I miss black & white photography

I have few memories of my childhood. One that stands out was the time I watched my old man seal up the windows in the spare bedroom with tarpaper and build a long workbench next to the door. When I asked him what he was doing he just said, “Darkroom” and continued on with his amazing activities. I remember a very peculiar odor he explained simply as “Chemicals”, a truly magical clock that had glow-in-the-dark hands and ran backwards, and a big projector-looking thing. He showed me four trays with different ‘chemicals’ in them: developer, stop, fixer, water; and explained what each one did; he showed me what the projector-looking thing did, and he showed my where the photo paper was and told me to never let it see light until a picture was getting exposed on it. It was not long after that he invited me in for a rare moment of quality time–in perfect darkness. Exposing negative images was pretty cool, as was watching the ‘chemicals’ pull the image out of the white paper under a very dim red light. But the coolest trick was crafting an image on the paper using just my hands. First try was a Playboy Bunny silhouette (Oh yeah, Dad had some of the most amazing picture books), but after some experimenting I got pretty good at making twilight landscapes by allowing different parts of the paper to receive more or less light. Bit of a mental exercise because you have to conceive of the landscape as a negative and shade more the areas you want to be brighter, and you only knew for sure what it was going to look like after you tossed it into the developer. I can’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old.

In high school I took a photography class and was making double exposure portraits (3/4 portrait next to a profile) by the second day. By the end of the semester I had discovered the wonders of making exposures with wet negatives to make the final image look like it was viewed through a rainy window. Dad would have been proud.

It’s very trendy to do b&w digital photography with filters…

They still make b/w film.

It is no more difficult to develop film than it is to develop paper (also still available). You simply need to put it in a light-tight canister and pour in the (tempering - get it wet first) water, developer, stop (acetic acid - the smell you remember), and fix.

Not surprisingly, darkroom equipment is now dirt cheap.

At the very least, get yourself a GraLab 300 timer. it is the absolute classic darkroom timer - the piercing sound is something you remember.

If you have a closet 3’ deep and 2’ wide, you have more than enough space for a darkroom - put in a counter for the enlarger, a shelf for the paper. Load the paper (or film) into a light-tight can and everything else can be done in light - the paper goes into a tube with a spout.

PM if you want gory details

I’ve had 3 darkrooms, was a photographer for the (college) student newspaper and in the Photo Club.

The expensive stuff you see on ebay is not needed for B/W - color processing requires temps of about 100 F ± 0.5 degrees. That gets expensive. B/W is room temp ± 10.

Some people will tell you to use Photoshop and set color density to 0. If you have a good eye, you will notice it does not look the same as real photo paper.

Have not tried using a filter on digital, and probably won’t - I have at least a dozen 35mm bodies and 2 4x5’s with 2 1/4 film holders.

For one, I’m waiting with bated breath for daguerreotypes to become a thing again.

I miss my camera obscura

If you want to see a real camera obscura, go to San Francisco - behind the Cliff House is a small building made to look like a camera.
It has a rotating mirror on top and a 4’ diameter screen below it - it scans the oceanfront and reproduces the image on the screen.
Every time I introduced someone to it, I had to pry them out of it.

Such buildings were popular amusements in the 19th century - only a few survive.

These is(was) a wonderful site about camera obscuras - it is poorly funded, so I will not send a wave of bored people there. If interested, you can find.

When I was a boy we didn’t have no “paper” or 'film". We PAINTED on CAVE WALLS!
Actually I was in Adorama yesterday picking up some prints from my digital camera and I saw the shelf full of film and I just sighed.
Why did I sell my T-90?

I miss Kodachrome. :frowning:

I think they still make E-6 process chromes. I have an old binder full of Fujichrome stuff I shot in 6x4.5cm format. (120 and 220 film.) They look amazing.

Yes, E6 is still available - and yes, it does look spectacular, doesn’t it? That’s why pro’s shoot E6, not C47 (color slide, vs color negative).

Slides were designed to be projected to extreme size for viewing - the color is much, much denser and has much more contrast.

If you can find a print made on Cibachrome (now Ilfochrome) you will see a direct E6 to paper print - it cannot be compared.
If you took a slide to the photo shop and wanted a print, they would take a negative picture of your slide* and print the negative - completely discarding the density and contrast.

    • this was the function of a “slide duplicator”, which used “duplication” film - very low contrast and density. It is no longer made.

Nothing beats the look of an 8x10 sheet of Velvia.

There’s a shortage of that. I’m going to have to use real cheese for my superbowl party.

:wink: <---- (pay attention to the wink)

We had idiots with $500 photo vests and all the trappings come into the shop and ask for Velvita. :stuck_out_tongue:

Silver Plate photography, now THOSE were the days!

I assume by “set color density to 0” you mean to desaturate (or grayscale) the image. That’s usually among the worst ways to get black and white from digital, and you don’t really need a good eye to see it. It’s better to use the Black & White filter in Photoshop to control the luminosity intensity of various parts of the spectrum to suit your needs. And even before the B&W filter was introduced, there were much better ways to get good black and whites from color digital images ( usually involving selectively mixing the luminosities of the RGB channels.)

I admit, there is a certain look to a real black and white printed on fiber based paper, but digital black and whites can be gorgeous and offer you a lot more tonal control if you know what you’re doing.

(And small nitpick: you meant C-41 for the color chemistry.)

With all the control in Photoshop or Lightroom some amazing B/W prints can be produced. Epson, and probably others, even has inks tailored to B/W for some of their printers.

Most importantly, thanks to the experts who have taken the time to reply, and for giving insight I fully intend to refer to in the event I am able to set up a darkroom someday (after the kids are gone).

But how else could I have framed the OP to more clearly indicate it was only tangentally related to photography?

And to further clarify this, that’s not completely true. Plenty of pros shot and continue to shoot C41. It really depends on the subject and the type of assignment. Editorial photographers, for example, almost always shot neg for a number of reasons: it’s much more forgiving, it’s better in low light, it’s easy and quick to process.

Slide film has a much lower dynamic range, is more contrasty (related to the previous point), is less forgiving exposure-wise, and doesn’t really perform all that well once you get past about 400-800ISO. That said, it tends to produce sharper images at the lower ISO (although negative emulsions have pretty much caught up), it can’t be beat for popping color when correctly exposed or slightly underexposed in the right lighting conditions, and the contrast that most slide films are known for looks great on a wide variety of subjects.

There’s plenty of portrait shooters who do not like shooting E6 for portaits because they don’t like the contrast or skin tones of E6 films (although some are very get at neutral skin tones.) Porta 160NC and Fuji 160S was the choice of many professional portrait photographers partly for this reason (and partly because it’s easier to get a good print from a print film than a slide film.)

When I shot film, I shot E6 for all my magazine assignments, and C41 for all my newspaper or wire work. Furthermore, in my own work, I would shoot E6 for anything where I wanted great color saturation and drama, and C41 where I wanted more subtle tones, especially in portraits.

Another big reason for the popularity of E6 in the professional world (especially magazines and commercial printing) is before the days of digital scanning and plate making, slides reproduced better and sharper than prints from negs.

So I wouldn’t generalize that “pros shoot E6.” Pros shoot the film that is appropriate for their situation and style.

Yeah, that’s the other thing: get a printer that is tailored to black and white, and print on some of the better art papers, and you can get some really stunning results.

One of the nice things about starting with a color image and converting it to black and white is that you have complete control over how different parts of your spectrum map to different luminosities (brightness values, or how dark or light your gray is) in your picture. You can use this to emulate the spectral sensitivity of films, you can use it to simulate using color filters, or you can just artistically bring up or down parts of your image based on color. And then, you have really fine control over dodging and burning parts of your images (and if you make a mistake, it’s not go back and start from square one. Just undo it.) Film should give you a little more exposure latitude, especially in the highlights, but the dynamic range of the current sensors, if you expose your image correctly, is getting pretty darned close to the range of film.

That said, there is the calming zen of being in the darkroom that I sometimes miss. I have an enlarger and all the gear in the basement that I was gifted about two years ago and I still haven’t gotten around to setting it up. I do miss it from time to time, and it’s something I’d like to bring back to my professional work. But the idea of getting the basement set up for it is a bit daunting. Much easier to have a pro lab develop it and print it (although the development is the easy part, and I used to do it at home from time to time, even though I don’t have a darkroom set up.)