We know: this sounds like sacrilege. But we believe there are a number of good reasons why the digital darkroom is actually better than the traditional wet darkroom.
1. Images are safer
In 1945, Robert Capa traveled to London after photographing the historic D-Day landings. He had taken 106 images, but sadly only 11 images survived, not because they were lost in action, but because of an accident in a London-based photo lab.
Of course, in a digital age, files and memory cards can sometimes become corrupt, which might result in the same problem. But once images have been imported into Photoshop, there is far less chance that something will go wrong resulting in you losing the majority of your work. In the wet darkroom, there is a lot more that can easily go wrong if the development process isn’t followed correctly.
The digital darkroom is far more intuitive to use than the wet darkroom. Walk into a traditional darkroom and look around; unless you have researched the tools and equipment previously or someone has explained it to you, you wouldn’t have a clue about what to do or how to develop a shot.
Open up Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture, however, and you’ll find it far easier to make your way around; options are labelled simply, icons make it obvious which tool does what, and you can learn by trial and error without having to worry about destroying or damaging the image, which brings us to the next reason…
3. You can afford to experiment
Photoshop grants you more opportunity to experiment with editing your images. You don’t have to worry about losing an image forever, never to be recovered, unless, of course, you save over the original image.
In the digital darkroom you can apply all sorts of effects to an image, and it won’t cost you anything in equipment.
4. Much quicker to produce images
It’s much, much quicker to upload your images to your computer, open them up in Photoshop, and then print them off from your home printer than it is to develop your images in the wet darkroom.
5. You need far less equipment
In the digital darkroom, you need a computer, a power supply, a digital camera, a memory card and your choice of photo editing software.
Now think about what you need for the wet darkroom: a negative, a cosmetic pad, rubbing alcohol, a light tight room that is well ventilated, running water, safe light, trays for chemicals, paper easel, timer, drying rack or clothes line and pegs, emulsion paper, chemical storage bottles, chemicals… you get the idea.
6. You can apply a technique to multiple images
If you like a look that you have achieved by editing an image in the digital darkroom, you can easily save the settings you’ve used and apply this ‘action’ to multiple images to give them all the same look.
In the wet darkroom, this is far more difficult to achieve. You would have to remember everything you did and every step you took in order to apply an effect to one image, which would be difficult to do. Apart from that, recreating the same look for every image would be far more time-consuming.
How many people do you know who have access to a wet darkroom? How many people do you know who have access to the digital darkroom? Now with Adobe Creative programs available on the cloud as a subscription service instead of requiring a large payment upfront, the majority of people have more access to the digital darkroom than ever before.
Which would get your vote? The digital darkroom or the wet darkroom? As always, tell us in the comments.