The biggest differences between chemical and digital photography occur after the image is captured.
I found it instructive to go through the exhaustive – and exhausting – details of the chemical and digital photographic processes in the previous posts. Going through the exercise of writing and reviewing the descriptions leads me to the following conclusions:
- Chemical darkroom work is more of a physical, kinesthetic activity than the analogous operations in digital photography. This provides opportunity for right brain dominated actions that approach dance in character when performing traditional photography. There are a few activities where grace and dance-like movements make sense, such as dodging and burning, and where they’re just silly, like inserting the paper into the printer. There are many more opportunities for the former in chemical photography.
- Chemical photography requires more (left brain) analysis and planning, because the results of actions are not immediately apparent, and complex sequences of actions need to be performed precisely in order for the desired result to occur.
- Digital photography encourages a (right brain) sense of play and experimentation, because it is so easy to try things (it’s no accident that photographers referred to individual operations in Photoshop as “moves”), see the result instantaneously, then try something else.
- The complexity of complicated operations such as contrast reduction masking, making and using sharpening masks, creating masks that provide local control of paper grade, correcting for color casts introduced by dodging a burning in type C printing serve to keep the large majority of chemical photographers from using these operations. The analogous operations in digital photography are easier to perform, and their effects are immediately observable, which leads to widespread use.
- The fact that it takes half an hour or more of uncreative, repetitive work to get back to where you were with a negative in a previous darkroom session provides a disincentive to making small changes in printing that you realize are desirable only after having the work on your wall for a while. Digital photography encourages small changes, since they feel more like play than work; this can be a problem for some people, who have a hard time declaring that a work is actually completed.
- The fact that it takes so much work to get a print of a particular negative where you want it encourages the production of many identical copies of the print. Once those copies are in your flat file, their presence serves as a disincentive to going back in the darkroom and making a print with some small changes, since that means you’re going to have to throw away all the work you’ve already created. With digital photography, producing identical prints months or years apart is routine and easy (subject to the continued availability of the old inks and paper).
- The isolation of darkroom photography provides, for some people, an opportunity to enter a meditative state in which left brain activity can be somewhat suppressed. Some digital photographers work in dark rooms (as opposed to darkrooms) with the door closed and web and e-mail clients minimzed; that provides equivalent isolation. While isolation for the digital photographer is optional, the isolation of the darkroom is enforced; the only practical way to partially break it is to have a radio or music player running in the background.
Overall, both digital and chemical photography provide different opportunities for right and left brain activity. I can’t see that either method of practicing photography favors either way of thinking.