digital darkroom vs chemical : LUSENET : Black and White Photography: Digital Printing : One Thread

hello, sorry to bring this up but! our photo club will be debating this subject at our next meeting to see if digital should be included in our monthly compititions, and not being a digital person i would like some imput. my personal view is that digital images are still pictures and should be included. all photographs are manipulated to some extent and the view of some members is that digital CAN BE manipulated to the point of almost cheeting. in color photos everyone likes a nice blue sky so they use a graduated filter or a polorizer. but lets say you don't use those and take the shot. after you scan it THEN you can make the sky as blue as you want. is this cheeting or just another form of manipulation? i think it is just manipulation with different tools. what if you want to ADD SOMETHING to the shot that wasn't there to start with, say a lighthouse and some birds? i am sure this could be done with the computer but what about useing other negatives in combination with the original in a chemical darkroom i think that this same effect could be done. even some of his holiness ansel adams, which i am reading his books,probaly most of his shots were manipulated in his darkroom. his streight print of "moonrise over hermosa" wasn't that hot i hear. only after working the darkroom was it turned into the calssic. did he cheet? in one of his books he said that the next big advance in photography will be electronic, which i take to mean digital. i beleive he would have used digital to acheive the DEPARTURES FROM REALITY that he liked in his photos. i don't want to rambel any more here but i think that the gist of some of my photo club fellow members is that someone with a computer will have an ADVANTAGE over the rest of us. some input please thank you very much rodney

ps the club doesen't want to have another catagory for digital because the judges seem to overwelmed with over 100 entries each month. thanks again. rod

-- rodney carver (, April 09, 1999


Excellent question. If you want to generate some serious noise around this, go to the Philosophy of Photography forum at and post this same question.

I don't believe digital photography is cheating any more than manipulating a photo chemically is cheating. What's the difference between using a red filter with T-Max 100 and shooting E100SW then switching to the Red channel in PhotoShop? None as far as the final image is concerned. Is compositing photos digitally cheating? Only if you misrepesent the image. Is double-exposing a slide in-camera cheating?

The people who argue that digital makes it easier to cheat don't have very much understanding of the technology. Compositing photos in a computer is very difficult, and takes a heavy investment in hardware and learning. It is just as easy to depart from reality using traditional techniques as it is using digital techniques.

Ansel's straight prints pretty much sucked. He manipulated all his great prints, and taught the rest of us how to do so. If Ansel were alive today he'd be sitting in front of his Macintosh manipulating away in PhotoShop and teaching the rest of use his techniques. The tools are changing, and we need to change with them.

-- Darron Spohn (, April 13, 1999.

I recently had a similar discussion with a friend who frowned on my Mac photography. Essentially all 'flat art' is a con in that we seek to create an image in two dimendions from a three dimensional subject. Most of the techniques available in photo shop are avaialable to the darkroom processer and as far as I can see built on these, It is, in my view, nonsense to talk about a 'real' 2d image as all we are attempting to do by whatever means is creat an illusion of the 'out there' that generates meaning for the observer and conveys to them something of what you have in your mind

-- Rohan Barnett (, May 09, 1999.

Photoshop gives greater scope to manipulate images than the darkroom.

This is not to say, though, that there are not all sorts of darkroom techniques to manipulate images - e.g composits (such as adding an interesting sky from one negative to another negative); negative sandwiching (e.g to add a texture to a print, such as a grain etc); using cardboard cut outs to add shadows etc to an image; darkening a print to add drama or burning to remove distracting details; solarisation; bleaching highlights with ferricyanide etc

These techniques were not used by Ansel Adams, as far as I'm aware, with the exception of adjusting some of the tones in the print and some bleaching. On the other hand, Eugene W Smith manipulated some of his images reasonably extensively (e.g darkening for drama, adding silhouettes not in the original shot etc). See 'The Camera and the Conscience'.

What I'm saying is that there are degrees. You have to decide what is acceptable to you. Photoshop gives greater scope for manipulation - both in terms of what you can do and the ease with which you can do it.

I'm a purist myself. I don't like falsely dramatic images or special effects for the hell of it. I don't like red filters much either.

I once had a teacher who remarked on shots with fisheye lens 'Great lens' - never 'Great photo'.

Real skill, and good photography, has more subtlety than use of an armada of photoshop filters or (for that matter) printing an ordinary scene till the photograph is almost black then bleaching some selected highlights or using some other darkroom manipulation.

I use photoshop, but tend only to use its more basic functions - curves, levels, unsharp mask etc - essentially to replicate what I can do in the darkroom with an unmanipulated print.

I think we'll look back at some of the early photos of the digital age - filters gone crazy - with the same sort of horror we now reserve for those terrible airbrushed shots from the 70s.

Regards Gareth Jolly

-- Gareth Jolly (, May 09, 1999.

Over the last year I have embarked on a journey to explore the "digital" side of my artform. I'm really glad I did! I have done traditional darkroom work and enjoy both, however, for me the digital domain is much easier and the results are far more impressive than I could ever do in the dark room.

I guess the debate will go on for some time - maybe the next generation - as the photographers who are technophobic or just purist will give way to those who realize the value of a new tool.

- Cheers!

-- Keith Lucas (, June 07, 1999.

When I was in high school taking art classes, I had difficulty making a brush do what I wanted it to. Or a pencil or whatever other type of drawing or painting instrument I worked with. I had a creative mind, but lacked the hand/eye coordination (for lack of better term) to create accurately what I previsualized. But when I took photography classes and learned how to operate a camera and darkroom... hey, now we're talking. The "Techy" in me made it easy for me to use the camera and film to create those images. Today, I still can't draw a stick man, but with my DCS 460 camera, Mac and Photoshop, I can create images that I could only dream of doing in the darkroom. Polaroid transfers, solarization, filters galore... I did it all. Digital tools are just the newest level of equipment offered to photographers to take their creativity to new levels. I hear "purists" make such comments about digital images not being real all the time. Bunk! Is Black & white (traditional) photography any more real? How can it be? Unless you live in Pleasantville! The tools are advancing and we as photographic artists can choose to advance with it or be left behind. Embrace the technology and learn as much as you can about it rather than be intimidated by it.

-- Trevon Baker (, June 18, 1999.

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