Coming Out of the Darkroom

An important "development" in photography has been the conversion from the darkroom to the digital world. It's not an easy road for those of us with long experience doing our own processing. However, the attentiveness required in the darkroom transfers easily to digital work.  Recently I had a note from a friend that is at this crossroads, and I thought my advice to him may be great advice for many...

"I’ve totally switched the way that I approach making an exposure since the film days.  For starters, with film, we had limits.  Minimal detail in Zone III on the dark end and minimal detail in Zone VII on the bright end.  With digital we have no limits with the range of contrast.  I’m going to paste in three images to show you how it works.  Image #1 was greatly underexposed, Image #2 was  greatly over exposed.  But once I put both images into HDR I created image #3.

If I didn’t use HDR, with such a vast range of possible contrast, I would have had to settle for either exposure #1 or #2 or the trash can.  With digital photography, the range of tones/zones is actually infinite.  Zone 1 to 1000,  not just Zone 1 to 10.

Shooting in RAW means that even though you can’t see any detail in the low/dark areas, it’s there if you dodge that area.  Totally different from film.  To shoot digital requires a mind shift. Let me give you a visual image to contemplate.  Let’s say you have a beautiful model T Ford in excellent condition.  It goes up to 50 MPH (with a tail wind).  Starting it requires first setting the spark, then cranking the engine by hand.  

Time has passed and we have cars with electric starters and automatic transmissions!  The purpose of the car is still the same, just to get from point A to point B.  You can get there with the Model T Ford, which may take longer and require a different technique to drive it or you can get there faster leaving more time at your destination with the newer car (and your shoulder won't hurt as much).  If you had NEVER driven a model T Ford and instead started out with a car that had an electric starter and automatic transmission, it would be MUCH easier for you to master a newer model than if you tried to switch from your extensive knowledge of driving a model T Ford to a brand spankin' new car.

Now granted driving the model T you went slower and developed an appreciation of the country side that we often don't have as we go 70 MPH on our interstates.  All that appreciation that you have developed while in the darkroom and struggling with zones has developed in you a vision and appreciation of balance and composition that is unique and immensely creative.  Because of the darkroom, you will photograph more carefully, more precisely, and create astounding images even in the digital universe.