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Sunday, 23 February 2020


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"make B&W prints the old fashioned way, with an enlarger"

You will not be happy doing anything else, and your happiness is very important to us. Ilford fibre based prints: the great photographer Tony Ray-Jones only printed whole plate. My favourite ever photographic artist. I have seen his original prints, and, also, Martin Parr's digital reworkings. (I prefer the intimate, small scale, but enormously thought through, prints). 10x8 or A4 will do nicely. I am sure we can all club together and make it happen for you.

"[...] , attempting to entertain or inform or enlighten you or at least be thought-provoking."

Indeed, Mike, indeed. You do all of these, and much more. You also create a wonderful place of commonality and exchange for people who are interested in "historically aware photography", as opposed to "imaging".

Your Patreon appeal is right. Allow me to speak personally, as one of your readers. I had been a silent visitor to your site for many years, always feeling a little guilty for not making any payments to a site that means so much to me. I finally started my subscription a little over a year ago, in December 2018. The minute I had signed up, I felt liberated: I realised that something wrong had been set right.

Not sure whether it matters, but my own contribution is meant to be roughly at the level of the subscription costs of two or three quality print magazines.

"I've provisionally decided that it comes down to whether I want to a.) make B&W prints the old fashioned way, with an enlarger, or b.) commit to mastering B&W digital printing."

Both of these avenues no doubt will lead to thought-provoking reflections in your blog. Looking forward to them either way! Speaking purely egotistically, I'd love to see you explore avenue b) and learn from your experiences. My own recent step into digital was coupled to my decision to do all my digital photography in B&W, and I feel painfully deficient on the printing side of the process. But as others have rightly commented in reply to your recent "To be or not to be" post, you must do whatever is right for your own creative growth, and we as readers will benefit most if you follow your own creative needs.


Your optimism is inspiring. Congratulations on your improving vision and the joy you are taking from it. Think how great it will be, when the other eye is done.

Re: printing, I have been happy with scanned B&W negs, Photoshop for processing and even sending out the few images that I want prints of. But I never did enough wet printing to be really good at it. You, on the other hand are quite good at it.

If you want to print a lot and don't already own a printer that you'd like to use, and if you have room to set up a wet darkroom, you should probably do some sharp pencil work to figure out which way to go. The acquisition and feeding of a good photo printer is not a trivial expense. Acquiring a used enlarger and other darkroom equipment can be quite inexpensive, and chemicals are not too expensive. I don't know how the cost of optical paper would compare to the cost of printer photo paper and the very expensive ink. Might depend a lot on how much you intend to print. The small number of things that I would print have scared me off of the cost of a printer and what might be problematic wasted ink and maintenance costs, if I didn't use it frequently. A wet darkroom would likely present fewer problems, if used intermittently.

Good for you, Mike! I hope your health problems fade into obscurity and you have many more productive years.

With best regards,


You can now see the viewfinder of your Contax RTS II perfectly with no glasses and no correction? My gosh, that answers the question you posed in a post a few days ago about whether you should use film. Buy some Acros or Tri-X, load your RTS II, and go take pictures. Go have fun photographing again.

This sounds like a project! I have a suggestion for you:

Ask your faithful readers to send you samples of their digital black and white printing. Specify a fixed page size (8.5x11 is a good choice for this)*.

The rule should be that any subject is fine, any digital printing technology is acceptable, and any paper can be used.

With each submission, ask for some details on the process used. You'll get everything from, "I press print and a print comes out" to "First, I mix my own inks...".

Then study them and see what you think. But please report back to us with your thoughts.

* Because they're all the same size, when it's all done you can buy one box to hold them all.

One foot in, one foot out approach: set that Fuji camera to B&W jpeg using the monochrome film emulation closest to your preferred film. Put it into manual mode. Using a cheap adapter (you don’t want the electronics anyway) add to the mix one or more film era lenses. If you still can’t get back to Mojave on your Mac computer, Photoshop Elements (cheap and nonsubscription) will do all you need to do.

Go forth and shoot B&W.

When I think about it, I really didn't engage much in photography at all for a couple of decades because my professional career meant that I simply did not have the time to work in a darkroom. Even with almost no colour work- just B&W - I simply did not have the time to go to the photo club darkroom to work (even though it was and is really good) and I surely could not afford the space for my own darkroom in the inner city where I live. No darkroom. No prints. No point. No photography. I just gave up.

I eventually became interested in photography again when the Epson R2400 printer became available. I bought one, and a little Canon point and shoot zoom (at some horrendous price for 3 or 4 mp, I think - I probably still have it somewhere complete in its box). I could print B&W prints - really good ones too, even when I was just experimenting - in my office (after hours, of course). Plus I could dabble in colour a bit. No more excuses. And it was fun. I had forgotten how much fun! I dabbled more. Then more. Then the Nikon D3 came out. I bought one, dug out all my old Nikon glass, and I was back into photography in a big way - except that this time, I could print in colour too. Then came the Epson P800. Then followed exhibition work, including my first in colour. (I still use the D3 too, although I hear Fuji calling.)

As much as I like to dream about going back to the darkroom, I know in my heart that it's just a dream. Too little time. Too much money. Too messy. Too hard to get the good gear second hand. Too little technical support for things that break. And, although I don't like to admit it - if I just remove these darn rose filters which seem permanently attached to my glasses for a minute or two - it becomes clear (pardon the pun) that I am having just as much fun - if not more - printing from my computer. Plus, and even though I am no expert at all the printing software, techniques etc. etc., I am reliably doing so at exhibition quality standards that my darkroom skills never ever came close to matching. I suppose I am admitting to myself, by this post, that they never will.

So Mike, go buy a P800 (you'll regret it later if you don't go for the big one), a bunch of ink, and a bunch of paper (it will all be expensive but far, far less so than setting up a full darkroom), start printing, and have some fun. It be the future, Man! Sadly perhaps. But as the saying goes, once you've left, there's no going home. IMHO

The trapezoid effect might well go away. I had a detached retina in 2012. It was fixed by the gas bubble in the eye method, but it didn't go back quite right.

A cataract operation fixed much of the distortion, but with the other eye shut, a circle, for example, appears as an ellipse with the long axis vertical. There's also a little local distortion; lines of text are not quite straight and the letters vary in size.

Day to day and viewing with both eyes, I don't notice it. Once the cataract op was done and the eye patch removed, all seemed as it had before.

Make you black-and white Silver Gelatin prints at
Just say no to inkjet black-and-white

I'm a 75 year old photographer. Worked in the fashion & PR business since 1966. 20 years ago my doctor told me no more photo chemicals in my life. Then there was PhotoShop and the dance continued... Thankfully! Then my eyes went. Macular & retinal degeneration. Surgeries to both eyes and continual MD visits and drops have it "under control."
I still shoot medium format film (B&W) and digital (color) with various cameras old & new. What else is there to do but keep on keepin' on...
And, yes, I'm a Patreon fan of your writing.

The news of your improving eyesight and the success of the new specs is so great, and so welcome! I suspect we are a bit alike in that I’m very picky about my eyesight. I have a wonderful optometrist here in Rochester (I may have mentioned that before) and if for no other reason I think she enjoys the challenge of satisfying my obsession! It’s wonderful to have such expert and even elite care givers, isn’t it?

As for the printing, it’s a conundrum. I prefer optical/darkroom printing partially because the whole process still seems sort of magical and zen to me. Yet I don’t have a darkroom (totally my fault - I have the space) and am not really interested in acquiring digital printing skills. So all my work gets sent to a local digital printer who is both very good and reasonably priced. He’s also a great guy, a former Kodaker, of course.

Digital black and white printing with an inkjet *was* a very difficult endeavor 10 years ago due to the coarse dithering pattern using only grey/black inks, and the lack of neutrality when using color inks. I can attest to the trials and tribulations of using Roy Harrington's Quadtone RIP software, struggling with Jon Cone's first generation piezography inks (and the attendant endless head clogs) and so forth.
Things are much, *much* better now. Both Epson and Canon pigment inkjet printers can turn out really good prints either using just grey/black inks or 'gently' toned using Photoshop. There is a learning curve, but it's not that steep anymore. A couple (okay, 6-8) corrective iterations with a favorite image to get things dialed in, and you're ready to go.
The biggest hazard in my experience is that as you start making prints you really like, there's an irresistible temptation to keep tweaking them ever so slightly closer to perfection, at snowballing cost in ink and paper

Mike, I also had a problem when I got new glasses last year. Every rectangle was clearly distorted. I brought them back, and eventually they figured out that there was something wrong with the placement of one of the trifocal lenses. That may not apply to you, but I'm certain that yours can be fixed.

Also, digital printing may not be as satisfying as darkroom printing, but the results can be even better!

"It's so nice to see."

My wife suffers from glaucoma, and the disease progresses despite all the treatment given. She takes it stoically, but it's hard to start not seeing anymore.
Especially for those who love photography.

One more thing: you are in the middle of a life changing event. While you are a work in progress, give yourself permission to noodle around with your photography rather than thinking long term.

My very similar eye surgeries started in late 2011. 1 year for recovery of 1 eye, then surgery on the other eye, then some very minor follow up surgery, then waiting for the prescriptions to stabilize and generally getting used to my new vision.

It was about three years from my initial surgery before the novelty wore off and I felt ready to take up a new life with my new vision.

Hm, your spectatcles follow the line of your eyebrows, which is for the moment of the shot not bad. But they do not follow the (largely) horizontal line of your eyes, which is not so good, if one takes into account, that the horizontal line of the eyes is more tranquil than the one of the eyebrows. Just imagine, Mr. Trump stands at your door as you open - where would be your eyebrows and where your spectatcles? Would you still see through them?
(I see something similar when I look in a mirror - I refrained from a nose Operation.)

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