Lightroom & Workflow, Photographs & Photoshopping, Rants and Sermons, Thoughts & Theory
From Darkroom To Lightroom (via Photoshop)
I wrote this more as a confession than anything else. Like a meditation. If you’re allergic to the stream-of-consciousness, touchy-feely stuff, move along. There is nothing for you here and you’re likely to break into a rash. The rest of you might resonate with this. Or not…
I used to love the darkroom. The actual, physical, red-lights and chemicals type of darkroom. I never progressed much beyond being able to create a mediocre black and white print. But it was my mediocre b&w print – one that I’d been able to make exactly the way I wanted (so long as that way was within the rather tight confines of my abilities. Somewhere along the way it no longer became possible to maintain or access a darkroom and my film went the way of so many rolls of film before and since – to a commercial lab. My prints came back and I’d order a few enlargements, but for the most part the negs and slides got filed, the prints got boxed, and the images never made it much further than their conception.
When I finally got a digital camera, a PowerBook, and a copy of Photoshop all that changed. I went back into the darkroom and spent hours there – this time without the red light and the mind-numbing effect of the chemicals. It was a return to what I loved about photography – creating images – and I finally had control back – no, I had more control. The renewed power to realize my vision, expand on it, and take it places it never imagined, was incredible.
But, like so many photographers, I became drunk with power, seduced to the darkside by the near limitless possibilities presented by curves and adjustment layers, layer masks and filters. Soon I was shooting carelessly, confident that the most ill-conceived image could be rescued in Photoshop. I wasn’t shooting with vision I was just gathering raw materials for future experiments in Photoshop. I wasn’t learning to express my vision, I was learning how to make poor photographs suck less.
And then came Lightroom. To me it’s become, as it has to others, the antidote to Photoshop. It’s forced me to shoot better, to more carefully conceive my work, to make vision a more important part of what I do, why I do it, and how. I can’t fully explain it, I just know that once I put a photograph into Photoshop and pick up my tablet pen, I am opening the door to endless tweaking that happens, not because I envision those refinements, or even because they add to the expression of my vision, but solely because I can.
I still love Photoshop, but I’m a bit of a recovering addict so I tread lightly with it. It taught me so much about the possibilities, and pushed me to pursue finding those possibilities with the camera. After years of using PS time and time again, for the same purpose, to make my photographs “suck less” I began to see a trend, noticed a handful of things I was routinely un-sucking, and went off in search of better captures.
I’m full circle now, I feel like I’m finally comfortable with my tools enough not to use them. I’m falling in love with the photographs again and not merely the clever ways in which I created them. Man I love photography.