Ford Lowcock is a Professor of Photography at Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, California teaching everything from beginning 4x5 and studio lighting techniques, to advanced studio work using professional digital capture backs, to zone system, to portfolio development and business practices. He has had his personal work collected by GTE, Corp., Citibank Corp., City of Austin, Photography Collection at UT Austin, City of Los Angeles, and others. Ford also still provides commercial work to a few select clients, but is currently concentrating on a personal project of Northern California and is excited about the results from testing various labs for controlling the digital file for output onto Ilfochrome and Fuji's Crystal Archive, super gloss printing materials.
|The Importance of the Darkroom In Photographic Education|
Ask The Experts
I am a visual artist living in Louisville Kentucky working on a concept to take the "gift" of photography to the streets. I have experience with SLR cameras and traditional darkroom processes in black and white, but would like to expand my knowledge to the realm of digital without being completely overwhelmed by the complex technical breadth of it. I need information about the supplies I would need to carry out my vision of photographing people anywhere and everywhere and being able to provide them with a print right there on the spot as a return "gift" for allowing me the privilege of photographing them and learning about them. Once I have the right supplies and have learned how to use them I would like to compose a body of work for display in the neighborhoods I have been photographing people (taking the art to them). Thank you for your time and expertise! Sincerely, Nikki
Hello Nikki. Since you have stated that you are familiar with 35mm SLR cameras, then you should already have a good working knowledge of what type of digital SLR you are looking for. SLR's are SLR's and so are the accompanying lenses. The problem is, you will have to sit down and learn how to set-up the digital camera's parameters. The most important issues are ISO, Adobe RGB and not sRGB, saturation, amount of camera added sharpness, contrast and the file format that you wish to save the image as. I would recommend that you use RAW, because you are a visual artist and would probably wish to maintain the highest level of image quality and interpretation as you bring the image file into Photoshop. You will find that the DSLR camera works just like the film version. I also recommend that you turn off the review screen while shooting. Your subjects are non-stopping people on the street. You should not be concerned with immediate review with each and every image, simply because you will be distracted and will miss some wonderful picture opportunities. Digital cameras are much more sensitive to electrical feedback from an on-board flash, so you will have to also purchase a flash that is designed for the camera body you choose. I have had a few students who purchased a very small battery operated printer like the Canon SELPHY CP600. The quality of the printers they had were just excellent. We were out tent camping on a school field trip and they shoot digital, then at night they printed out a few prints in the campground. You could easily do the same thing on the street. The printer does up to 4x6" prints in about 1.5 minutes. With the change into digital, you will have to seek out some short workshops in your area to begin learning what you need to know about how to control the image, or at the very least, the differences between film and digital images. You may wish to find a local lab that would provide you the service of converting RAW to an image that pleases your color, contrast, sharpness and darkness/lightness palette. You will have to "train" them to your taste, but if you have been working with a lab there, you may not if they can also provide you with digital conversion services as well. Good luck Nikki. I am very sure that after a short time you will become very comfortable with the new media.
Dear Ford, What is your favorite BW film? What camera do you use the most for your work? (which by the way is FANTASTIC!!!) Thanks in advance for your help! Debbie
Hello Debbie, I probably use more T-Max 100 than any other BW film. Thank you for your comment about my work. I use primarily the Kanham metal 4x5 view camera.
Hi, I am a Catholic high school photography teacher who is on the fence. This year, my students have experienced difficulty finding 35mm SLR cameras to use for our course. Should I take this experience as a sign to move completely to digital photography? Background: I have been teaching a hybrid course for the last 3.5 years. We shoot on film, develop traditionally, scan into Photoshop using a Nikon Coolscan and print on a HP Photosmart Pro B9180. Although we have traditional darkroom equipment, we lost the darkroom space when we moved to a new campus in 2005. The students have not experienced wet process prints since this move. My dilemma: My students enjoy the aha! moment when the film they have decidedly exposed, carefully rolled, and tenderly processed works out to any result: either gaining only 3 good images or an entire roll full of good images. I dont know if they would have the same experience of crafting their artwork if we adopted a full digital format. I feel the industry pushing me towards all digital - but will the students still have an opportunity to create? Thank you for your time, Jennifer
Hello Jennifer. We have been having our own struggles with this very same issue. Right now we still require our basic black white darkroom class as a prerequisite for the rest of the program. Being at the college level does put us in a slightly different place than you in a high school setting. We recommend to our our students to purchase a used film camera for under $200, if they are unable to borrow one from a family member. We have a few camera stores in our area that deal with used equipment. We have also purchased some 18 Nikon FM-10s with only 50mm lenses that can be checked-out for assignments, if the student is financially unable to buy a camera. We have had many photographers call wanting to donate old equipment as well. I am wondering if you are able to send out an email blast through your administrators to all parents asking for old camera donations? My local high school where we live regularly sends out email blasts for many different reasons, why not for donations? We do believe, like you, in the fact that photography is truly best learned in the dark. I personal love film and fight for this road in our educational system here. It is faster, cheaper and easier for each student to comprehend what the camera controls are doing. It also forces them to look at the images they take for several hours as they learn how to make a print. They are teaching themselves composition just by the fact that many times, they admit to themselves Im tired of looking at this picture. Meaning, it doesnt turn them on visually. In digital, I find that a beginning photographer will make some 10 exposures of the same subject that are nearly identical to each other. They assume to themselves that one of them has to be great. They also assume that a single print-out on their home inkjet creates the perfect print, because they like what they see on the monitor. They do not take the time to learn what a good image is (visually) and do not understand what makes a great print. In digital, in the beginning, there are too many assumptions and the digital actually is harder to understand because of all these assumptions. This does not even begin to approach the importance of camera parameter settings or how to correctly process the RAW and what all the numbers mean. We have all digital classes and are getting ready to introduce a new fundamental digital shooting and printing class next fall. It will be conducted as close as possible to how we teach our basic black white printing class, so that the student will be learning how to make test prints and what the camera controls really do to the image. They will be forced to work with a single image for a time to achieve a great print. Our clients are our students. They want digital to be taught. Fact is, they really dont understand how important the wet darkroom is to learning the fundamentals of photography and good printmaking. We, as teachers do understand this, but how do we get the beginning student to understand this without chasing them away? I wish I had a perfect solution to your question and to your situation Jennifer, but I dont. Since you have lost your space for a wet darkroom, maybe creating a non-credit class with your local community college for your high school student to take for 6-weeks on Saturdayâ€™s is a solution for now? I do hope this helps, at least a little bit. Let me know the solution you do come up with. It may help someone else very soon.
Ask a Question!