Why Street Photographers Should Print in the Darkroom

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Eric’s Note: This article is by Trevor Marczylo, a street photographer based out of Winnipeg. He is actually heading out to Korea soon, so after reading this article, make sure to wish him a safe trip!

Trevor: The other night I stayed up until 5am printing. I was working on this one shot that took me about 4 tries to get right; burn here, dodge there. I couldn’t stop till I had just the right print. In this digital age where I could achieve what I want on my Mac in just 5 minutes, why should street photographers continue to print black and white in the darkroom? Read more and find out!

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The photo I was working on all night

Let me explain by blabbing a little about this question I was asked recently by a fellow photographer:

“Why don’t you just shoot digital and use Photoshop and save the trouble of printing and developing film and cut down on costs?”

Well, my answer to that was pretty simple.

I feel that making an image using Photoshop doesn’t even come close to making a print in the darkroom.

One of the beauties of creating an image in the darkroom is that each print is unique. When you use Photoshop, it shows you all of the past actions, such as burning, dodging.

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One of the challenges of working in the darkroom is that you can’t see the changes happening in the moment of burning and dodging or if the exposure is too dark or too light. You are only relying on your experience/intuition and knowledge of your craft and which is sometimes is just plain old luck. Once you move that photo paper from the enlarger and put it in the developer there’s no going back. you can’t just go back one step or erase the last few steps like you can in Photoshop. you have to start from scratch in the darkroom.

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Now please don’t get me wrong, there are photographers who do some very very amazing work in today’s digital world obviously and obviously using Photoshop. Yes, it all comes down to the same idea of producing an image that we are all happy with in the end. Right? Right.

But everything is so rush rush rush in today’s world: get the shots, get it out quick to make that quick buck.

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Not too many people consider the post work before they shoot and to savour each frame. Because we can easily fix/hide or mistakes with the tools we now have, which isn’t a bad thing indeed.

We all have to make a living. I’m just saying.

I guess the question is: Does digital  make us better photographers and allow us to learn from our mistakes? I beg to disagree. I think that shooting digital allows us to be lazy with the thought of simply fixing our mistakes afterwards.

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I feel that many film photographers who have switched to digital photography has lost that true touch and passion for what they do and how they shoot because of the added convenience of technology. I know some photographers who created exceptional film work, but when looking at their digital work– it lacks. Perhaps it is because they are not as experienced with Photoshop as working for years in the darkroom? I’m not quite sure.

Nowadays the darkroom is a lost art and a thing of the past. Most modern photographers only start off knowing digital, which is really sad to say. It is easy to get rid of dust spots, crop a photo, brighten it, make layers, etc. Although modern technology has made post-processing our images easier without the stress, it has still taken away the magic of the process of developing in the darkroom.

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For me there is nothing more I’d want to do then just get my freshly shot film out and process it and relax in peace by printing in my darkroom.  There is nothing more exciting then seeing your image appear in front of you in the developer tray either the first time or 10,000th time over and over. It’s a feeling that well never get old. Trust me.

When I print in the darkroom I just chill listening to my favourite tunes, kicking it back and drinking bottomless cups of strong coffee. I’m sure you can do the same in front of your iMac… I’m not going to lie because I do as well.

Don’t feel pressured that you have to shoot film and that you have to print in the darkroom. However if you have never experienced it first-hand, I suggest you to try it out sometime!


Trevor Marczylo

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Trevor is a full-time freelance photographer who currently makes his living selling prints. If you would be interested in purchasing a print, contact him at trevor@trevormarczylo.com. Also check out his links below!

What have your experiences been printing in a darkroom versus post-processing digitally? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below! 

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  • tsb

    poorly written. personal opinion plus writing as you think doesn’t really make a good piece, trevor. formulate your thoughts first. please.

    finally, i think there are pros and cons to printing vs digital manipulation. how many years did you take to become good at working in the darkroom? how much time spent? you mention that some excellent film photographers dont take good digital photographs. what about the other way around? excellent digital photographers that dont take good film photograph.

    while i respect your preference for darkroom processing, blank statements such as in this title are really not helpful for beginning street photographers, or for hobbyists.

    good luck in korea. hope you can make some great photographs; may it be film or digital.

    • Derek

      really? obviously, from reading the title you’re going to realize that this is an opinion piece – not something explicitly educational. in my personal opinion, i think it’s refreshing to hear another’s point of view and to gain insight into their creative process. perhaps you should spend less time criticizing the hard work of another photographer/blogger – cowardly hiding behind your initials – and more time making some photographs.

  • Tatiana

    I would love to know what’s wrong with the personal opinion in this article? It’s his perspective on something subjective, and i repeat, subjective. It’s an opinion article so i don’t see the point on that remark made by the previous poster. But I have to agree on the other hand with the “blank statement” part a bit: I think this article fails a bit answering the “why” and at the same time excluding other photographers besides streettogs. I mean, spending 5h watching the image reveal in front of you ain’t the only advantage of developing your own film stuff. Sure it’s fun and exciting, but what about the rest? And why specially streettogs when probably any kind of photographer would benefit from the experience?

    Anywho, i’ve been thinking about doing my own prints for awhile. Right now i’m just trying to figure out how and where to build up my darkroom. That would be an interesting article to have on this blog.

  • http://silentxpression.wordpress.com/ Simon Wallerstedt

    Good post! I started in digital, but switched to film a while ago. In a couple of months I’m moving to a bigger apartment, and hope to do some darkroom printing. A friend has given me an enlarger and some darkroom stuff. Can’t wait to try it finally. :)

  • Lisathebrit

    My digital photography is far better than my film photography, which is I believe is partly to do with finding my way around a rangefinder after only using slr’s… but I believe shooting, developing and printing my own film will make me a better photographer. Plus nothing beats walking out of my makeshift darkroom in the early hour of the morning with a print that I am finally happy with.

  • Notnard

    Now is a great time to shoot film. You can still get some fantastic used cameras and lenses real cheap. A friend of mine went digital and just gave me his complete darkroom. With film you just concentrate on making pictures with digital you’re constantly chasing upgrades in both cameras and software.

  • Alma1031

    I couldn’t agree more… I always say that printing vs digital is very much like the difference between giving birth and adopting. Nothing wrong with either one but printing is a process that takes alot out of you but the benefits are amazing.

  • Herb Kanner

    The trouble is, before I went completely digital, I switched from B&W to color. After a while, I got skilled at viewing a print whose color was off through the Kodak viewing filters and readjusting the knobs on my color head. Almost always, my second try was right on. Rarely was a third try needed. And, developing in total darkness, I did not get to see the print coming up in the tray. Dodging was only rarely done. So, it’s not surprising that at one time I burnt out and left film undeveloped and quit photography until I switched to digital. Now, I process RAW images in Lightroom.

  • John Kim

    Sometimes I asked myself “Am I really really busy so that I just don’t have time to deal with old school photography?’ If someone is really busy so that they don’t even have time to eat & to go to bathroom, then they will not enjoy with digitial photography as well. Unless he/she has to submit his/her works by tomorrow as a professionals, why not just go experience old school photography? It is definately matters of personal priorities and preferences. I think Trevor’s point is that “I like analog photography. This is what I like to do. Why don’t you guys try it someday?” That’s it! It is not too late to make a decision which one is better for you after you taste both. Anyway, I believe more experience will give me more in the end. I will figure out that which one works for me. Photography helps me understand who I am in some way. At least it will teach me that one way will not work for me. I just consider old school photography is one part of my journey.

    Thanks Trevor for sharing your experience and idea! :)

  • Dacoit

    One theme I see in these “nothing like film” threads is that film forces you to spend your time on shot selection, preparation, development, etc. Well, you can do all of that with even a modicum of discipline with a DSLR. You can’t chimp with a film camera, true. But I don’t chimp with my DSLR. Going out with a few rolls of film forces you to be selective with the 100 or so shots you have to take. But do you really need to be forced? I feel like it, I can go out with my DSLR, and say, “Okay, I’m going to take 100 shots today and that’s it. Let’s make them count.” It’s not that hard, really.

    You don’t need to shoot film to spend your time processing, savoring the moment. I can spend hours working on images – or just one image in LightRoom. It’s my choice; I don’t need to have a darkroom to focus on an image. Eric posted an article a few weeks back in favor of film shooting. He said that one of the advantages of shooting film is that you DON’T need to spend a lot of time processing!

    Notnard’s post says with digital you’re constantly chasing upgrades, but with film you just concentrate on taking pictures.

    My experience indicates otherwise. My whole life I have known film photographers (some of them relatives) chasing lenses, or bodies that have gone out of production. Some fight over film that is going out of production. Same gearhead mentality, just different gear. Digital cycles more quickly, but so what? You can just choose not to chase upgrades and gear. It’s not that hard, really.

    Maybe there is a zen in spending 5 hours in a dark room, and it’s not just the fumes. I don’t know, because I haven’t done it much. (But then again, Cartier-Bresson wasn’t much of a darkroom wizard, either.)

    I do think it is good to encourage photographers to try things they have not tried. That’s good. I like to read that, and in particular I like to read about what people enjoy. I took my Pentax Spotmatic with me on a trip last week, and it was fun to experience the feel of that wonderful camera again.

    But the so-superior tone that comes film fans is just getting tiresome. It’s be interesting to see a point-counterpoint on the film v digital debate by two good photographers who shoot both.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=666705838 Gary Gumanow

      Different processes.

      Not one better than the other. I love the process of not looking at my film for six months. I can forget about the excitement of what was happening when I took the shot.

      Better, probably not. For someone learning waiting that long could waste a lot more film repeating the same mistakes over and over.

      HCB could afford hiring someone to print his stuff.

      Not superior, just different. I prefer the film/print process, that’s all.

  • Juanm Casillas


  • http://flickr.com/juanmcasillas/ Juan M. Casillas

    Hi to everybody

    I do what Erik says in the post, that is, develop my own film in the darkroom. It puts another degree of control (and somewhat freedom) in the whole process, and “closes the loop”. The whole process become to life, and you need to think about the final result while you’re shooting. Sounds complicated, but it isn’t. The natural medium for street photography photos is the paper. Photos looks outstanding printed by yourself in a piece of paper :-)

  • Howardphotoj

    I shoot digital with my M8, film with my Hasselblad H1, but also use a digital back. I prefer the film, and would love to buy a M6, just don’t own my own darkroom. I love your work btw

  • http://twitter.com/jasonmartini Jason Martini

    good stuff! a photographer has not lived until they’ve spent time in a darkroom!!

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Definitely something I want to do in the near future!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=666705838 Gary Gumanow

    There is nothing like the magic of printing your photos in the darkroom…

    I’ve been in the darkroom since I was 8 years old. I took about 30 years off from photography and when I got back into it, I tried digital. I was amazed at how quick it was. I could see my photos instantly. It was okay, but I spent a lot of time on the computer making decisions of which ones to delete and which to save. I use a computer in my work and sitting on the computer more just felt like, well… work.

    On a vacation, my wife took my digital camera and started shooting with it and had a great time. I decided to blow the dust off my film cameras and start shooting with her. One thing led to another and I put my darkroom back together.

    Everything I do now is film and a print. Every photo I put online is a gelatin silver print. Not because I think it’s better, but because it is my process. Something that I truly love and enjoy. I not a slave to the computer, don’t have to do anything to my photos except scan them on my Epson RX500 All-in-one fax/printer/scanner/copier and post them online.

    Plus I’m shooting with all the film cameras I ever wanted. When I was 8 I wanted a Leica, Rolleiflex, and Hasselblad. Guess what? Thanks to all you digital shooters unloading your great gear, I can now afford them all. Ha Ha!!!

    The darkroom is the best man-cave ever!

  • jason gold

    it’s a hard road for me! using digital, i’ve learned many things, in spite of being a pro for 40+yrs..Yet i find much of my photography, lacks a certain “magic”. Seeing nearly all pros using either a Nikon D3/700 or Canon 1d/5DMk11, it must really be hard to do different! The same parameters, tools and in many cases a lack of “true” seeing an image. Darkroom is next on my list after a hiatus of about 4 years. Now retired, i will make time! The senses so alert as one shoots, thinking ahead to a print.

  • http://twitter.com/emmaespejo Emma

    I’ve been longing to shoot film for ever! I shoot some films now and then but in the end, I leave the film camera for special occasions when I know I’ll have the time enough to meter the light in my old camera, to be patient and crop exactly as I want, etc… Plus the money… must say that it’s too expensive for me to shoot ONLY film… I still have to find a lab and a place where to learn developing… but, to be honest, I’d LOVE ending being just a film photographer… ^^
    On the other hand I must thank the digital photography, it taught me a lot aout photography and it led me to the first steps of one of my definitions and passions. I don’t say “no” to digital… like everything, it has developed creating new ways of expression and even arts (there are some photographers who really do amazing jobs with Photoshop! A new whole photograph from combining a few images) but that is another kind of photography. I don’t like labelling but, right now, photography is not what we understand as Photography (or it is and we should give another name to its variants?) Digital and Film should be opposites, although as you say (from what you saw in your fellow photographers), they develop differently our photography skills.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wish you the best luck in your new adveture!! Have a good time in Korea!
    Keep up with your excellent work!! :)

  • http://www.jessefreidin.com/ Jesse Freidin

    Excellent article. Slowness, intention, and craftsmanship so easily get lost in the digital process. Traditional photography forces us to think completely for ourselves, be fully responsable for each image we create, and be 100% unique and original. For these reasons, I’ll always stick with film and create my images by hand.

  • Trevor

    Thanks for all the comments I’m sorry I couldn’t responed to them I have been busy with packing and moving. I just landed in Korea last night. So finally I’ve had time to respond to emails and now this.

    For those who enjoyed the read thanks for the kind words and understanding it’s just my thoughts and me just writing as I think.
    For the people who thought it’s poorly writen I’m sorry I was just blogging and writting, next time I’ll try to write an academic essay like I’m applying to get into yale or harvard.

  • Paul

    what type of photo paper would anyone here recommend?? plus, what are the recommended ways of storing negatives. i would also like to know how most people upload their photos.
    thank you!

    • http://www.stephendirado.com/ Stephen DiRado

      There are a number of 3 ring archival storage boxes out there that holds Printfile or negative file preservers containing your negs. Simply google archival storage boxes for film.

  • http://www.stephendirado.com/ Stephen DiRado

    I just found a print out copy of this article Why Street photographers Should… on my office desk in my Photography department at Clark U. and was cheering on the passion one finds working in the darkroom.

    I, for one, have never left it, and it has been 43 years. Yes, I have to work in digital but my art is still shooting with an 8×10, B&W and contact printing. Unlike digital, the negatives and prints are routinely labeled and filed away in archival boxes. Aside of the simplicity of dev negs in open trays– start to finish in 25 minutes, it is the printing that still holds the magic. There is something to be said about working with the same materials for decades. The intuition and time spent in the darkroom is devoted to the glory of making individual prints without the laborious effort to make repeated prints to create a master print. And like mentioned by this article, the security of solace;working alone in a whole room, secured from the rest of the world is more appreciated now than ever before.

    Stephen DiRado

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Thank you very much for your feedback Stephen! It is definitely the process and physical hands-on nature which I feel make working in the darkroom so magical.

      Keep up the great teaching at Clark U! :)


      • http://www.stephendirado.com/ Stephen DiRado

        Eric, our students LOVE the analog darkroom. I use inkjet prints to make handmade one of a kind books. Like the darkroom it is the physical labor, hands on that I love. Here is an example of one such book on Shane’s sight: http://www.shanelavalette.com/journal/2010/02/06/stephen-dirado-with-dad/

        • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

          Handmake books- even more personal! Incredible storytelling- and very touching project as well. Make me realize not to take my family for granted..

    • http://www.trevormarczylo.com/blog Trevor Marczylo

      Stephen awesome you kept to it after all these years!! and pretty neat you had a print out copy of this on your desk. It’s sad to see when so many of the oldschool guys lets just say… get rid of all there darkroom stuff like garbage and jump into digital without a thought like teeagers going from one trend to the next.:) Im out in korea for 6mos or so…. and Im missing the comfort of my darkroom and being able to lock myself away from the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=666705838 Gary Gumanow

    Everything you said I would have said myself. I print everything as well. The only computer work I do is put my prints on the flatbed scanner, dust and all, and scan it to load and share on flickr, facebook, or my website. I can’t even stand to scan my negatives.

  • Zero_Equals_Infinity

    Alright, so why not go hybrid, and by that I mean steampunk. Shoot digital, produce digital negatives and print in the darkroom using platinum / palladium or carbon printing, (both amazing 19th century printing methods.)

    I love digital for capturing the image, and Photoshop for the freedom to convert to monochrome in a way which was not possible in the past. (Try applying filtering selectively to different parts of the image.) Digital grants a tremendous creative potential, and a way to verify the initial shot to allow the opportunity to insure that the capture has what I need to realise my vision. If I screw up on a shot, I can do it again, (and learn in real time from my mistakes.) A Phase One IQ180 on a view camera is a landscape photographer’s dream. And then, into Photoshop for monochrome conversion, dodging, burning, retouching, etc and out onto some sheet film for contact printing on platinum / palladium or carbon. What is not to like? Beautiful tones, archival to the tune of > 1,000 years, each print unique.

    The darkroom is not dead, but it is a hybrid, bringing out the best of the new, through the best of the old.

  • Philatonian

    I don’t think one is better than the other. I grew up in a darkroom and love working with film. I exclusively use digital photography now because it’s inexpensive and unlimited. One thing I’ve noticed is that digital cameras have made the field of photography infinitely more competitive. When anyone can take a “good” picture on their camera, or an even better photo with an SLR, it’s very difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish professional work.

    But look what’s happened in the digital realm. For most people during the 35mm age, the ultimate goal for the perfect picture was to represent exactly what the eye could see. As soon as digital made that not only possible, but easy and cheap, the digital art world did a 180, creating surrealistic HDR prints, even Instagrams that would superimpose the imperfections that photographers spent more than a century trying to overcome.

    I had hoped that there would always be a place for film, that digital pixels could never surpass the quality of chemicals on paper. It seems now the only advantage of film to digital is philosophical, that you can’t create a truly perfect picturing using film, and its natural imperfections are what make it artistically more unique.