Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2000/07/27

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Subject: [Leica] Re: The quintessence of Leica photography? - Long response -
From: Jim Brick <jimbrick@photoaccess.com>
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2000 18:49:51 -0700

Erwin,

I agree with you completely. My daughter and I will be standing with you,
with our film cameras, high above Hong Kong (or anywhere else) while the
world has forgotten the craft of photography.

The "craft" of photography cannot be practiced or duplicated with a
scanner, Photoshop, and an inkjet.

Period!

As I've said before, I have a transparency of a field of calla lilies
surrounding an old decaying wooden fence. This image can only be printed on
Cibachrome (Ilfochrome). I've tried to make a LightJet print but to no
avail. The black under and surrounding the plants is like an abyss. And on
supergloss, it looks wet and deep. The green leaves have an electric glow
along the edges. The white lily faces have delicate detail within them.
This is a dynamic range that is stunning in a 30x40 print, the deep deep
abyss black and the delicate white lily faces, plus the glow of the leaves,
but simply "cannot" be reproduced digitally even though the LightJet
printer prints on photographic paper.

And my local lab (Calypso Imaging) just quit printing Cibachromes. It's
either RA-4 or LightJet now. I can print Ciba's up to 20x24 in my own
darkroom but I currently have a order for some 30x40 Ciba's (the calla lily
image) and I now have to drive to San Francisco to get them printed.
Looking at test strips is very inconvenient. This time I'm going to have a
dozen printed so I don't have to go back as often.

So even in the pro labs, the work process is shifting toward digital. Part
of the reason is that the pieces of equipment to produce pro level digital
work are outlandishly expensive. $250,000 - $500,000 for a LightJet
printer. $100,000 and up for a good drum scanner. These pieces of equipment
have to be busy nearly 100% of the time in order for the lab to stay
afloat. Especially since these "state of the art" pieces of equipment are
only state of the art for a couple of years. Then it's buy it all over
again. So the work effort is shifted toward getting digital customers. Lots
of digital customers.

My daughter, who is 20, is majoring in photography and music in college.
They are teaching the "craft" of photography from the ground up. Real
silver photography. Last semester was the zone system and they had to use
D76 1:1 and could not use Delta films as they do not respond linearly to
the zone system expansion and compression techniques. Ilford FP films,
Plus-X, Tri-X, APX 25, APX 100, etc. Real old fashioned silver film. My
daughter uses APX 100 and her prints, on Ilford FB WT, are gorgeous.
Brilliant sparklie highlights and the tones slide from sparklie white into
a deep black that suck you right in. This is only available on wet
processed photo paper from negatives that have been exposed properly and
developed properly based upon the dynamic range of the subject and how you,
the photographer, visualize the resulting print.

This process of visualizing a result before the image is captured is a
silver halide process. Learning the craft of photography teaches you to
view your surroundings in terms of a final print. Your technique takes into
account all of the variables within the scene and, using that magnificent
gray matter computer, exposes correctly, in terms of how the film will be
developed, and in terms of what kind of paper it will be printed on. This
is not a simple process and can only be learned with practice and many
mistakes.

This is not usually the case with a digital camera or even a film image
that is going to be scanned and inkjet printed. The process of
visualization of the final print most likely takes place in Photoshop.

While learning the zone system, my daughter was out in the forest
photographing some tree scenes for her class portfolio. It was dark under
the trees, very bright in the open space behind the trees. Dirt, rocks, dry
grass, a trail running through the scene, etc. Normal forest stuff. She set
up her Hasselblad for a particular scene, used a spot meter to meter the
various important subjects, visualized how she wanted to final print to
look and figured which subject zone to place where on the scale and how to
process the film. N+x, N, N-x. She chose the back for that particular
development time and photographed the scene. THEN... she took a back that
was not a zone specific back, put it on the camera and used the built-in
camera meter to simply photograph the scene. Just like anyone normally
would. She did this with all of her portfolio photographs as sort of a
reality check.

Back home she processed the film (APX 100 in D76 1:1) from the various
backs at the appropriate times that she had worked out when she calibrated
her procedures to the zone system. She also developed the non zone roll at
the normal APX 100 - D76 1:1 time. All of the negatives looked great. Even
the non zone roll. They were just good healthy looking negatives. Then she
started printing.

She first printed her favorite scene from the non zone roll. The print
(11x14) looked good. A little dodging and burning here and there, but a
reasonable print. THEN... she printed the same negative from the zone roll.
She nearly fainted. She came out of the darkroom yelling "DAD... look at
this!" A straight print that was so much better than the non zone print, it
was stunning!!! The tones slid from bright sparklie white into a deep
seductive black. The difference between the two prints was simply amazing.

This folks, IS the "craft" of photography. It is not simple. It is not
"point and shoot." It requires visualization and thought. It requires a
thorough knowledge of the processes involved. It requires work, which is
where many people give up.

The digital process has solved this for those folks. Simply point and
shoot. Scan if it's not already digital. Fix-up and manipulate in
Photoshop. Print a pleasing inkjet. No photography craft involved. Just
move the pixels to where they look good and be done with it.

All of you real photographers out there, those versed in the "craft" of
photography, should make it a life long commitment to pass on your
knowledge, get a young person involved in silver based photography and wet
darkroom work. My daughter, who is a computer whiz, recognizes with little
effort that there is no comparison between a silver darkroom print and an
inkjet print. The darkroom print wins hands down.

Her "minimum" print size is 11x14. When spotting these prints, with your
nose an inch from the print, you can see the crisp image edge sharpness and
fine detail that is non existent on ink jet prints because of dot bleed and
scanner ICE algorithms. Also, not many folks print ink jet prints larger
than 11x14. And the rubber meets the road when you get to 20x24, when the
sharpness, fine detail, and dynamic tonal range, just leaps off of the
print. The big inkjet printers use a larger ink dot therefore close-up
inspection of a large inkjet is not advisable.

The craft of photography, can be done at home, with minimal darkroom
equipment expenditure. And the equipment can easily be useful and producing
exemplary work over a lifetime.

I'm happy that my daughter has chosen to learn the "craft" of photography.
She just got engaged two months ago. She and her bo are talking about
buying a house. The criteria, she says, is that it have a good music room -
a place to teach piano lessons, and a good place to build a darkroom. So at
least in my family, pixels will not replace silver halide molecules on
neither the source (film) nor the destination (paper.)

Another generation carries it forward.

Jim

PS... this is not a denigration of those folks that have no possibility of
having and using a darkroom, and therefore are forced to go digital. I feel
for them and would indeed go that route myself, if I were forced to.



At 01:26 PM 7/26/00 +0200, Erwin Puts wrote:
>The seemingly relentless march of digital printing does signify two trends.
>First of all a loss of knowedge of true and important photographic
>principles. 
>
><giant snip>
>
>I know I am a loner here and that I will end my life on a deserted island
>with a small pipeline of chemicals and some classical books on the craft of
>Leica photography. I will even try to  write a new book on this topic. The
>Economist wrote long ago (1996) the following: "So eventually, as with every
>battle between digital and analogue, it is likely that digital will win.
>Film will live on, but probably only in specialist use. Just as a few
>diehards will still shun CD players and listen to vinyl discs thr÷ugh
>amplifiers, in years to come there will always one tourist in that group
>high above Hong Kong who pulls out a battered Nikon F5 and delights in
>informing everyone that photographs never look right unless they are made
>from silver halide. For most people though, the chance to alter their
>holiday's weather conditions after the event will win out every time."
>Replace Nikon with Leica and the Economist journalist might have thougt of
>me.
>
>Erwin
>
>

Replies: Reply from c.blaue@bmsg.de ([Leica] Zone System, was: The quintessence of Leica photography?)
Reply from Jim Brick <jimbrick@photoaccess.com> ([Leica] Re: Zone System, was: The quintessence of Leica photography?)
Reply from "Michael Gardner" <mikeg@neca.com> (Re: [Leica] Re: The quintessence of Leica photography? - Long response -)