Lately I’ve spending a fair bit of time learning how to develop digital photos. Like many folk I had assumed that once the images were loaded from the digital camera onto the computer, the photographic process was pretty much over. Then it was just a matter of choosing images and either mailing them, uploading them (e.g., to Flickr), or sending them off to a printer.
How wrong I was.
With film, images had to be developed, into negatives and then prints. The images that come straight off a digital camera (especially if you shoot in jpg format) are ready to go, in a sense.
But, developing with film was never just about rendering the image in a usable form. At the processing stage a lot could be done, to crop the image for better composition, to adjust the colour balance and compensate for the exposure, either across the whole image or in selective parts of the image. Chase Jarvis posted an image, on his blog, from photographer Richard Avedon with the instructions he gave to lab technician on how he wanted the image to be developed.
Moreover, each brand and type of film brought something to the final image, in terms of colours, grain and light balance. I think that’s part of why there is such a trend now towards Lomography and iPhone apps like Hipstamatic. There’s something about straight from the camera digital shots that can look very clean and clinical.
My workflow for developing images is pretty simple (perhaps appropriately so). I check white balance and overall exposure and adjust the light curve, fill light and recovery. Then I clean up any major dust marks and look for small enhancements in exposure (maybe adding more light to someone’s face, or dropping down the brightness of the background sky). I like to add some vignette to pictures (darkened corners), especially if they have been cropped.
One thing I try to avoid is aggressively boosting colours. Having grown up watching my father adjust televisions, I’ve learnt that hyped colours soon lose their appeal. A lot of photographs I see on the web from amatuer photographers have really aggressive colours that sometimes kill the interest (and dull the light and shade in the image).
Anyway, this is all a steep and challenging learning curve for me. There’s still plenty more to learn. Below are a few images that apply some of these ideas and concepts.
Click on photos to enlarge