The Digital Darkroom – How Much is Too Much?

“Owing to an inherently mechanical nature, a camera (be it film or digital) essentially produces raw images that, on their own, are rarely able to adequately communicate the enigmatic complexities and expressive nuances of a subsequently crafted fine art photograph. Post-camera image manipulation has always been a basic tenant of the photography process.”

That’s how Huntington Witherill started his article ‘Beyond the Camera’ in the November 2018 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine. It caught my attention immediately! I enjoy reading Outdoor Photographer and have used information from its wonderful articles in previous posts. In the article, Witherill describes the time he got to visually inspect an original 8 x 10 inch negative produced by Edward Weston circa 1930. The negative had “…what appeared to be a considerable amount of pencil scrawling on the emulsion side …” Kim Weston, Edward’s grandson, explained that “…Edward had often used very soft pencils (and a small light-table…) in order to build density in chosen areas of his negatives…” After this experience, Witherill realized that what he refers to as ‘post-camera image management techniques’ “…comprise not only a significant part of the overall photographic process but also, in many respects, the very essence of photography technique.” He continued, “…post-camera image management techniques are a necessary and integral part of the overall photography process.”

Witherill talks about having a strong foundation in “…photography technique and craft…” to take what one sees, combined with knowledge of what a camera can record, and create a finished visual record. His process begins with knowing your equipment so you can start with a strong foundation (what I would call the best exposure) to build on using post-camera tools and techniques. The article talks about artistic expression and making the image say what the photographer wants it to say.

In the several years since I’ve been pursuing photography seriously, I’ve had similar discussions with my friends and mentors. Many of my friends have backgrounds in photojournalism which doesn’t allow for manipulation, save for minor dodging and burning (darkening or lightening) areas of an image. Other friends document events for clients, where the volume of images made does not allow time for post processing.

I consider myself an artist. I am not documenting, rather I am recording for artistic purposes. I have always favored manipulating my images, and have worked to make the subjects closely resemble the moment as I remembered it. After reading this article, however, I decided to pursue more artistic interpretations, depending on the subject.

I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun! And so, how much is too much? Only time – and future images – will tell.

With this new creative process, I have been playing with some images. The images below show a ‘straight’ version compared to  what I call a ‘more radical’ interpretation. As always, feedback is appreciated.


This is an American Kestrel, processed to highlight the details of the raptor.

Same image, a little softer.

The beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. I used a Topaz filter to make the composition a little bit abstract. I think this filter minimizes the foreground, accentuates the sky, and maintains the integrity of the beauty of the mountains.

The same image with a Nik filter to maintain the details but give more depth to the colors.

8 thoughts on “The Digital Darkroom – How Much is Too Much?

  1. I have mixed feelings about enhancements of photographs. If I’m viewing it as a piece of art, anything goes. Whatever the artist feels is allowed. However personally I prefer the use of photography as a factual & historical depiction in which the use of filters and other tools of enhancement are dishonest and depict a dream of perfection. That being said, beautiful photos ARE art. Hence my ambivalence. God’s paintbrush vs. ours. The kestrel is beautiful either way, but the tweaking of the photo helps the viewers to see the majesty of the creature. Sooo, history and art are both honored. But some filters that make a scene so much more vivid than what your naked eyes has seen, not as sure. Selfies are a perfect example of reality distortion. People not satisfied with their actual appearance can become movie stars with filter assistance, yet their descendants will not know what their great grandparents truly looked like. Just my half a cent…. Terri Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Tom – good to hear from you! Lots of changes in my life last year – I’m hoping this year returns to more normal (whatever that is)! To answer your question, this is the only place I publicly showcase my photography. I share on Facebook and occasionally on Instagram. Is there anything you’re especially interested in?

      I hope all is well with you! Roger


  2. Nice Post and always a hot topic. I’m in the editing camp. I always edit my images. Some more than others, all depends on the light, mood and composition of the scene. A digital image in my opinion always needs some editing as the camera. Like above I like the first Kestral image. Look forward to seeing more.

    Liked by 1 person

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