How different a photo can look from basic scanning to printing a copy of it in the darkroom

I suppose it’s quite obvious that there will be differences in a photo from being scanned onto a computer compared to if you print a copy of it in the darkroom.

I really noticed a difference in the contrast in a couple of my photos this week that I’d originally scanned using my Epson V600 scanner and then developed copies in the darkroom.

These photos were taken using my Hasselblad 500 C/M Camera and Ilford Delta 400 film.

The first image was of a close up of a tombstone in the shape of a cross with a tree in the background. Here is the original image that I scanned on my Epson V600 scanner:

I didn’t tweak the original scan as I was happy with the original exposure. As you can see, it isn’t high in contrast and there are many subtle shades of grey which is what I would have expected from the Ilford Delta 400 film.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I decided to print an enlargement in the darkroom but I was surprised by how different the contrast and tones were:

I cropped the photo slightly as I wanted more focus on the tombstone and tree and I felt the extra detail on the right hand side of more trees took attention away from this. The biggest difference I noted though was how much darker the trees and shadow detail were. Also, the grass, tombstones and background detail were left with really nice shades of grey.

I next decided to do an enlargement of a tree image I’d taken on the same roll of film with the sun shining through the trees. I was keen to see how this would look in a print. Here is the original photo I scanned on my Epson V600 scanner:

I made no amendments to this photo at the scanning stage as I was happy with the exposure. As before, the photo consists of various shades of grey with no real contrast.

Here is the same image which I printed in the darkroom:

Once again, I cropped the image, this time on the left hand side because I wanted more focus on the two big trees with the sun shining through. You’ll notice that the greys are much darker on this print compared to the original scan. I’ve also lost the grey detail from the sky which was in the original scan. This gives the image a lot more contrast.

I used Ilford chemicals to develop both prints and also Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe Pearl 8×10 paper. I exposed both images for 1 minute and I didn’t use any contrast filters.

Personally I prefer the darkroom prints over the original scanned images. I’m very keen on contrast in my photos as I feel this adds to the dramatic effect I wanted to achieve in these particular images I took.

Perhaps I could have achieved this effect too on the scanner by changing the contrast but I am just surprised by how different they look in print.

I’m very grateful to have access to a darkroom and I get so much satisfaction in seeing my images almost come to life in print instead of just looking at them on the screen.

I’ve also enjoyed messing about cropping my images to see how different it can make my photo look.

Needless to say, there are many more prints that I now want to develop in the darkroom to see how different they look compared to my original scanned images.

Lastly, the darkroom prints have also been scanned onto the computer using my Epson V600 scanner and they look the same as the actual print.

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25 thoughts on “How different a photo can look from basic scanning to printing a copy of it in the darkroom

  1. Personally I prefer to use darkroom prints rather than direct scans of the negatives, as the scanner automatically try to give a average exposure for the whole strip. Unfortunately I still have not got around to setting up a darkroom, so the Epson it has to be. 😦

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  2. Your Hasselblad looks in really good condition. It’s a long time since I have printed in the darkroom, I found darkroom prints less sensitive to dust on the negs (fortunately) and better with some tones. When you scan do import the image into Photoshop ?

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  3. Fantastic blog idea! And a timely topic too. I see many discussions about darkroom vs. digital film images and am currently working on a similar blog. I think that it’s certainly worth comparing but hope that the topic doesn’t divide the film community. I belonged to a darkroom group for a bit but eventually left as there were a vocal minority who had no respect whatsoever for digitizing film as a final product. On the opposite side of the spectrum are new/young shooters who have been turned onto film but have never had access to a darkroom, even in school and do not understand its value. For me, I couldn’t generate work as a wedding/event photographer by making optical prints of all my images. Digitizing film is integral to modern delivery and distribution. Digitizing film, keeps film a viable medium. People often forget that Photoshop was invented to edit film-originated images, not pure digital ones. And that much digital imaging technology was even invented for the purpose of supporting film. Understanding these relationships is key to getting over the whole digital vs. film argument. I am amazed at the dedication and craftsmanship involved in creating a high quality optical print but I believe that hybrid shooters bring much to the photographic community as well. Thanks again for the terrific blog and beautiful example images.

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    • This is a great point that I think is lost on many, about PS initially being used to edit film images. While nothing beats the feeling of working in a darkroom and seeing your photos come to life on paper, I do not understand the position that some people take about not digitizing film. I like the idea of embracing both.

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  4. I’m not a huge fan of the Epson scanners in general, but I think I prefer the lower-contrast Epson scans myself, because you can see more detail! I can see where you’re coming from though, the darker images have a bit more moodiness to them. That of course can always be changed in the darkroom using a different filter or manipulating your exposure time. As far as the scans, especially with black & white, it’s preferable to get flatter scans that do preserve all that detail, then dig into the image in Photoshop or something else to get it looking the way you want. I hope you don’t mind, I took your Epson scan and darkened it up a bit so it looks a lot closer to your optical print:

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      • Yes, and all I really did was to open up a curves layer and darken the image. Just scanning your film shouldn’t give you the final image, it should give you all the information so that you can *make* your final image πŸ˜‰ Then the post processing comes in…

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