Recently I wrote about a tweet that had an Ansel Adams’ quote about photography rules. In the course of our tweeting, she commented that Ansel Adams actually dodged and burned his photographs, almost as if to say this was a totally remarkable thing for Adams to do.
This conversation on Twitter is the basis for this post.
When I was learning black and white photography, my instructors always emphasized the following two ideas. Always do as much composing as possible in the camera viewfinder, and be prepared to make adjustments in the darkroom to make up for our human errors. Every print was dodged or burned, a contrast filter was used as well as the cropping of the final image to tighten the composition. For example, if a photo had a blown out sky, a little burning in using a low contrast filter would fix the problem. This process usually involved many test strips, many test prints and multiple trips from the enlarger to the developing tray. My personal best was 14 images until I finally got everything correct for one photograph.
In addition to all of the normal developing in the darkroom, many photographers over time attempted to do other types of manipulations during the photographic process to alter the look of the final image. Some of these techniques are:
- Petroleum jelly smeared on the camera lens or darkroom lens.
- Nylon or other fabric stretched across the lens.
- Negative manipulation: scratching or burning the emulsion on the negative. Samples are here.
- Selective development: spraying or dripping developer over selective areas of the print. Samples of selective development are here.
- Texture screens: sandwiching the negative with a negative that is just texture. A photographer could buy them or shoot their own textures and make their own screens. Samples of texture screens are here.
- Solarisation: This effect is achieved by exposing either the paper or the negative briefly to light during the developing processing. Solarisation samples are here.
- Compositing: The combination of several images into one. The master of this technique is Jerry Uelsmann. He was known to use as many as nine enlargers to create his final images. Here are samples of Jerry Uelsmann’s work.
Happily, the ability to do these type of actions on our photographs has found its way to the digital photography era via Lightroom and Photoshop. And there are a couple of techniques that I am very happy are as easy as pushing a button or moving a slider.
Toning: I am talking about sepia toning and blue toning. The huge drawback to this process was the rotten egg smell that came along with toning. As if the darkroom didn’t have enough odor problems. Supposedly they have odorless toners, but my experience with darkroom chemicals is there is no such thing as odorless.
Spot removal. White spots on the print? In spite of all the care in cleaning camera and enlarger lenses and wiping the negatives clean, there will always be a white spot or two or more on the print. This calls for the art of spot toning. You use a 000 brush and mix 3 different spot toning dyes together and through trial and error, find the correct shade to match the tone of the area on the print which needs filled in. Eventually spot toning pens were invented, but they didn’t do quite the same job as the liquid toners.
I am very happy to trade in the brush and dyes for a circle and delete.
Since all blogs are better with a photograph, here is a sepia tone, done in the comfort of my office chair with absolutely no rotten egg smell wafting about.
Tim Poole – PAC member