Analog photography anyone?
As my film hobby grows I must face an interesting challenge which is how should we approach film in a digital age?
Before the 1990’s, when digital began being considered a viable alternative to film, anyone enjoying photography had a single choice…film. This meant buying film, taking it to be processed or developing at home. When you made a print it was either at the development shop or at home using your own darkroom.
This was a great time as we were all capturing images using chemistry, developing and printing using chemistry! It was hands on, completely interactive and time consuming. The Darkroom had mystical qualities and the equipment was expensive. You could take classes, lease darkroom space and get all kinds of reading material to help perfect your craft.
People enjoyed getting their pictures taken and there was value in getting a beautiful print. Capturing your memories on film, developing and making a print was an effort of love. It was a recognizable gift that people would cherish for as long as they lived. Pictures hung on walls to show off one’s family and friends. People would stop, look at the pictures and comment on how small “Joey” was and what a great memory to have of his youth.
In todays world we use Facebook to share pictures that we take ourselves on a timeline. Every cell phone has a camera and every computer has the capability to do more processing on an image than the most sophisticated of darkrooms. Heck, even my iPhone can do more processing than any darkroom ever could. I can add filters, crop and work out white balance, color and tint.
Can Analog work in the Digital Age?
Can film work in a digital world?
So how to we enjoy film in a digital age? Is there room for a darkroom in todays world of instant sharing? The short answer is no. The darkroom of old has become a niche hobby for those inclined to slow down and enjoy the analog process and really has no room in todays digital existence. Gone are the days of hanging a gelatin print of a loved one on a wall. Today we do not print pictures we just capture them in digital 1 and 0’s to upload and share them.
For those who believe this is a sad state of affairs I would have to disagree. This is progress and we can either like it or not however it is impossible to stop. The fact that I can share a picture of my kids taken 10 seconds before and share it with their grandparents a world away is PRICELESS. I would not trade it for anything in the world.
But, for those who enjoy the “craft” of film it is possible to enjoy it in a digital world. The obvious way is to completely divorce the film process from the digital world. This means build a darkroom to make prints and hang them on your walls for your close friends to see. Stay away from Facebook and all the benefits it brings you. Sooner or later you will run out of wall space or friends. What do you do then?
I would suggest that the answer lays in a hybrid view of photography. Film photography is fun, developing film is easy and making a print can be very rewarding. All of this can link up very well with the digital age using a little imagination. This is how I do it.
I shoot on 35mm, 6x6cm and (recently) 4x5in negatives. I develop the film myself at home. I use a Paterson development tank for the 35mm and 6x6cm and I am using trays to develop the 4x5in (waiting on some BTZS tubes which will help with this). Once developed I scan them in using a cheap 35mm scanner (small files but VERY fast and simple) which allows me to scan an entire 36exposure roll in 5 minutes. I can then do some minimal adjustments using lightroom (the small files do not give you the depth of data to do extreme work) and then post them on this site or on Facebook.
With this process I get the enjoyment of film but the file transfer simplicity of digital. Great this works for 35mm how about 6x6cm? Well here I do something a bit different in that I use my Nikon D800 to take a macro shot of the negative. This is time consuming as a roll of 12 shots will take me about 15 minutes to “scan” properly. This allows me to take a much larger file (with plenty of data depth to do fairly advanced processing) and edit it to my hearts content and then share digitally with friends and family.
You can also pick up a negative scanner which can get you the great quality scans needed for a true digital workflow. I would suggest the Epson V700 or V800 as great choices. I will be looking to pick one of these up by the end of the year to help alleviate the complication of setting up my Nikon D800 as well as simplifying the 4x5in negative capture.
Alright so in the above process I use a chemical process for picture taking and development but then switch to a digital workflow where the “darkroom” is on my laptop. Easy, clean and fairly efficient. The drawback is that I do not make a print. Again, files are shared digitally and I never create an actual print.
Hybrid with Prints:
In comes my Epson R3000 which allows me to make some beautiful prints. Sure the printer is expensive and the ink is even more so but I have control and have done some astonishing prints in very large formats. If you look to the cost benefit of doing your own printing most people will be very disappointed. This is not a cost savings exercise but rather a way to control the final output of your photography.
I am also building my own analog darkroom. I have been looking for something at the right price. Buying new is cost prohibitive however the used market is a relative junk yard of crap mixed in with some nice gems. Since people have been using darkrooms since the 1930’s you can find some real antiques which are no longer supported. So the buyer must know what they are looking for before purchasing.
I suggest the following site for those of you working on this process James Ollinger’s website found HERE. In it you will find a step by step explanation of each piece of equipment. Read this site before buying anything as it will walk you through what is needed, recommended and has some great suggestions.
After some searching I managed to find someone wanting to sell off their darkroom very close to home. It is an LPL 66 SII available in WA. It appears to be in great shape and the right price and being a mere 20 minutes from home I save on postage. In terms of cost I got it for under USD 100. But I have been looking for six months to see what I could buy. The disadvantage of eBay is that due to the size the postage can often times be more than the purchase price of an enlarger.
I will still need a few more things to complete the darkroom but this enlarger is coming with negative holders for 35mm and 6x6cm, a 50mm lens, a darkroom light, an easel and a baseboard. So 85% of what I need at the right price. With a little luck I will be able to purchase the remaining items at a good price.
Over time I will go into more detail in terms of how I make all this work. My goal is to enjoy my digital photography just as much as my analog photography. I will continue to work and develop my digital darkroom skills but I will also learn how to use a real darkroom. I will fill my walls with hand made prints, as well as images out of my Epson printer. I will also keep updating Facebook with images I captured on my cell phone. What a wonderful time to be a photographer!