I’ve been posting about some of the bad things about today’s digital photography universe for the last few days. Today, I’m gonna change gears and talk about some of the things I love about it.
Productivity. A lot of chemical photography was difficult, uncreative, time-consuming work. Let’s say you wanted a print of something that you’d printed successfully before, and you had a recipe for the printing in your darkroom notebook — and you’d better have been keeping a darkroom notebook. You’d go into the darkroom and spend 45 minutes to an hour getting everything set up and compensating for the differences in paper batch, developer strength and concentration, phase of the moon, etc. You’d microwave a print to check for dry-down. Then you’d be able to make your first print. You’d print six, just because it was so much trouble to get to that point. Then you’d spend 2 hours fixing, toning, neutralizing, and washing the prints. They’d dry overnight. Then you’d have wavy prints that needed to spend a couple of days in the dry mount press to get them flat. And there there was spotting. That was a good place to screw up prints and make you glad you’d printed six to get one. Ship the print off, and put the remaining ones away in the flat file for when you need another one.
Now? Fire up the printer, check/clean the nozzles, and hit <control>-P. You just have to make one print, because it’s so easy to make another one later. Sign it right now. That’s the most likely place to screw the print up.
That’s the end of the process. The beginning is also quite different. I remember coming back from a trip with 60 rolls of 120 film that needed to be developed, fixed, washed, dried, proofed, and filed. That was a three or four day slog.
The upshot is that I can complete a project that would have taken me years in months, and have better-quality output. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I can do more big projects, although that’s possible. It means that I can spend more time exploring byways that I would have ignored. It means I can start projects on speculation, knowing that it’s not going to take a year of my life to find out if I was on the right track. And that makes me a better artist.
Quality. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I can use digital methods to make something that looks just like an 8×10 silver gelatin contact print. We’re not there — yet. But, using consumer camera gear (like an a7RII) I can make color prints that are at least the equal of anything I could do with a 4×5 camera and 20 pounds of kit. I say the prints are at least as good. By that I mean that I can make prints as good as the best color prints I could make from 4×5 negs. But here’s the kicker: I can make those prints as a matter of routine, whereas the moon and stars needed to align in order for me to do it with chemicals. I’ve got so many more tools in my box for editing. I’ve got printers that can go way bigger than what I could do with chemicals. And I can do that with a camera that I can carry in a fanny pack.
Flexibility. I can make prints. I can publish books, preparing my own color separations. I can put images on the web or on social media.
Peace of mind. In the chemical days, there was one master negative for each image. It could be damaged in many ways. Now there are as many copies as I want, duplicated and distributed all over the place.
Social Interaction. In the old days, I would closet myself in the darkroom for 5 or 6 hours at a time. No one could interrupt me, except by knocking on the door and waiting patiently until I could turn the lights on.
Wear and tear on my body. I enjoy carrying a much lighter load in the field. I enjoy not having to spend 6 hours at a stretch on my feet. My back thanks me for it.
I miss some things about the old days. But I wouldn’t want to have to go back to them.