Digital Darkroom

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Your digital darkroom is really a very simple place. 

Ideally, it consists of: a Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos tablet,  digital editing software (Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro),  a digital camera to shoot all of the images you will be working with, a scanner and shoe boxes full of old photos and negatives and finally a color printer.

Time was there was nothing even approaching the amazing items in a digital darkroom (other than the shoe box jammed with old photdigital darkroomos and negatives). 

A darkroom was just that - dark with a red safe light. The working surface had three trays (assuming you were working in black and white) filled with Developer, Stop Bath and Fixer. 

There was also the enlarger, the timer, dodge and burn tools (generally home made), packs of paper, a place to hang the wet pictures, that stuff to help the water dry on the wet negative and all of the other chemicals for developing the film.

There sure was a lot of stuff one needed in ones modern chemical darkroom.

Timing was critical when you were making your prints as was the temperature of the chemicals. A cardinal rule of the darkroom was to never, ever let the tongs digital darkroom suppliesthat took the print out of the developer touch the stop bath and if you did you had to stumble about in the dark to find the sink to wash the tongs.

The biggest enemy in the darkroom other than light was dust. The tiniest speck could ruin a print and so could someone opening the door at just the wrong time for that matter.

OK - so there were two enemies - dust and light.

The single biggest reward in the darkroom was flipping on the lights after developing, stopping, fixing and washing a print to find an absolutely gorgeous black and white picture in front of you ... and you did it all ... from film camera to negative to print! What a rush it was!

Having this gorgeous piece of photographic art in ones hand generally led to dashing madly from the darkroom to show the masterpiece to the nearest family member. That made all of the other things worthwhile!

Oh How Things Have Changed!

There is one thing we can be absolutely sure about and that is technology is constantly changing how we do what we do.

In this case technology has replaced all of that chemical darkroom 'stuff' with digital darkroom 'stuff' ...

... stuff like your computer and Photoshop and the best tool of all - your Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos.

  • all of the chemicals and trays and other stuff has been replaced by your computer
  • the negatives from your camera and the enlarger have been replaced by Photoshop, and
  • the dodging and burning tools have been replaced by your tablet

It sure is a neater package (the digital darkroom) and it can be a tad more difficult to master, especially Photoshop.

To help the new Wacom tablet user get the most out of their tablet and their software I have included some tips and techniques on the most commonly used tools (selections, cloning, local control etc). These tips and techniques will show you how to optimize your tablet and your software to achieve the best results possible.

Tablet Use Examples

If you want to see what Pressure Sensitivity really means without prowling through all of the tutorials on this site then ..

Changing Brush Size with pressure - Quick Mask

Changing Opacity with pressure -  Dodge and Burn - using both the Dodge and Burn Tools and a Soft Light layer and using Opacity with the Clone Tool to Remove Shine.

Digital Airbrushing is a multi-step procedure that includes some nice painting with a tablet.



Just like the old "wet" darkroom, the main concerns in the digital darkroom still are ...
  • Image Contrast
  • Dodging Shadows
  • Burning Highlights
  • Overall Exposure Control
  • Color Correction
  • Rescuing a Damaged Negative
The tools to achieve these ends are different with different names but the goal back in the day and now are exactly the same - an image that makes you proud.

All things being equal your skill with your digital editing software and your Wacom tablet is the difference that makes the difference between an improved photo and an incredible photo.

Equipping You Digital Darkroom

There are lots of choices regarding what 'equipment' you will have in your digital darkroom.

The equipment includes some or all of the following:

  • Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos Tablet
  • Computer (of course)
  • Digital Camera
  • Scanner
  • Digital Editing Software
  • Printer

Which Tablet?


No digital darkroom is complete without a Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos tablet.  Sure - you can get by with a mouse but a graphics tablet is far superior so why short change yourself?.
digital darkroom intuos 4
There are three choices - the inexpensive Wacom Bamboo, the professional Wacom Intuos line and the high end Wacom Cintiq.

The three models are covered extensively on my site so click on the links to find out more about the tablets.




Computer - Mac or Windows?

digital darkroom mac

This is a choice between a Windows or Mac computer.  Some people think a Mac is better for Graphics but it just isn't so. 

My set-up includes both.  The Mac is a laptop and the Windows is my desktop and I do 99% of the work on this site on the Windows machine.

The Mac is fabulous but way too small to work on for hours so my old AMD running XP gets the majority of the work.

The ideal solution would be a nice big iMac running both operating systems.

The choice of computer system also depends on the digital editing software you want to use.  All of the major packages, with one exception, work fine on both Windows and Macs.

Paint Shop Pro is the exception.  For some bizarre reason Corel Paint Shop Pro only runs on Windows machines, totally ignoring Mac users.

Digital Cameras


OK - this subject could easily consume a very large website because of the enormous number of manufacturers and models available.

My primary digital camera is an Olympus E-300 DSLR with a go anywhere inexpensive little Sony point and shoot camera.

Rather than go on and on about the different models - take a look at this site

Best Cameras or Best Pictures

This is a fabulous site where you will find an enormous amount of useful information.   Rather than being one of those cold, technical site, Clifford, the site owner, presents the information in a personable and enjoyable manner.

Scanners


This is necessary if you are retouching and restoring old photographs - either old family shots or as a side business.

The thing to do is buy the best scanner you can afford and make sure it can scan film negativesdigital darkroom scanner as well as prints.

My scanner is a Canon CanoScan 8400f and will scan negatives up to 2 1/2 inch.  It's a great scanner - this is a picture of the 8400f.

It is a blast scanning those really old negs and seeing yourself or parents or old friends show up on your computer!

Digital Editing Software


There sure are lots of choices here and all of them are good.  

Of course the most popular software is Photoshop.  It can be thought of as the industry digital darkroom photoshopstandard because it will do absolutely everything!

The current version of Photoshop is CS4 but every level of this amazing program will probably do more than most people want to do with their photos.

I have both Version 7 and CS on my Windows machine and CS2 on my Mac - seems I am missing CS3 and 4.

The downside of Photoshop is the cost.  If one really wants Photoshop then check ebay or other auction sites for an earlier version and then buy an upgrade.  If you do that make absolutely sure you get a valid product key with the software.  You cannot upgrade without it.

I managed to find a full version of Photoshop CS2 for my Mac on ebay and the cost was just over $300.00 USD.  This was a substantial savings over a boxed retail version of the same product and well worth the effort.

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Then there's Photoshop Elements.   If you have used Photoshop for any length of time then Elements may drive you crazy!  I was one of those but some concentration on Elements has shown me that this is a very, very good program.digital darkroom elements

There are things missing in Elements that you can easily get used to using in Photoshop and that is very frustrating.  However, if Elements is your first graphics editing program then it may be very intimidating - but not for long.  Additionally, I've managed to figure out some 'work arounds' that will nicely simulate missing Photoshop adjustments.

Photoshop Elements (full version) is included with some of the Wacom Bamboo  tablets and for anyone new to digital editing this is a pretty good deal.  

For the cost of the tablet you get a full version of Elements that is only one version behind the current product on the shelf.

In truth, however, Elements can probably do pretty much anything most people want to achieve with their digital editing projects in their digital darkroom and someone who knows Elements can create magic and wonderful results with this program.



The last one (as of this date) is Paint Shop Pro from Corel.  This is a totally amazing digital darkroom paint shop proprogram that rivals but doesn't quite equal Photoshop in features - and it costs a whole let less.

As noted earlier, Paint Shop Pro only runs on Windows so the every growing Mac users are being ignored.

In addition, if you have an older machine then it is likely that Paint Shop will run slowly - if you watch any of my Paint Shop videos you will see that happening - it's just a resource hog.

Paint Shop has many of the same dialogues and adjustments as the full version of Photoshop but I have found that they do not work as seamlessly and elegantly in Paint Shop Pro as they do in Photoshop.

I find the adjustments in Paint Shop are not as fine or as responsive as they are in Photoshop.

That may explain the enormous price difference between the two programs.

Despite these minor problems, Paint Shop Pro may be the best "bang for your buck" in the digital editing field.


Terry's Digital Darkroom Tutorials

Terry was a creative darkroom worker and has become an avid Paint Shop Pro user.  He  has brilliantly adapted some of old time creative and unusual darkroom techniques to his favorite digital editing program.

Click the thumbnail to check out his approach to converting od time darkroom techniques to a digital darkroom ....

digital darkroom




Printers


If you plan on printing your digital darkroom masterpieces then a good color printer is necessary (unless, of course, you go to a printing service).

The range of printers available is enormous and somewhat intimidating.  digital darkroom epson

The more popular printers are:

  • Canon
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Epson
  • Xerox - especially the affordable Phaser solid ink printers

Some models have the ability to print gallery quality black and white prints as well as exceptional quality color prints so do your homework based on your needs.






Page Links

Changing Times


Digital Equipment

Which Tablet?

Mac or Windows?

Digital Cameras

Scanners

Digital Editing Software


Printers


Digital Darkroom


Digital "darkroom" is the hardware, software and techniques used in the digital darkroom that replace the darkroom equivalents, such as

  • enlarging
  • cropping
  • exposure control
  • dodging and burning,

as well as processes that don't have a film equivalent. All photographs benefit from being developed.

With film this could be done at the print lab, or an inexpensive home darkroom. 

With digital, many cameras are set up to do basic photo enhancement (contrast, color saturation) immediately after a picture is exposed, and to deliver a finished product.

Higher end cameras, however, tend to give a flatter, more neutral image that has more data but less "pop," and needs to be developed in the digital darkroom.

Setting up a film darkroom was primarily an issue of gathering the right chemicals and lighting; a digital darkroom consists of a powerful computer, a high-quality monitor setup (dual monitors are often used) and software. 

A printer is optional; many photographers still send their images to a professional lab for better results and, in some cases, a better price.


Digital Manipulation

The following categories are activities that one would complete in a darkroom.

Click on the links of your favorite digital editing program to learn how to do the same thing in your digital darkroom.

Contrast
Dodging and Burning
Exposure Control
Color Correction







 digital darkroom enlarger


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