Bypassing conventional, going directly to digital. : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I wonder if I should bother at all with setting up a conventional darkroom and instead go directly to digital scanning and printing.

Am I missing anything in my education as a photographer? I am not in love with process; I am in love with results. I haven't spent years in the darkroom as many on this board have cutting my eye-teeth on the conventional process. And I am wondering if I should make the attempt now.

Space and time constraints, the terrible smells, and the wonderful expediency of the digital process have put me on the horns of a dilemma.

Yet I feel as if I should pay my dues to the wet process or my journey as a photographer printer won't be complete. Can I recognise what good Dmax is digitally without having experienced good Dmax conventionally? Can I get the range of tones that the wet process engenders? Is split toning even possible digitally?

Certainly, those are the masters of their printing craft like Bill Nordstrom, have spent a good part of their life in the conventional darkroom before going digital completely. They bring the knowledge and eye honed in the wet process over with them into the digital realm.

Will someonewho has bypassed the conventional process be disadvantaged in any way? Or perhaps digital is a new way of seeing and one should not try to replicate the look of the wet process?

May I tap the collective wisdom of this board.

Does the conventioanl process still have a place in the education of a new photographer today?

Too many rambling questions. Please bear with me.


P.S. I am still shooting film. And will always shoot film as long as it remains available.

-- Erik X (, January 21, 2002



I have always printed in the darkroom (b&w and color) and remain devoted to it completely, but I had to learn Photoshop in order to teach it. I don't see why you can't skip the darkroom and get fine results technically. However, I agree with my friend David Freese's theory that there is something about physically handling a material (paper, chemistry, easel, retouching brush) that engages a different part of the brain than merely viewing a 2-D, all-illusory image on a screen. He thinks that better, or at least different, work will emerge when your hands do what they are meant to do: handle. (Handling the mouse or keyboard is too indirect.) I'm sure several people will write in and say this is BS, but I kinda think there's something to it.

But if process is unimportant to you, then its psychic/physical relationship to the result might be unimportant to you as well, so go ahead and skip the darkroom.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, January 21, 2002.

If you are interested in "results" more than "process" then look at the results, and see if they look like what you want to produce. Go to galleries and museums and inspect real prints by great printers to see what the potential of each medium is. Fine prints can be made by many techniques. I just see digital as another set of output options. Iris, Piezography, Lightjet, silver, platinum, albumen, Azo, cyanotype, Vandyke, and gum bichromate all can produce interesting results. I don't see any kind of process as inherently superior, really. The aesthetic choice is yours.

Personally, I've seen some nice looking B&W giclee prints, but it's not a look I am after. I like the particular quality of silver printing and contact prints on Azo. On the other hand, Lightjet in color is close enough to wet printing in general appearance with the possibility of much more control than one has in the darkroom, so I'm leaning that way for color enlargements (but I may stick with Ilfochromes for LF contact prints, at least for now).

-- David Goldfarb (, January 21, 2002.

"terrible smells"?? - i love the way the darkroom smells! it almost makes me salivate :-) anyway, i think i have to call this one both ways - if you want to focus on color work, absolutely shoot CTs and then have them scanned and printed digitally. for my professional architectural work, this is what i do - i havent had any conventional color prints made in well over a year - the digital prints are far superior than conventional color prints made directly from the CTs. of course, i dont pay for the scans and prints - the clients do :-) - but the quality of the digital prints is really worth it - they are outstanding even up to 24x36" (biggest i've tried, and i can hardly see the pixellation even with a 10x loupe on a 320MB file print). OTOH, if you are mainly doing B/W, i would stick with conventional darkroom and fiber-base prints, as it is almost ESSENTIAL for fine art work (for commercial BW work where you dont need a fine art-type result, digital prints might be just the ticket) - but, i have not seen any BW digital prints that can compare to the rich tonality of a good fiber-base print, but that is largely because of the quality of the papers available for the two type of printing. i havent really seen any papers made for digital BW printing that have the feel and substance and character of an air-dried glossy surface fiber paper = perhaps there are some out there now, and i just dont know it. my daughter is majoring in photography at USC, and i am encouraging her to shoot film but go straight to digital for printing (she wants to do commercial magazine work).

-- jnorman (, January 21, 2002.

The biggest obstacle to a large format film to digital workflow is the scanner. There are now 35mm and medium format scanners that can give respectable results but flatbed scanners that can due justice to 4x5 or larger transparencies begin at about $12,000 USD (Scitex Eversmart Jazz).

-- Hank Graber (, January 21, 2002.

Have you considered a blending of both? Look into Dan Burkholder's 'Making Enlarged Negatives' book. Very popular workflow these days. Basically, scanning a negative, do your modifications to the image in Photoshop, print the image back to a negative on a clear transparency on an Epson inket printer, and contact print the final print.

This way, your 'wet' darkroom is minimal work. You will only be doing 'straight' prints.

Just a thought.

-- Andy Biggs (, January 21, 2002.

Forget the darkroom, you're not missing anything worth knowing, and it takes serious time away from shooting.

-- (, January 21, 2002.

Current Shutterbug has a good interview with Ralph Gibson that will be pertinent.

-- David Stein (, January 21, 2002.

This whole digital v. film dilemma reminds me of the same handwringing that surrounded the other digital v. analog debate - music. I still have over 1,000 record albums - and for some of them I even have the CD of the same album. Hands down, I'll take the LP any time. Same for photography.

Put it another way --- if digital (imaging or sound) existed first, and then analog came afterward - what would have been the reaction????? I think that the analog would have absolutely blown everyone away with its purity, its depth, its clarity, and its beauty. Just my opinion.


-- Alan Agardi (, January 21, 2002.


If you are doing photography commercially with this as your main source of income then go digital all the way - forget traditional work, you will be left behind your contemparies.

If you are doing photography for yourself and have not much interest in earning your living with it, then a combination of both would be a good choice.

After over thirty years of traditional photography (professionally, as my only income) I am changing more and more to digital capture and output and the traditional methods have been relegated more for my own personal work.

Kind regards

-- Peter L Brown (, January 21, 2002.

It's too easy for my wife to find me when I'm sitting in front of this stupid computer! I'm a sitting duck. She's looking for someone to do the dishes as we speak. The nerve. Just because she cooked the dinner. Ahh.......but the dark room. It's mystical and remote. I can listen to MY music in there. I'm obviously doing something important when I've dis-appeared in there. And I can always yell "Can't come out right now" "Give me 10 minutes to finish this" See, you'll miss all that.

-- Jim Galli (, January 21, 2002.

Erik, I agree that if you"re working commercially at it, digital is where the smart money is, but if your passion is the print then consider which method gives you the most satisfaction to work with. It sounds like you're taken with digital so thats probably where you should be right now. If you enjoy the wet darkroom like many do, then thats fine too. If you want to scan traditional negatives, then by all means go that route. What I'm trying to say is that you'll get better results and be happier if you do the things that give you the greatest satisfaction. If getting a print out of a printer gives you the same creative charge as pulling one out of the soup then so be it. You can catch just as big of fish with spinning tackle or a flyrod. It certainly doesn't matter to the fish, but the fishermen sure do have opinions about which gear to use. IMHO that applies to photography, too. Use the tools you love.

-- John Kasaian (, January 21, 2002.

Eric, I agree with what has been said here for the most part. Commercial shooting yes, go digital but for the most part we shoot film and scan on our Imacon scanners. I feel that it is very helpful to have a wet process background but if your doing commercial you won't get paid enough for doing your own darkroom work, assistants, yes but you as a shooter, stick to what you make money with. On a personal note, for creative "battery charging" I'm persuing Kallitypes and Platinum printing so I suppose I'll keep my darkroom for the occasional fiber that I will print also. If you feel you are missing something, take a course if not for anything else but enjoyment! It won't hurt. Cheers, Scott

-- Scott Walton (, January 22, 2002.

Yes, you can bypass the traditional darkroom and obtain your objective. Just learn everything there is to learn about the digital process and stay on top of the advancements. You'll do just fine.

-- Jim Billups (, January 22, 2002.

Hi Erik

I know both sides but the traditionel way better a bit. But if you go commercial and get your money out of it I would go the digital way at this times. Good luck.

-- Armin Seeholzer (, January 22, 2002.

At this point in the game I would believe it more prudent to "know" digital and play around in traditional at your leisure. Maybe a community darkroom or adult ed course for the ability to occasionaly use a traditional darkroom without incurring a large expense, and many peices of progressively diminishing valued items. Then again, scanners and printers fall by the wayside pretty fast. (:

-- Wayne Crider (, January 22, 2002.

Rather than an audio analogy, and keeping in mind that I am an amature, I'm reminded of my old cars... not the ones I have now, I don't have one, but the ones I used to have. I would be out every weekend with cut knucles and grease under my fingernails. I want to get from here to there at this point in my life. I don't need to know how to change points (what's that) or lube a CV joint to drive a car. I'd imagine that would be the same for photography. I don't need to shoot, so the mechanics are fine, but if I had to do it every day, I'd go with one of thoes lease jobs that you take in once a year. I think a contact print has a certian "rumble", but what is it realy worth? Dual carbs, or injeciton? Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, January 23, 2002.

I'm not currently owning a LF camera but drools about getting one again: I'm not sure I'm qualified to open it up in this superb forum.

IMHO: On the commercial side: What has been said above is true for most commercial jobs. I'm not sure it's true if you sell 'artistic' prints. Last time I checked this, digital prints sold at a considerably lower prices than conventional prints. Probably due to concerns about digital prints permanence and uniqueness of conventional prints (ie. You can never exactly duplicate 2 conventional prints).

-- Xavier C. (, January 23, 2002.

Digital prints sell for less than conventional prints? Where? Last time I was in the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite (a few weeks ago) the Lightjet prints were commanding the same prices as Ilfochrome prints.

The photographer's name makes a far larger difference in the price.

Erik, go digital and don't look back.

-- Darron Spohn (, January 24, 2002.

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