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Thread: Digital vs Wet

  1. #1

    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.


  2. #2

    Join Date
    Nov 2001

    Digital vs Wet

    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.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Massachusetts USA

    Digital vs Wet

    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.

  4. #4

    Digital vs Wet

    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?

  5. #5

    Digital vs Wet

    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.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Sep 2001

    Digital vs Wet

    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.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    Forest Grove, Ore.

    Digital vs Wet

    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.

  8. #8

    Digital vs Wet

    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...

  9. #9

    Digital vs Wet

    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?

  10. #10

    Digital vs Wet

    "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.

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