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Wednesday, 08 May 2013


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Niagara Falls would probably look better with a mix of the darker center and lighter sky. The cool blue stone on the flower shot reads fake.

[He said...oh, never mind. --Mike]

Artistically, I couldn't agree more. Even Adams and, of course, the masters of art and photography made variations of their work. My prints when made for sale (especially in editions of multiple prints) must all look the same for my clients benefit and digital makes that easy.
But I still find myself going back and making variations and (like you) it's kind of how I feel that day or moment.
That's where in my humble opinion, where photographers like Henri missed out on that pleasure since many did not do their own printing.

Gven this article it seems like a shame that you're closing your darkroom. It seems likely given the repeatablty of digital printing that you wouldn't 'tweak' so organically?

Dear John,

A couple of decades back, I saw a large retrospective exhibit of Adams at the deYoung Museum. It included a number of “duplicates”, the same photograph but printed several decades apart. Consistently, Adams' later printing of those photographs was much more dramatic, while the earlier printings looked muted and understated, relatively.

If we were talking Photoshop, the best simple description would be that he'd given the Curve a more pronounced S-shape.

This is not to say that collectors would necessarily favor the later prints. Or they might, in this era, and not 50 years from now. Collective tastes change; sometimes the Zeitgeist wants high drama and other times it wants soft-spokenness.


Dear Frank,

There's no question in my mind that your opinion is entirely worth the paper it's printed on.

Oh, wait...


Dear Tim,

No, that's entirely wrong. The physical act of dye transfer printing doesn't involve any “organic” tweaking. It's all judgment before and after the fact. I can make large numbers of prints that look perfectly identical to within 1CC. My custom printing is all like that; I presume that what the client says they want is exactly what the client wants, until they tell me differently.

What makes the different dye transfer prints look different is conscious choices to alter the dye bath and rinse chemistries in specific and precise ways. It's an entirely analytic procedure that has no aesthetic or emotive content whatsoever. It's not like throwing a clay pot or carving wood or stone, where there's a kind of body wisdom and brain-body connection that can come into play.

It's just as easy, and common, for me to look at a digital print and say, “Huh, looks too yellow today. I think I'll pull up the yellow curve two points” as to look at a dye transfer print and say, “Huh, looks too yellow today. I think I'll add another 1/2% of .01 sodium hexametaphosphate and 1% of .05 sodium acetate to the yellow rinse bath."

And, even if it were true, variation is just a fact of life. It should not be elevated to a virtue, as it has none. It's just what is.

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

I think a discussion based on the repeatability (or not) of digital "impressions" is warranted now.
I find that the more I return to my previous (digital) work - the more I want to inject today's "feelings" into the work.
I realise my taste is maturing and that I want to explore subtlety now.
The big generous dollops of saturation, sharpness, contrast are giving way to actually sensing the whispers that occur in dealing with the imagery in a calmer, quieter and more gentle manner - something I've learnt over the years of reading this blog.
Unfortunately I find it almost universal that my pictorially uneducated clients enjoy the rather abrupt 110% imagery. It takes a lot for people to acknowledge, even the existence of, calm work.

Regarding John Camp's comments on Moonrise, Adams' variations were far more than subtle. He dramatically altered, over a 34 period, the sky rendition. The following article, which I've linked here before, shows the changes in contrast and drama over that time...


[He also (taking a calculated risk of possible damage or ruination) intensified the lower part of the negative at some point during its history. That would be approximately the equivalent of boosting the "Clarity" slider for the land area in the picture. --Mike]

I've been doing a ton of printing recently and have been worried by the same thing: I come back to a carefully processed, soft-proofed photograph that I've printed already and have been delighted with (tone, colour, relationship between elements, sharpness) and find myself thinking that I'd been wrong about the picture all along. Kills me. Anyway, I feel better now so thanks. :-)

I have to say, I like both 3 and 4. Hard choices indeed.

I guess I was born with a good dose of OCD and I obviously shoot RAW, but as a result I agonize over minute differences in rendition of an image, and I seem to be unable to throw out any detail in a photograph. It takes me forever when I print something for an exhibition and in the end I sometimes wonder if any of it even matters.

I have lately started shooting black and white film again, and I am thinking of shooting some slides while the film is still around; simply because the thought of not having to worry about how to interpret color in post processing seem very liberating.

When I first started printing my own photographs back at the dawn of the digital era, I did my best to match the color balance and apparent contrast of the slide film. Only slowly did I recognize how pointless that attempt was. Slide film has its own perceptual biases; attempting to mimic them with a digital print is only one aesthetic choice among many, and generally not the best from an artistic standpoint.
The infinite variability of digital processing and printing eventually encouraged me to make more conscious choices about the tonal range, contrast, color balance and saturation rather than accepting the brain-dead defaults. I'm much happier with prints I've made in the past couple of years than those twelve years back, some of which now make me cringe to look at.

Recently I've learned more about digital printing from taking up oil painting. Starting with a blank canvas, a painting requires you to make very explicit choices about every aspect of the picture. This has encouraged me to go back to my photographic printing with a more open mind about what I'm trying to achieve with an interpretive print. I no longer let the background hills in a misty dawn landscape photo fall wherever they will by default; I decide consciously where I want them in terms of contrast and color balance to reinforce their place in space. Learning the technical details of Photoshop and the inkjet printing process is necessary, but not sufficient. The aesthetic goal eventually has to drive the process.
Thanks to Ctein for providing us a window into some of his aesthetic process.

Even though I probably made my last "hand made, real darkroom B&W print" over 30 years ago, I still remember that merely the freshness of the chemistry, or how I agitated it in the developer, or rubbed some part a different way or the amount of time I did it, it would create unique variations from previous print. It became difficult trying to remember exactly what I did to create the version I liked the most! And sometimes I never could...

Dear Mike,

Whitman is one of my favorite poets, and that is my favorite quote from his writings. I invoke it frequently; it fits me to a T.


Dear Geoff,

It's hard to estimate the impact of a medium's “perceptual biases” (I like that phrase) until you have something to compare it to. Dye transfer is a fairly high-fidelity process; it certainly makes clear the perceptual biases in, say, chromogenic prints. But it was only when I started getting scans of my negatives, back in the nineties, that I discovered just how much all silver halide-based printing processes were imposing huge biases on what my prints looked like. Scanning tends to be a much more “linear” process, and I found that some of my negatives look radically different scanned than printed in a darkroom, no matter how I printed them.

Usually the scan's "biases" were superior, but on occasions it just looked wrong. Crepuscular Rays ( http://ctein.com/clearlak.htm ), which was part of last year's inkjet sale, turned out to be phenomenally difficult to print. A linear scan didn't look anything like my dye transfer print… or what I remembered the scene to look like. It may have accurately represented what the film saw, but that wasn't what my eye had seen, and I wanted to be printing what my eye had seen. It was a major undertaking to get an inkjet print that looked the way I wanted.

In other cases, more commonly, I'll look at the scan and go, “Oh wow, I never thought of taking it in that direction… I LIKE it!”

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

Aesthetic judgement and restraint are top-level topics worth noting in the stream of this general post-capture/delivery subject. Excessive processing is a stark hallmark of amateur photography today.

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