Next summer at the Trout Museum of Art, I'm going to teach four sessions of a pinhole class where the participants will build a 120 Populist and expose a roll of film. It will be processed before the next day's session by the only lab in the Fox Valley, which happens to be just across the street. I thought that having physical prints made would have more impact and let the participants get a look at them and evaluate their camera work without the distraction of a digital device. The commercial automatic print process is designed to give the masses snapshots done with Instamatics that only had a single aperture and shutter speed. It should produce a reasonable print from almost any negative.
I've never had automatic prints made directly from pinhole negatives before. To find out what they're like, I exposed a roll of Ektar 100 in Goldberry (She had been loaded up for the trip to Massachussets, but there wasn't enough room in my backpack.) The lab made 4x4 inch prints. On reflection, they're OK, but initially I was pretty disappointed.
It's made me aware of how critical editing is in photography. In the past we would have just called it print making. When I read people proudly state that their images are completely unmanipulated, I always think they just don't have enough respect for their negatives to polish them up. Maybe they have perfect negatives. Everybody deifies Ansel Adams and he was very public about how much he manipulated prints. The manipulations I do are analagous to what I used to do in the darkroom, except I could never afford to do it in color. It took mental skill, like deciding on filter packs and development, and physical skill, like burning and dodging and bringing out detail in highlights by holding your warm hand against them in the developer.
I'm not adding anything or combining images. I'm only working to bring out what I think is there in the negative. I'm really impressed by film lately in capturing the subtleties of color and light. I never do any sharpening or unsharp masking.
Doing this well in software requires a bit of skill. My first version of Photoshop was v0.87. There are some basics, like extending the tones to the full print range, that anyone can learn quickly.
The Levels Tool with it's histogram of density is like a test strip of the whole negative but with more choices. The first Photoshop workshop I took was taught by a guy I had known in college who was insistent that no one really serious uses Brightness and Contrast instead of Levels. but for me it's a useful supplement, almost always to increase contrast. Most negatives require Color Balance, but the pictures below are Ektar 100 in daylight processed by a commercial lab, so job done. I continually Burn and Dodge manipulating the brush size, range and intensity, always with the 100% softness brush setting.
The lab prints don't seem to have any dust spots. With my scans, dust is a real problem. I hate dust removal filters. They remind me of the way bipolar people describe mood stabilizers. It takes care of the worst problems but they make you feel a little blurry. (Kind of a funny statement from a pinhole photographer.) All the microscopic dust is retouched with the Clone tool in the 200% view. It's tedious but I get into kind of a shop yoga state. And besides, I really want to see the absolutely clean picture. I think of every picture as a very large print.
Later on I'll show a comparison of the automatic prints to the edited versions, but first, the test images in all their finished full-resolution glory, from my scans. In almost all of them, the initial preview scan was adjusted to make them darker. I didn't compare them to the lab prints when I was doing this,
The morning light through the front windows on the pumpkin lady with her white head and black dress and the crow in the shadow would be a good test. Her face is overexposed and the shadows are competely blank.