Photographers of a bygone era would definitely argue that this generation of photo professionals is spoiled, but just how spoiled are we? I mean, many of the fixes that I apply in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop (or the modifications I make with Nik) often take only a few seconds and require very little thought. And if I mess up? No problem, a simple keystroke and all of my edits are reversed. It’s so simple, in fact, that it leads you to wonder just how people got by before this software was available.
These are a few darkroom proofs that PetaPixel dug up that show just how much thought had to go into some of the most iconic black and white photographs ever taken.
In the professional darkroom process, negative film is typically exposed evenly and the resulting image is reviewed, sometimes by the photographer and other times by a committee. Any exposure edits are then annotated on the proof and cutouts—or “masks”—are made out of an opaque surface like cardboard or card stock.
The exposure process is then repeated while only exposing certain portions of the photo at a time. If you get the result you hoped for, great! If not, it’s back to annotating and hoping that you can better achieve the look you were going for the second time around.
If you’re more of a visual learner, the following video does a good job (despite being hastily recorded) of explaining the masking process and how it benefits the final image.