The Digital Darkroom
June 28, 2009 11:44 AM   Subscribe

What are some good books on the digital darkroom in general, and not just Photoshop?

I'm an amateur photographer, and I postprocess my photos in Aperture. I also have Pixelmator. I know how to work the camera pretty well, but learned most of what I know about postprocessing from random tutorials on the Web. I'd like to learn more about digital postprocessing and digital images in general from a more formal, authoritative source. Specifically, I'm looking more for things like levels and curves and less for things like the clone stamp. Maybe what Ansel Adams would've written as the digital update to "The Negative" and "The Print." (I haven't read those yet, but plan to.)

Aperture books seem to just state the obvious ("To adjust levels in your image, open the Levels palette and drag the sliders below the histogram") and Photoshop books are, well, about Photoshop. I've got nothing against Photoshop, but I don't have it yet and would rather learn about the "theory" before I learn any specific interface. It's okay if the book uses Photoshop as an example, of course.

Triple gratitude points if it somehow makes a connection to the film days ("Kodachrome images are different from Velvia images because X, and this corresponds to Y in the digital world.")
posted by Garak to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
That's a tall order, and I might imagine that the prevailing feeling in the publishing industry is "you sell more books if you have a popular app name in the title". Not that I'd agree that it's right.

Making a connection to the film world is also problematical, in the sense that there are probably 25 different techniques for a 'kodachromey' look, and who's to say which one looks right? It's far too subjective, and the technologies are far enough apart that there isn't really that much that tracks.

It took me a while to adjust to the digital darkroom, and I had quite a bit of experience in real darkrooms, having been a photographer on and off since 1970. Just as an example, it took me quite a while to wrap my head around layer masks, and how useful they are. There's no real analogue for them in analog photography. Dodging and burning were relatively crude tools in darkroom printing compared to what you can do with a layer mask and the gradient tool.

I think you have a good idea, and it sounds like a book that I would have killed to have. I'll be watching this post to see what turns up, but I'm afraid the pickings might be slim.
posted by pjern at 3:16 PM on June 28, 2009

Best answer: The deal is, sadly that Photoshop IS the digital darkroom. There's not really many alternatives. And it's not like film, where you were dealing with a chemical process. You're dealing with Adobe's ideas about manipulating pixels. There are some other programs, but you kind of want to be using the same one everyone else is using, because they know more than you.

Photoshop For Photographers by Martin Evening (I think that's his name) is helpful. John Paul Caponigro's website has a ton of really great information.

But honestly, I think you are going to have to find yourself a copy of photoshop and deal with this. Lightroom and Aperture are good in their own right, but they are not the digital darkroom. Photoshop is. If you are looking to be a better printmaker or whatever...that's the entrance path.

There is GIMP and I'm impressed with its level of complexity but no one I know of actually uses it...
posted by sully75 at 5:46 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

To add more: I think the way to learn the Digital Darkroom (I kind of hate that term) is to look at photographs you like and try to imitate that look in your own. Of course, this relates back to the way you are shooting and lighting your pictures, but knowing how film pictures were manipulated (this is the visual basis for most of the photography we are doing now) and then learning to imitate the style you like is going to be your best bet. I don't think there is going to be a book to tell you how to do that, exactly...I think that's the process of becoming a good photographer.

1) Taking pictures
2) Looking at really great pictures (really great ones that you are thinking critically about)
3) looking at the differences between your pictures and the great ones
4) trying to narrow that gap.

Sorry this is not an answer to your question!!
posted by sully75 at 5:59 PM on June 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, guys.

The deal is, sadly that Photoshop IS the digital darkroom...You're dealing with Adobe's ideas about manipulating pixels.

I was afraid of that. It's not that I want to avoid Photoshop, exactly, but I thought by going with a theory book I could get a better understanding of what I was really doing. Actually, though, the Martin Evening book you recommended looks like just what I wanted. Amazon lets you peek inside, and it's got exactly the kinds of discussion I was looking for.
posted by Garak at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2009

Response by poster: John Paul Caponigro's website has a ton of really great information.

This, too, is pretty great. Thanks again.
posted by Garak at 5:02 AM on June 29, 2009

Glad it was helpful. The Evening book was helpful to me at the time (I had the Photoshop CS (I) book, I think). I'd take it with a grain of salt.

One thing to keep in mind. Minus Ansel Adams (and I'm not really a fan anyway) pretty much by writing a book about "doing" photography, you are making it known that you are not a great photographer. You might be good and might have good things to show people, but you are definitely classing yourself as a bit less than an artist.

That might sound really rough but I think it's true. I'm talking about technical books, anyway.

Oops...Henry Horenstein is legitamately great, and his books on photography are really great too. So I blew my theory. (His books are better than the Adams' books, IMOH).

Anyway, point being, take all this stuff with a grain of salt. What matters is not people talking about DMAX and stuff like that, what matters is getting your eyes on the very best prints you can find and training your eyes to make prints like that.

Some photo books I'd recomend getting your hands on:
Irving Penn - Platinum Prints (can't beat this for BW printing)
Annie Leibowitz - American Music (say what you want about her, this book rocks printing wise)
Linda Butler - Her book on the Yangtzee river...insane black and white
oh yeah
just order this book now:
joakim eskildsen The Roma Journies. I'm serious in that you can learn pretty much everything you need to know about what photographs can look like from that book.
posted by sully75 at 3:30 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Contemporary Art History and Theory   |   The House is a-Rockin' Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.