieve the same effect with photoshop and a digital print? My point is very simple, if you want to argue endlessly about the purity of the craft go ahead …. many juried art groups do just that. If you are interested in the image presented to the viewer then focus on that image and how you get the image that is most pleasing to you or that you believe will be most pleasing to other viewers.
I seriously doubt the final viewer cares at all about how the image was produced.
I would say you better examine what is it that you enjoy the most, and where do you want your photography to go. Everything else in my opinion is irrelevant, if you enjoy the way you are doing your photographs and can produce work you enjoy, the way you do it is unimportant.
I'm a die hard wet fan but I wholeheartedly welcome digital photography. It's a whole new medium, and I think it's great. It obviously takes just as much skill and art as does the traditional way, IMO.
But it's not for me. I actually enjoy doing all of the traditional methods; loading the holders, tray developing, printing, etc. I find the methods, equipment and materials fascinating. Since I'm an artist with a paying day job, I do what I like.
The only aspect of digital I truly envy is the ability to work within small chunks of available time. When I print I have to schedule a half a day. Developing film takes an entire evening. With digital I could work on a print for 15 minutes, save it and go feed the baby. What a luxury!
"I'm a die hard wet fan"
did you quite mean it to sound like that... :-)
Personally, I'm in high school, I have the space but not the budget. I have an 8x10 Elwood but can't afford a lens. :)
I feel that the challenge is part of it, and I can't be proud of anything but the best and hardest-to-master craft.
I have only three major arguments against digital for why I don't personally use it. One is the overwhelming cost. The othe two are the "undo" button (seems to take something away from the mastery) and the fact that you can get more than one truly identical print.
However, that's just my opinion. I have nothing wrong with others using digital, and if I were to do commercial work where I could justify the cost, I'd surely want it as an option.
Just had this conversation with a co-worker. He was trying to talk about spotting scopes with a digital camera backend... (?) I told him I had a camera with a meter in it. One. A 1986 FM2.
All the rest are folders, TLRs, Speed Graphics, Zeiss Plattenkameras, pinholes, etc.
There are two distinct points to photography. One is the image. In this respect, how you get the final result is irrelavent. It's the image, stupid. Digital, wet, powderpuff... it doesn't matter as long as you get your view into a reality.
The other is the process. Now many of you might disagree but personally, without the process, I could care less about the image. There is much to be said about mastering a difficult craft.
I sit at a computer all day, programming robots how to play. Without the robots, who cares? I don't do database because I couldn't stay interested in an object that has no concrete resonance in my soul. Robots resonate, as does 4x5 film. Same with all traditional photography. If there is no film, no developer, no paper of one type or another, I'll just be getting on to something else I can master in the real world. There is something neat about making beautiful photos with a piece of equipment built the same year my father was born (1929) in an enlarger made before I was born (1956) with lens made before my daughter was born (1995). Well the analogy ain't perfect, but you get the idea. Something neat that cannot be duplicated with the latest whiz bang gizmo out of the mime at Minolta.
tim in san jose
I suspect that most, if not all, artists & craftsmen enjoy the process of creation as much as the final product. The process for digital images is becoming too easy. If you were a furniture maker, would you enjoy the process of sketching a furniture design, digitizing it, having a CAD program convert it into a template for a robotic factory to produce a final product? The digital image process is becoming that easy. All you have to do is decide what is your subject & start clicking away. Photoshop may be a large program; but you can use a small part of its features and with only a few mouse-clicks you can remedy all your mistakes & even add clouds, fog, etc.. Then, just print, tweak, print until you have a final product which will fool most people into believing its a hand-crafted, even alt processed, fine print. Maybe I'm getting old & have spent too much time sitting in front of a computer (programmer); but I think the digital revolution has made us both more free & more enslaved.
Personally for me I work with technology day in day out - I'm a senior Oracle DBA - and I love what I do, however it's nice to have hobbies that get me away from the computer for a while.
For me photography is a creative outlet away from computers that allows me to enjoy "getting out there" and working with my hands. For this reason and this reason alone when I buy a house (assuming I can ever afford one at San Diego prices ! ) a 4x5 darkroom is going in :)
Digital is right for some - but for me the chemical process is part of the pleasure - both technologies are just tools - pick up the one you like working with - or both if you prefer.
There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs. -Ansel Adams
I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term -meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching - there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster. -Ansel Adams
the first quote stands on its own, the second is true of both traditional and digital, much garbage is produced in the form of photographs, but the true quality work shines through regardless of how it is manufactured. Digital is no guarantee of quality anymore than traditional is.
First off, we can agree that a digital print is a reproduction.
If I'm not miskaten, Adams spoke of the fact that all reproductions are relatively the same, whereas each photographic print is a different and unique piece of art.
Adams also was very excited about the digital age coming to photography, and what print digital or traditional isn't a reproduction? one comes from a negative, and the other comes either from a negative/scan of a digital original.
The sameness of each print doesn't really hold water when it comes to Adams, since he tried his utmost to make every print within a session to look the same.
I can easily change how I print from session to session, depending on how my viewpoint of the image has changed. When I printed tradtionally, every print of the same negative looked "relatively the same".
Isn't it a bit egotistcal to say that the way I print is the only way to do it? Do you coat your own glass plates? which methods of exposing/printing are legitimate? and what gives anyone the authority to choose for everyone else?
As I have said before, what counts is what is on the wall.
Steve J Murray
I started making B&W darkroom prints over 30 years ago. Over the years I became a pretty good printer, capable of producing a "museum quality" print. These days I enjoy just as much scanning a 4x5 neg and doing the same thing in Photo Shop. To me it takes just as much tweaking and test printing to get the print values just right so the print really "glows," which by the way cannot be reproduced on a computer screen! The process is really the same; its my brain and eye and experience that produce the end product, not the technology. The only difference is that I can more easily reproduce my initial efforts once the file is saved. I would have killed to do that in the darkroom. My digital prints are getting better and better, rivaling my darkroom prints. I am having much fun and I am again getting out and taking photos and making great prints.
I get just as much satisfaction doing it this way as I did in the darkroom, especially since the end result is great prints. Its no less creative, just less messy.
D. Kevin Gibson
"First off, we can agree that a digital print is a reproduction. If I'm not miskaten, Adams spoke of the fact that all reproductions are relatively the same, whereas each photographic print is a different and unique piece of art."
Every photographic print is also a reproduction. For one thing, photographers wouldn't have to go through the game of making limited edition series if this were not generally accepted, by both the "art world" and hte general public, as the case (each print WOULD be seen as a unqique piece of art and no numbering would be necessary). They are all reproductions from the same original negative (or positive).
D. Kevin Gibson
"I suspect that most, if not all, artists & craftsmen enjoy the process of creation as much as the final product. The process for digital images is becoming too easy. If you were a furniture maker, would you enjoy the process of sketching a furniture design, digitizing it, having a CAD program convert it into a template for a robotic factory to produce a final product? The digital image process is becoming that easy. All you have to do is decide what is your subject & start clicking away... etc"
Interestingly, the same arguments that were made by the art world (especially painters) against photogpraphy at it's inception. An argument still made by some artists today. And to some extent it still holds true for photogpraphy. Millions of photographs are produced every day and most of them are the same.
Interestingly, the same arguments that were made by the art world (especially painters) against photogpraphy at it's inception. An argument still made by some artists today. And to some extent it still holds true for photogpraphy
The difference is that photography and painting are totally different art mediums in "feel" and emotional content. Not so with digital, a color digital print can look exactly the same as an in camera enlarged negative print. So while the argument might have been somewhat ridiculous for photography vs painting, it is not so for chemical vs digital.
OTOH the reproduction vs hand made issue was discussed to death on pn, so I have no dog in this fight, you all have fun with it.
George .... goes back farther than that. Has anyone read Plato's Republic and the Myth of the Cave specifically?
George .... goes back farther than that. Has anyone read Plato's Republic and the Myth of the Cave specifically?
More the reason to stay out of it IMO....:-))
D. Kevin Gibson
"George .... goes back farther than that. Has anyone read Plato's Republic and the Myth of the Cave specifically?"
Among other things Plato, probably one of the roots of the fear of and failure to understand colour in western art, and it's forever (until recently) being labelled (like rhetoric) cosmetic, vulgar and trivial. From this springs the(mistaken) belief in the purity of line and form (and black and white) over colour.
Adams also spoke that the negative is the score and the print is the performance. I'm sure that I read him talking about how each print is a UNIQUE piece of art, different from all others.
I have nothing wrong with others using digital, but personally I like traditional processes because of the uniqueness and originality of every print I turn out.
I'm sorry, but I don't buy that. To use the same quote again, the negative is just the score. My definition of reproduction is something which is intended to be exactly the same over a multitude of copies. This includes not only a digital print or a mechanical print from a plate but also a straight print from a negative. However, no two fine prints will ever be the same, and I do not consider them reproductions. Personally, I am against limited editions and against numbering. But then again, I don't sell prints, so that all could in theory change.
The "art world". What is that world of which you are talking? It is certainly not any world which I would want to be part of. Maybe it's just so powerful that I'm an amateur, I photograph for myself and nobody else. If I don't sell one print (and I don't, nor do I want to), I'm happy. If someone whom I know really wants a print of mine, I will give one to them. Or have them pay the cost of the materials. But Art should stand on its own, and I as well as many others whom I know, recognize the value of each and every fine print as being unique. They may look similar, but side-by-side, no two are ever the same.
Having said that - it is an individual issue.
I only state what I feel. If you feel that digital is fine and is art, then I respect that. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and art in the mind of the artist. Only the artist himself can define what is and isn't art.
All I can do is share my definition of what, for me, is art.
"exploration in all directions of style and craft is not only valid, but often vital for individual creative growth"
"Technical issues of printing must not be allowed to overwhelm the aesthetic purposes: the final photographic statement should be logical and complete, and transcend the mechanics employed.
John Sexton once told me that Adams was very excited that Sexton was adept at retouching negatives. Adams stood over Sexton's shoulder while Sexton slowly scraped away the highlights of a leaf from the horizontal aspen tree negative (yikes). Sexton said that the next morining Adams had a whold stack of negs with absolutly impossible retouching to be done. Sexton said that whenever Adams gained a new tool to have more control over the process it made him very excited.
I kind of think that Adams would have been very much into digital.
I, too, think that if Ansel Adams were alive today he'd be into digital; but at age 100 who could blame him for taking the easy road to image creation.
Some of previous arguments are based on semantics - prints are reproductions therefore all reproductions on paper are prints. Is a graphic artist cartoon creation printed on paper a "fine print"? If he created it in PhotoShop & used digital images for embellishment? If he took a digital image & embellished it? As digital photography merges with graphic arts, is it still photography? What is it about a photograph that makes it a unique form of art? Are we losing one of its major features - some semblance of truthfulness in its capture of reality?
As the price of digital backs for LF cameras drops enabling all of us to make the switch from film, I suspect the craft as well as the art of photography will be diminshed.
Do any of you working in the wet darkroom work in color?
This is yet another thread that's going nowhere fast, and I will save my efforts for where they will be of more use.
Don, I'm just starting Ilfochrome Classic (with 120 but intend to do 8x10 contacts eventually) and hope to also eventually be setup to do E-6 processing and perhaps C-41/RA-4.
Personally, the biggest reason for me is that I've tried digital and just don't like the "feel" of it, I like the feel of the wet darkroom.
Don, Yes we do color and it is pretty much all from 120/220 negs and alot of 4x5 studio and location shooting. Sometimes I like to get in and do my own color printing like I have been doing from negs of my recent New Mexico trip but we do have full time printers who print the stuff we shoot... Every once in a while, I still like to get my hands in but I never have enough time to print my personal B/W... saving it for the winter... Why do you ask?
“So while the argument might have been somewhat ridiculous for photography vs painting, it is not so for chemical vs digital.” – Jorge
Same ball of wax brother. – Good try though!
Wow!! This thing really snowballed. I was just expecting someone to say "I feel your pain brother. Go buy an enlarger"
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