Why Street Photographers Should Print in the Darkroom

Darkroom printing by Trevor

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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