How Photos Were Edited in the Darkroom Days

How Photos Were Edited in the Darkroom Days

Years ago the only way to print a photo was to make test strips, make a test print, go back and dodge and burn details, make more test strips, another test print and so on and so on until you got the result you were after. In these photos released by Magnum Photos in New York, you can get a closer look at the process followed by their master printer, Pablo Inirio.

Magnum photos before and after muhammed ali fstoppers

As shown in the photos, Pablo makes his test prints, makes his decisions about how the final print should look, and then makes himself notes on the photo for how he'll make the final print. Kinda makes you re-think getting it right in camera no?

Magnum Photos before and after audrey hepburn fstoppers

Magnum Before and After James Dean Fstoppers

Magnum photos before and after pablo inirio fstoppers

Pablo Inirio in his lab.

[Via Gizmodo]

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Patryk M's picture

I have respect for these pro's

It's cool, but I thought "a closer look" would at least imply that I could click on these thumbs and read the notes.

hit the Gizmodo link at the end of the article here :)

Spy Black's picture

I'll assume that's an old photo of Pablo "back in the day". I used to do professional darkroom work as well, only I worked with Ektachrome duplicating film, making of course duplicate transparencies, but also photo-composites. I worked with 4x5, 8x10, and even 11x14 enlargers(!). I can't quite pin down that light head on his Omega enlargers, I used standard "Chromega" dichroic heads, as well as a filtered condenser head for high contrast duplication/compositing. Quite a different world working with a tangible medium. Ah, the analog days:

I think he is their master printer now? He's just younger than you might assume given his work.

Spy Black's picture

OK, I thought this was a historical article.

Looking at the phone on the wall I don't think so. This is fairly recent.

Andrew Link's picture

The photo of Pablo is dated Jun 4, 2009

Spy Black's picture

I thought this was about an old school printer, being as this fellow is fairly young, I thought it had to be an old shot of him.

that´s the way to work ;) ... <3 it

I am so thankful for digital. My back hurts just remembering the hours hunched over an enlarger.

Thank You for this. I'm really starting to change my opinion about modern post processing. I still won't go to Photoshop but I feel ok about most of what I do in Lightroom. That's my personal "bar" I guess. shrug..

Both Lightroom and Photoshop are photo editing systems that do much the same thing. I don't see where you are drawing your line.

I think that superduckz refers to the heavy retouching that is sometimes applied in PS.

Compositing, layers of adjustments, Layers with blend modes, layers with opacity, masking, many more filters than Lightroom for starters. Photoshop is much more powerful than Lightroom is today. Lightroom offers a little more than ACR, and with plugins from Nik and On One. I have both an rarely use Lightroom, to me Lightroom is more asset management, with some simple post processing capabilities. If you're a purist, i.e. one who believes that everything should take place at the time of capture with filters, lights, light modifiers. Then Lightroom is perfect for you. If you want freedom to be as creative as you want then Photoshop is more likely the way to go to get every last bit of detail, tonality, and even to venture into compositing, manual blending of brackets instead of having to use HDR software like Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro. Not that there's anything wrong with the purist approach, its just limiting in my mind. I personally do understand why you'd want to limit your options, but like I just said if that's for you totally cool, enjoy.

Nicholas Hrycun's picture

So really nothing has changed. Talent is required and the right tools are needed.


you've never printed on paper. yes? try it. try producing just one perfect print that requires dodging and/or burning.

then do another exactly the same. until you have the 10 or 20 needed.

after a few days see if you haven't changed your opinion

That is brilliant!

Not a single one bastardized with HDR. Marvelous.

Let us not forget that using Photoshop to digitally edit photography didn't really happen until after the millennium. So almost everything was still done in the dark room until you could shoot a photo digitally. Otherwise you would have to scan an already printed photo and edit it...which didn't make sense. So YES...this photo of him is not that old, but only because photography was still done this way until only recently. That phone was most certainly around "back then".

stan chung's picture

Not true, I did scan negs & slides before the millennium to edit in PS. There were digital scanners for slides and negs from the likes of Nikon, UMAX etc.

True...but that was rare probably for a good portion of the population. My point is that people are trying to say that the photo taken of Inirio is not old enough to be accurate.

Not /that/ recent. I was playing with Photoshop alternatives in the mid-90's doing exactly that - digitally manipulating photos that, I would imagine, originated from film. If you do a 'net search for the file name "cloner.lha" it has some playing I did back in the day with Corel PhotoCD images :)

Cool. Again...probably a fairly rare thing except for those starting to get into the computer end of things. I guess I was getting too particular in my words. Basically what I was trying to say is that many on here are probably of the younger generation and think that the photo of the man above is current when it could have been taken in the mid-to-late 90s or just after the millennium when traditional processing was still the norm for photographers who weren't into digital programs yet.

Regardless, it was definitely an art of precision and timing. We are lucky to have a "step backward" or "revert" option, where in the darkroom you might have to start all-over again!

Spy Black's picture

Actually, back in the 90s large dedicated workstations like Quantel
Paintbox, Shima Seikki, Barco Creator (running on SGIs), and other
workstations from Scitex, Hell, and Crossfield were the only way to
retouch high resolution image files. These were all
miniframe-computer-based systems that cost tens to hundreds of thousands
of dollars. Microframe systems (Macs and PCs) were for the most part
incapable of working with hi res files at the early part of the 90s. Images were scanned
on drum scanners and output to 9-track open reel tapes, imported into
and retouched on one these workstations, and output back to tape for
output to transparency film on high resolution film recorders like Kodak
LVTs and Cymbolic Sciences Lightjets. Chances are pretty good most of
you have never heard of most (if any) of this stuff.

As the 90s progressed that changed of course, and by the end of the decade Macs, and especially PCs, were quite capable of handling hi res image files (which
were still scanned from film to hi res tiffs). By that time direct to press printing was becoming the norm.

Motion Film tools have changed but it's still about a great story
Music production tools have changed but it's still about a great song
Photography tools have changed but it's still about a great picture

I've done this, breathed in the toxic fumes, and ruined my clothes, manually, analogue, whatever one calls it and it's fun and educational, but we mustn't get nostalgic and think "Ah the good old days", we live in incredible times and I can guarantee you, that whatever medium artists in the past had worked in, a huge percentage would have RUN to use what we have today.


I'm doing all this now (not to this degree because I suck) in my college film photography class. It's fun enough that I don't consider it a class.

I love this. A lot of old timers like to pretend that photoshoping didn't exist in their day.

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