Darkroom Equivalents

For all of you who never knew the wonders of a B&W darkroom, here is a video about the darkroom equivalents of some common Photoshop tools.

This week is Photoshop’s 25th anniversary and Lynda.com has produced a free video demonstrating some wet darkroom techniques that are commonly used in Photoshop’s digital darkroom.  It is great to see the dodging and burning techniques that were so common in the wet darkroom demonstrated by a master printer like Konrad Eek as he works his magic to produce a fine art print.

Nearly every tool in Photoshop has its roots in the wet darkroom and I love the comparison of the contact print to Bridge (or the Library module in Lightroom). Even the Unsharp Mask, which I have frequently heard attributed to Adobe making up names (thanks to Beyond Monochrome for the excellent resource) was invented, and named, in the wet darkroom.

Seeing the work that was involved in the wet darkroom is such a great reminder of the simplicity of performing effectively the same action in Photoshop.  Konrad has it right when he talks about the time and effort involved in retaining the information to create the same print a second time.  The notes and masks all had to be filed and managed, when Photoshop (and Lightroom) allow us to save all of that work within the file (or catalog) so the second print is the press of a button.

I personally never had much of an opportunity to work in the wet darkroom, however the few times I did, I remember being able to watch the print develop before my eyes.  And although I appreciate the speed and efficiency of the digital darkroom, there is something magical about the wet darkroom.

I feel a little bit of pity for today’s photographers who will never know the joy of seeing the image appear from that blank white sheet of paper.  As if it was always there, just waiting to be, if you’ll pardon the pun, “exposed.”

Dean Collins on Digital Imaging

Dean Collins was early into adopting the digital revolution.  I’m not certain that he gave up his 8×10 view camera and leaf shutters, but his predictions about the future of digital were pretty much spot on.

In this video he again preaches about the need to control specular, diffuse and shadow regions of the photograph.  He recognized that even in digital photography, capturing the best possible image would make post processing more enjoyable and effective.

He predicted that there would be a huge market in digital manipulation and photo composites, something that he was working on even then, in 1998.  Definitely way ahead of his time.

I look back on these Dean Collins videos and find that they are still applicable to the photographs I make today.  I spend a good deal of time attempting to control contrast, specular highlights and shadow detail.  I employ a number of techniques that I initially learned from his videos, such as strobes/flashes, scrims and reflectors.  Dean’s videos explain the use and purpose of these techniques in simple, easy to understand terms.

If you are just trying to get into the glamor, advertising or product photography industries you can do yourself a great service by getting a copy of The Best of Dean Collins on Lighting videos.  Dean demonstrates many light modifiers, natural, studio and location lighting.  He also demonstrates some novel techniques such as moving a background rather than photographing something in motion and firing studio strobes multiple times during an extended exposure to get sufficient light at a small aperture.

For another take on “the Dean of Photography’s” ability to teach lighting like no one else, take a look at the Strobist’s review of the videos.

The Movement of Light

Ramesh Raskar presented a TED Talk about femto photography, or photography at a trillion frames per second.  Inspired by Harold Edgerton, the MIT professor who, in 1964, stopped a bullet as it passed through an apple using stop-motion photography, Ramesh decided to build a camera that could photograph light itself.  Ramesh’s camera is revolutionary in the same way that Edgerton’s photograph was, he is able to photograph a world that we have never seen before.

I don’t expect to able to go out and buy one of Ramesh’s cameras any time soon, but the possibilities are truly extraordinary.

Ramesh Raskar:  Imaging at a Trillion Frames per Second


Lighting in Layers

David Hobby produced a series of DVDs called Lighting in Layers that explains how to use small battery powered speed lights to produce amazing lighting effects.  The videos show subtle lighting and dramatic lighting, with and without modifiers.  There is lots of discussion on how shutter speed and aperture can be used to mix ambient light and speedlites.

The videos are well worth the cost if you are interested in learning the art of off-camera flash.

Making it All Look Easy

I’m frequently amazed by the way some photographers can make such a difficult shot appear to be simple. When I first saw this behind the scenes video of Joe McNally getting the environmental portrait of a guy changing a light bulb on the top of the TV antenna at the top of the Empire State Building, I thought it was such a simple idea.  It all looks easy but took three attempts on different days and a really novel idea from Joe on how to get the camera above the light.  Plus he is WAY up on top of one of the tallest structures in the world.  The picture was for a story that Joe was working on for National Geographic called the Power of Light.

Creative Ideas

Are you inspired right now, or are you craving that intravenous injection of inspiration that drives you to the next level?

A few weeks ago as I was perusing some blogs, I stumbled across an article about Berndnaut Smilde and knew I was viewing something special.  Berndnaut took a simple physical phenomena and envisioned a surrealistic environment where the inside was the outside.  The very idea of creating a cloud inside a building was simply fantastic.  But to use that technique to create other worldly photographs was the crazy kind of idea that demonstrates Berndnaut’s genius.


Feeling inspired by the images that I was seeing, I found a video where he discusses making the clouds.  The technique is simple, but requires maintaining some pretty specific cooling and moisture requirements that are not realistic to create in just any room of your house.

So what is it that inspires you?

Vision and Perception

Ted Talks has some extremely good discussions that relate to photography.  One of my favorite videos there is by Beau Lotto and has to do with how we, as  humans, perceive color.  We are incapable of visualizing absolute color values, everything that we see is contextual.

Beau demonstrates how our brain compensates for color casts and changes in luminosity to make us see what we expect versus what is actually in front of us.  It can be frightening to see how easily the brain is convinced that we are seeing the same color when they are drastically different hues, or different tones when they are exactly the same.

The video is as fun as it is educational.

Zack Arias

Zack is famous for his OneLight portraits.  I read about Zack in someone’s blog a long time ago and followed his blog for quite a while.

In this video from Creative Live, Zack discusses the relationship between flash power and aperture.

Zack and Creative Live have produced a series of videos that can be purchased based on his 3 day workshop.  Almost like being there, but you get the added flexibility to repeat any portion of the workshop that you didn’t quite catch, or that you are having difficulty grasping.

Dean Collins

Also known as the “Dean of Photography” was the very first person to present lighting in a way that I could grasp.  His explanations of 3 Dimensional Contrast lighting, describing specular, diffuse and shadow areas of the subject got me thinking in whole new ways about photography and how the light affects what we are seeing.

Sadly Dean was gone before I had ever heard of him, but his videos are still available from Software Cinema and I have watched a number of them.

His videos allowed me to develop new ideas about how I might light and shoot different subjects.  It was amazing to me how he would produce drastically different images outdoors by simply using a reflector and a scrim.  Subject on one side you get a high-key image, move to the other side and get a low-key image.

He also wrote a booklet about Do-It-Yourself scrims, reflectors and flash modifiers using schedule 40 PVC pipe called Tinker Tubes.  I have seen this booklet on the web, but it is copyrighted work so please do not download it illegally.  There are plenty of copy-cat productions on the web like this, but Dean’s designs are better, in my opinion.

It is well worth your time to watch more of his presentations, especially if you are trying to learn lighting and exposure.