Do you edit your images or do you leave them as pure as they came out the camera?
Questions like this appear on film discussions group on Internet photography sites like Flickr from time to time and there is always a subset of people who respond with statements like “I don’t edit my images , I like them to be natural” or “I don’t edit. Its film, doesn’t quite seem right.”
In my opinion such “nouveau analogue purists” are naive and misguided. I don’t know if such people are recent converts from digital or have never been in a dark room but it is very apparent they don’t realize what goes into turning a negative into a photograph.
With negative film, if you don’t edit your negative, then all you have is a negative. When scanned, then there is a good chance that these photographers are posting images online that have already been edited in the scanner software/firmware. This is especially likely when the scanning is done at a commercial processing lab. Of course, it is possible to turn off all auto correction (or ask the lab for no correction) but not doing any processing is selling yourself short. You are not realizing the full potential of the negative.
When I talk about editing here, I am talking about dodge/burn/contrast – the same things you would control by time, enlarger aperture and selective exposure in a dark room.
Darkroom Way: make exposure based on time and adjust contrast via paper choice or filters in the enlarger.
Photoshop Way: Adjust exposure and contrast via the Levels control.
Darkroom Way: use hands, arms, bits of corn flakes boxes to hide or expose areas of the print during printing.
Photoshop Way: use a 50% grey fill layer, overlay mode and the brush to dodge or burn as required.
Yes the tools have changed, but the process is similar and the resulting image is better than doing nothing to the negative.
Now, it is everybody’s prerogative to post what they like. But the negative contains a lot of information. It is shame to see so many flat and dull photographs on the Internet that could have easily been made into something decent if only those nouveau analogue purists knew a little more about the process of making a photograph.