Digital and the Darkroom

Several years ago I was walking around the Wesleyan campus, searching for things to photograph for my photography class. It was an incredibly sunny day, so the shadows were out in full force. Walking up some stairs behind Freeman (the gym) I saw a very sharp shadow of myself on the brick wall. I decided to snap a few pictures and then continued on my way.

When it came time to print the photo I chose the best one and used a strong filter to boost the contrast - washing out the gray parts and darkening the dark areas. The image below shows my initial results:

Original image - click to enlarge


Though I liked the results of the image I was interested in having the image composed only of black and white (without any gray) to focus entirely on the shadow. The difficult part was that I wanted the actual staircase railing (in the bottom right corner) to maintain its natural contrast levels. So the image I had in my mind was a litho image of the shadow combined with a normal image of the staircase railing. I was not talented enough to perform this trickery in the darkroom, so I had to go digital.

I took the 8 x 10 print that I had printed in the darkroom and scanned it in one of the computer labs. Using Photoshop I was able to turn all the light gray areas to white and all the darker areas to black. The following images shows a comparison of the same areas before and after the digital manipulation:

Before manipulation
Original Image

After manipulation
Mainipulated Image

Of course having my original conception of the image on the computer was great, but I still had to turn in a photographic print for my class. A computer print out was not going to cut it. So how to get it from the computer screen back into the darkroom and printed out on standard photo paper...after some head scratching I came up with an idea.

I had done some experimentation with negative prints before. A negative print is created by putting a piece of paper over an unexposed sheet of photo paper and blasting it with light. The light travels through the paper and exposes the photo paper.

Example: you put a piece of paper with a black circle face-down on top of a sheet of photo paper. The black circle lets no light in while the white area around it lets all of the light in. This creates a reverse image of the top image on the photo paper. Black areas are white, white areas black. So after developing the photo paper the net result would be a black image with a white circle.

Back to the project. In order to have the final print look right I created a flipped and inversed version of the final image as shown below:

Inverted manipulated image - click to enlarge


I printed this out on a good laser printer and brought it to the darkroom. As described above, I put the image face down over an unexposed sheet of photo paper and blasted it with light. After running the photo paper through all the nasty darkroom chemicals I had my final print! You can see the results below...

Final image - click to enlarge


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Greg Neustaetter 2002