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Saturday, 07 July 2012


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Can't speak for colour, I did that as little as possible myself.
Black and white? I would not say it is easier now, but it has become a lot easier -and cheaper- to experiment. I regularly try things now I would only do rarely in the dark room (hdr by inter-negatives anyone?)
Things are definitely faster and less smelly now.

Easier now. Specifically, it is easier to make better prints. I have several sets of color pictures I made decades ago that darkroom printing never fully "realized"--the prints were good, but not as good as I wanted them to be. I can make digital color prints from them now that look the way I always wanted. Plus, printing from digital captures is even easier, less time and effort, than printing from scans of film.

I consider myself a pretty decent color printer now, and was only a casual one in the darkroom, precisely because of how much easier it is today than it was then. And I only toyed with two unusual and much easier than normal color printing processes in the darkroom -- Ektaflex, and Agfachrome Speed. I never managed to find the energy and time to get into color printing beyond the "duffer" level in the darkroom.

I used to imagine that I was the last person in Tokyo to build a color darkroom. But then I realized that of course I wasn't. I was just the last to build one without a clue that everything was all about to change.

P.S. I meant to say that it's far easier now and much more gratifying in almost every way. But there was something very nice about working in absolute dark, without even a safelight.

For color blind me, competent digital color printing is possible while analog color printing was unreachable. Photoshop tells me what colors I'm working with accurately enough that normally sighted people are pleased with the results.

With the incredibly fine control that Photoshop provides over color and detail, the standards of the very best color printing have been raised in the digital era. And the nimble digital printer can produce good work much faster than analog.

I must pay my respect to John Camp and acknowledge that better printing at the highest level doesn't mean better photographs.

The only experience I have with color was a brief affair with gum bichromate. That process pretty much killed my love of non silver methods. At that point I'd had plenty experience contact printing I just couldn't pull it off to my liking. That being said, prints from my Epson are made with relative ease. I'm glad that there are people in love with gum so that the process remains if only to remind us how easy we have it.

Printing is way easer with B&W or Color. Controlling the end results with photoshop or Lightroom, gives you infinite controls
in the light. You can actually see what you are doing in real time. Not finding out you missed something 20 mins later.
New world great results first time out, no more "maybe this is the good one".
No way do I want to return to the "not so good old days" of hit or miss and it's good enough.

I printed for a small color lab for 6 years. We had a Noritsu printer for all of the one hour stuff and I did the enlargements in a darkroom with a good Omega enlarger and good lenses and a lovely roll developer.

I printed up to 16x20 from mostly 35mm negs. , occasionally 120 , and rarely 4x5 . I got fairly proficient (About 10% Ctein level) and loved doing it. My high point was when a very good local photographer, who made his own dye transfers, brought in a bunch of his negs and asked for 11x14s. The purpose was to have them as comparison prints for a course he was teaching in dye transfer. I really worked on those prints and was rewarded by the look on his face when he saw them. He said that he'd hoped that they would be worse and my prints were too close to his. You could see the difference, his were richer and had better shadow contrast, but mine were pretty good.

That said, and 20 years removed from a color darkroom, I think that, with a bit of practice and a bit of reading, it is easier to make a good color print on the computer for me. I have Ctein's lovely print in my office to remind me of what I'm shooting for. Still 10% ......sigh.

You could print before the digital era ??

I find it easier on the computer, but the major issue I have occurs in both mediums. That is getting the color balance just right. Frequently I find I am off by just enough in either that the print looks good to my eye when made, but give it a day and I wonder what I was thinking. I need to learn to "see" color.

Besides getting the color right, the main issue I have these days with C printing is contrast control. The range of papers is very small, and all are too contrasty for many of my shots. So masking is a must. At that point I am wishing I had scanned it and was in Photoshop. But I still print color in the darkroom, simply because I like it.

Put me in the digital corner. It was very difficult for an amateur darkroom user to ever get good colors. I would some times work all morning to get one good print. To me there is just no comparison. In addition to the ease the cost is so much less, not even discussing the cleanup and odors. I loved the wet darkroom for black and white but with the loss of materials I jumped ship after 40 years,was sad but no regrets.

I couldn't help but bending the truth a little bit when I defined myself in the poll as an expert darkroom and ink jet colour printer - I was an expert darkroom colour printer. I made my last darkroom colour prints somewhere around 1974, for several book covers for which Dick Bruna did the typography. So I am out of that practice for a substantial number of years. Never missed it. It took so much time in which one was just waiting, in almost total darkness (I used trays, couln't afford a drum) for the testprints and for the final print - if final it was. And the first test print was usually very far off the desired result, the exception being negatives that where developend in the same run - which I did also myself, three 120 films stacked in one Paterson tank. Add to that the nasty chemicals and the very strict laboratory-like conditions you had to maintain. And when all was said and done, the final result was not even stable.
In the digital era, the 'lightroom' is clean, you don't inhale chemicals - but most importantly, everything you do is instantly visible. So you can do much more in much less time. Add to that, that often what you begin with is already pretty close to the desired final result (it isn't even a negative!), and the final print is stable as a rock.
As I see it, the only downside (and irony) of digital colour photography and printing, is that the easiness of it all makes one at times almost forget the beauty of black and white photography. While of all things, it was the ability of modern printers to produce black and white prints of a quality that was equal to my darkroom b&w prints, that made me take up photography again some six years ago.

Dear Mike,

The answer is yes.

Yes, color printing is easier now, because all the stupid, fiddly craft bits that you had to get right in the darkroom if you wanted to make consistently good prints have gone away. Plus, you don't have to deal with the setup and tear down hassles and a whole bunch of other crap. For most people, most of the time, you can just plug it in, power it up, print away, and you'll get decent results (all my nitpicky columns about advanced printing, notwithstanding).

Yes, color printing was easier back then, because you had a very limited number of tools and controls you could apply, artistically, to a print. That was the fundamental thing that made dye transfer difficult for people to master. It wasn't the fiddly craft stuff; I could teach all that to someone in a weekend. It was that dye transfer gave you a much larger array of aesthetic controls than existed in ordinary printing, and figuring out how to properly use them required a monumental amount of experience and learning. Kind of like dropping Photoshop's masked curves adjustment layers into the darkroom mix. Most people's heads just exploded.

Well, even low-end image handling programs give you a lot more tools than that today for refining your prints. Learning how to use them well requires a huge amount of learning. And while no one is obligated to use those tools, people very reasonably want to. It would be kind of like handing someone a really nice sound system and telling them, “Okay, now you only can adjust the volume control.” Some people will be happy stopping there; most will be tempted by all the other knobs.

Digital printing has way, way too many knobs.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

It must be easier now because successful photographers come to me for their printing, and I know nothing... just lucked out and got a cherry unit from Epson.

One word: Cibachrome. Hands down, the best looking print results. Ever. I don't care about Type C, Type R or even Dye Transfer. I did it all and analog B&W also. But, I hated being in the darkroom and hated the chemicals. I like now a lot better. Results are actually better, sharper and more controllable. I am sure that is why Adobe calls it Lightroomn, not darkroom. Just the other day, I edited a photo on my laptop in my living room and wirelessly printed it to my Epson photo printer in the basement. I'm sorry Mike. I don't think I will ever go into a darkroom again. And why? Because I don't have to.

I've never printed in color analog, and it's been years since I used a b&w darkroom, but I'm not sure why anyone would consider digital color printing very difficult. Like Michael Reichmann and others,, I don't even go into photoshop anymore. I print straight out of Lightroom 4 (with a calibrated monitor and paper profiles) onto baryta, and it it looks as good as any of the pro print houses that I used to outsource to.

Maybe I just got a good Epson? :)

I believe it is far easier to make a print using an inkjet rather than using the traditional darkroom approach. However, if you wish to make a well-crafted print to exacting standards, then both methods require an equal amount of skill—just different tools.

Yes, color digital is easier.

My simple explanation is because I can, and do, make color digital prints. And I can't, and won't, go through the rigamarole required to make color darkroom prints.

A more complex explanation would have to factor in print quality, but I haven't seen a dark room print that makes me think you'd need to go that route to achieve better quality.

What Kurt Shoens said. Digital made colour printing possible for me.

Digital B&W is a pain, but I'm trying.

Absolutely. Not only that, but to my eye, the overall quality of inkjet color prints is superior in many ways to all but one of the previous processes. The exception would be dye transfer, which is/was notoriosly demanding. That said, several years ago I saw a show of Eliot Porter's dye prints at the Getty and was quite surprised that the print quality was not as good as I had expected it to be. However, I suspect that it may be that the original transparencies were the problem.

Although I was able to make a good living as a private printer doing black+white (1980's L.A.), my attempts at c-printing were always extremely underwhelming. I figured that if I put a huge effort into it that I should be able to eventually equal the quality of the other local custom printers. Consequently, I began to look much more critically at the best examples of c-prints that I could find. To my surprise I found that I didn't really like any of them all that much.* The process itself was lacking, and museums, dealers and collectors were beginning to experience serious fading and color-shifting of some pricey and not-very-old prints.

I had seen quite a few good Cibachromes, so looked into learning that process. Fairly easy to do, but very difficult to do well. Never was very fond of the high gloss surface either.

Went and talked with the two top dye printers in town. One of them, who I was trying to talk into teaching me the process, told me not to bother, because by the time I became reasonably proficient The Great Yellow Father would be phasing out production of the necessary materials.

Although I had always been primarily a color shooter, and wanted to do all my own printing, I decided to avoid all those problems, and began to shoot a lot more black+white. I never again considered doing my own color printing until inkjet printers came along.

With digital, for me it was learning to use a computer (never had) and becoming comfortable with Photoshop that had the steepest learning curves. Using the hardware was easier, though not without its own problems. Computer memory was expensive, as was color management hardware and software. Film scanning! And not to forget print impermanence.

None of these factors are the serious problems they used to be. I would say that within just the last ten years or even less that both hardware -- I'm including digital cameras in this -- and software have seen vast improvements in cost, ease-of-use, and in output quality.

Mike, looking back more closely at the original question I realise that you had asked the opinion of those who were good analog color printers. But I think that my own experience is relevant too.

I'm very interested to hear Ctein's take on this question. As they say on the internet, I wait with baited** breath.

Jeff Markus

* The exception being the always stunning prints of Jim Dow. A protege of Walker Evans who should be much better known than he seems to be.

** Is that sardine breath (bad) or worm breath (much much worse)?

Much, much, much easier now. I can get a better digital color print in a couple of hours than I could making a Dye
Transfer in a couple of weeks, or a masked Cibachrome in a couple of days.

I feel that digital is much more consistent, but has a larger learning curve because there is so much more control. For people new to printing, there are so many sliders, they often get themselves in trouble.

On a side note, I still prefer digital c-types.

See the "Humanae" project (http://humanae.tumblr.com/).

Quote from the "about" page, google-translated from Spanish:

"Humanae inventory is chromatic, a project that reflects on the colors beyond the borders of our codes by referencing the PANTONE (R) color system

"(PANTONE (R) Guides are one of the main systems of classification of colors that represented by an alphanumeric code, allowing to accurately recreate in any medium. It is a technical standard industrial color is often called Real)

"The development of the project is conducting a series of portraits whose background is dyed the exact shade extracted from a sample of 11x11 pixels the very face of the people portrayed. The ultimate aim is to record and catalog, through a scientific measurement, all possible human skin tones."

I concur with the many opinions above that color printing is definitely more approachable today than even a decade ago, let alone before that.

Way back when, I really liked Cibachrome, but in the small darkroom, temperature control was always difficult to accomplish, and quite happy not to have to mess with it.

One issue I didn't see mentioned is the archival performance of digital vs. chemical prints. Color prints were/are well-known to have limited longevity, whereas the highest quality pigment inkjet printers combined with suitable printing papers produce very long-lasting images under optimum storage conditions, according to accelerated test results.

Sure seems digital comes out way ahead.


No question at all that film printing was much easier than digital. Back then, all I had to do was drop off a roll at a decent lab. Now I got to muck around with profiling, soft proofing, and maybe even worry about whether my printer quality is in the top 10-15% of those of the same model. ;-)

Yes absolutely.
The smell of blix prompts terror and nostalgia in equal parts.
That said , my last day with access to a mural size darkroom and a Creonite machine ( I guessing at the spelling and my iPhone keep changing it to creosote , which seems kind of fitting ) I was stuck with 40 feet of 24 inch wide c print paper that I would never use, I went to the mall and loaded up on all the translucent plastic toys I could find. I brought them back to the lab , laid out the paper on the floor with the toys arranged on top and turned on the light for a few seconds (the light was a 800 watt bare halogen bulb th get sharp shadows in a room painted black) and stuck the roll in the Creonite machine.

Looked really great . Try that with your inkjet printer !

Other than that I hated color printing almost as much as I hated having to descrobe to someone else how to print my work.

Oh Cibachrome was pretty wonderfully other than the toxic gas it was prone to produce. Don't know whether nearly gassing my teenage self or getting my mom to buy embalming fluid for c printing which always seemed to end up on my fingertips and making them numb. Not as bad as ether and guncotton or boiling murcury , but still.

I didn't participate in the poll (no box to check for just competent in analog, still learning in digital) but here's my two cents:
Digital printing is EASIER - no chemicals to warm up and get messy.
Digital is AS expensive, if not more so, than analog.
To get a GREAT print, digital requires as much effort as did analog.
Digital printing allows better contrast and exposure control, but nothing in my observation beats a well done Cibachrome or Dye Transfer or B&W fiber-based print. The digital media requires more massage.

I spent 7 years in a colour lab. I had to quit because I became allergic to the chemistry. In between leaving the photo biz in 89 and getting my first Epson Photo printer in 02, I pretty much gave up on getting colour prints made by others, because the results were mediocre and I knew it could be so much better.

So the very first print that came out of that Epson was like Christmas, New Years and my birthday put together. Finally! And no toxic chemicals / mess / stinky air to breathe. I prefer to be in the driver's seat when it comes to printing my own pictures, and (for colour, anyway) inkjet + Photoshop is much better than chemicals + enlarger.

I was once paid to make, among other things, color prints, first in a commercial studio and second in as part of my work as a photographer for a Fortune 500 manufacturer. I have always said, and will continue to say, it is not possible to either process color film or print well in a home darkroom. To do the job right requires highly controlled chemistry monitored on a regular basis, and automated machinery to hold it. That means no film processed in a palstic tube with one shot chemistry, and no color prints in trays. There will enver be repeatability. I now use an Epson 3880, and as long as I keep my monitor calibrated, all I have to do is make the picture pretty on the monitor and everything is OK. I like that a lot better.

I would say that it is the ready availability of colorimeters (and software to use their output) that makes things much easier these days.

A couple of people mentioned 'colour blindness', but the real problem is that individuals do see colour differently. So what pleases you (or even what you are trying to reproduce of what you 'saw') may not please someone (or anyone) else. Talk (as Ctein rightly does) about sample variation between digital printers: it is small compared to sample variation between (human) viewers.

I always found colour printing from negatives (or digitally from scanned negatives) really hard. With Cibachromes from transparencies it was easier (not least as you could compare the trannie on a lightbox with a test print).

I can only imagine how much easier life would have been if I had colorimeter software to scan both a trannie and a Cibachrome test print and tell me what CMY filtration to use on the head on my colour enlarger: and today we can do far more in calibrating a digital printer.

It is way easier to make excellent color prints today using computers and digital printers than it was in the past in the chemical darkroom. I think anyone can learn the basic mechanics of making color inkjet prints and a desirable workflow with Photoshop or Lightroom by working at it diligently for a few months and taking a weeklong workshop with someone like Charlie Cramer. That won't make you a great or even excellent printer, but you will have the system in place to practice by making lots of prints with repeatable results. Over time, if you work at it, the only limiting factor on your results will be your aesthetic judgment in determining WHAT needs to be done to improve a print, not HOW to do it(ie, what needs to be burned or dodged, not how to burn or dodge).

In contrast, making a really good color print in a home darkroom was essentially an exercise in futility. I worked at making Cibachrome prints for many years beginning in the early 1980's. I bought a book on Cibachrome printing by Bob Pace, an icon in the industry, that provided elaborate instructions on how to make highlight and contrast reduction masks. This all required a densitometer, color filters and lots of "testing". Once you had the mask or masks, you had to register them with the transparency and load them into a glass carrier. You now had 6 or 8 surfaces that you had to keep clean of any dust, because any speck of dust would show up as a black spot or the print. You then made test prints trying to get the color balance just right. By the time you did get it right and experimented with a bit of burning and dodging, the chemistry was exhausted or you had to start with a new batch of paper that required a completely different color balance.

Eventually, I did manage to,produce several really good prints, but the effort was daunting. I later printed the same transparencies with an Epson 9600. I was amazed at how quickly and efficiently I was able to make prints that were significantly better than my earlier Cibas. I had controls over color and tone that I could not even dream about previously. Moreover, the changes I made could be previewed on my monitor and would generally be translated into the next print just as the changes appeared on my monitor. We are now at the point where the difference between the quality of the color print that Ctein makes and any "good" printer makes is not about the quality of the equipment or the mastery of some obscure process like dye transfer. It's all about aesthetic judgment and knowing when to use the tools in Photoshop or Lightroom, not how to use them. This is really a revolution.

I went through a phase of a few years of printing color at home in tubes, both Cibachrome and Ektacolor. I recall going through various systems to try to get the color to come out right, starting with something called the Unicolor Duocube, which never made sense to me--it involved averaging the whole negative through a diffuser and printing the diffuse light through a matrix with all different filtration combinations and finding the neutral square to select the proper filtration. But what if the picture was mainly a red wall or a blue sky or a green field? It rarely seemed to work.

And then I had a color analyzer, and that was a bit better, but you had to be able to pick the tone you wanted to match from one print to the next, and there wasn't always such a tone.

The best tool turned out to be the simplest one--Kodak Color Viewing Filters. You could look at a dry print through a filter and use it to determine how much correction you needed. I still have them and take them out occasionally when I want to remind myself of what an adjustment means in terms of real units of color filtration.

Is digital color easier? It seems like it should be, but the printer frustrations are endless. I like the choice of paper surfaces for color with inkjet (I have no interest in digital B&W prints), but sometimes I think it would be better not to bother with a printer at all and just send preflighted files to a lab for Chromira/Lambda/Lightjets.

I've made a lot of color prints, probably close to 100,000. I am pretty fussy, lots of color testing, dodging and burning, local color correction, all of that. I have become pretty comfortable with the old color darkroom. I have had pretty nice roller transport dry-to-dry processors the whole time, Colenta right now.
Yes, the darkroom is "easier", and that is because I have been using it for 30 years and it's very much faster and more reliable than my computer and Epson 7800.
But, and it is a big but, I guess I am a newbie with this digital stuff, I have only made a few thousand prints, and have a lot to learn.
It's harder to do the easy stuff, I like film's curves and responses better than the random seeming results from digital. But the extent of control of digital goes a good way beyond what I can do in the darkroom, and I don't mind saying I can do quite a bit.
Digital is slower than shit. A print run that I can in a few minutes in the darkroom takes hours and a stupid amount of materials with the Epson.
But my investment in the darkroom is at least an order of magnitude greater than the digicrap.
The quality of the prints from the digital is almost as good as the darkroom. And that's pretty damn amazing, I am making five foot long contact prints in the darkroom. They are better, no surprise. Every few years digital gets closer to that quality, covering half the gap each time.
I find that in my work digital is slower and allows more control, more editing, more fiddling. I am the kind of guy who will keep fiddling, and I like what I get with the digital images, and though I wish they had the resolution and clarity of contact prints, most images really don't need that quality.
Well I should say, most images don't, but the images I sell do require that quality and when I sell a digital print I am giving my customer an inferior product.
They have rarely complained

Why do people print digital stuff themselves? Most of the of the skills used in darkroom printing have now been transferred to the computer. All you need is a lab that you can work with and who provide the right sort of advice and workflow. Of course you still need to master the "digital printing" part of it, and have something decent to print in the first place. Office space problem solved at a stroke...

Digital also fits a whole lot better into a normal life. Even with B&W darkroom work, there was setup time, and washing and putting the prints to dry, and cleanup time, meaning you had to allocate quite a good chunk of time for a darkroom session to have any useful amount of actual printing time -- I rarely went into the darkroom for less than 3 hours. Now with digital, I can sit down at the computer and usefully mess with a picture for 10 minutes while I want for something. I still need concentrated time for some things due to how my head works, but that's still one fewer constraints to navigate.

Jeff Markus: it is "with bated breath", not "baited". Variant of the verb "to abate" ( = to reduce).

Breathing shallowly or even holding your breath due to high expectation, or from not wishing to disturb a tense situation.

...as a long time darkroom person, I think printing analog in the old days was far simpler...people just think it was more difficult because they couldn't devote a "wet" room in their house to the process, or it seemed more technically profound than it really was...once you bought a pack of paper, and mixed your chemistry in distilled water, then it was the same for anything in the box, any time you wanted to print...

The idea that people can spend literally days, and some do, changing and changing and changing the image on PhotoShop, unable to make a decision about it, and that they can do it in their underwear, with their 500 dollar PC, doesn't make it easier. With no finites involved, it makes it infinitely more difficult.

Then factor in the idea that the equipment can just refuse to work together all of a sudden, the heads are going bad for the life of the printer, the printer may develop a hic-cup for no reason, ditto for the computer..everyday you turn the stuff on it can be different. Only a masochist would view this as a delight. My enlarger never went "bad", my trays and sink, never went "bad", I might have to buy a new enlarging lens when I couldn't clean it anymore because of bad darkroom venting, but that might be every 10 years...

Digital printing has allowed a legion of people to get some sort of result that they can be happy with as a print. But just because they can afford the facility of doing so, and the result is better than their best day in the high-school darkroom, 30 years ago, with their out-dated discount paper, doesn't make it "easier".


...what people cannot argue with, is that with modern color digital printing, it is actually easier to get accurate color, but most importantly: contrast and sharpness...the old analog print processes for color were very "soft" processes...

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