Darkroom Effects / What Is the Original Image?


The possibilities in a dark room are as unbelievable as they are endless. Although many people argue about “The Original Image”, they mostly don’t know about possible image manipulations within a dark room. However, I think that scans should be as honest as possible and they should not be enhanced by digital color filters. Be honest.

Three purely analogue modifications.

I often hear lomographers arguing about “The Original Image“. Is it the unmodified negative? Is it the print of your lab? What if you decided not to order any prints? What about your scanner?

Some even say “I only scan them without modifying the settings” which mostly leads poor images. And don’t think that your lab’s prints are perfect either, since (i am sure) all of them enhance the pictures before printing. Once, I got almost normal looking prints from a redscale film, although the negatives were completely cyan…

With some other Viennese lomographers, I participated in a dark room workshop and we were astonished by the analogue possibilities and achievable effects. The image used is taken on a DM-Slide-Film so we expected a slightly green print.

You can completely modify the photo’s colors:

#1: “original” #2: modified settings

Or you can increase the vignette:

#1: “original” #2: vignette effect

Or you can cause the Sabattier effect, known as “Solarisation”:

#1: “original” #2: Solarisation

I think that one can continue the discussion about “The Original Image” for years, but now I know, that enhancing images is not only possible in the digital world. When developing an analogue print, you can easily enhance the colors and the vignette effect, it is as simple as it is in Photoshop.
However, I believe that you should be honest about your scans. Don’t over saturate your scanned image just to make the colors pop, don’t use some x-pro-filters and please don’t apply a vignette-increasing-effect.
Just be honest.

written by floriansimon on 2011-04-14 #gear #tutorials #vignette #colors #lab-rat #tipster #development #darkroom #effect #prints #solarisation #analogue-effects #darkroom-special-effects #film-processing


  1. kiwikoh
    kiwikoh ·

    I do need photoshop to sharpen my image with unsharp mask because my Canoscan 9000f scanner can't do a good job on scanning the film. Even it scan at 4800 x 4800 dpi. the image still appears to be blurry compare to lab scan. To me as long as there is no manipulating the composition color of the photo, it will be fine.

  2. doubleswithvicuna
    doubleswithvicuna ·

    Yes, the scanner does not always make a perfect work and it's ok to adjust some basic settings to get a better result in brightness/contrast and give it more value, but never changing what the picture is in itself... if the shot is not perfect, take your camera and shoot again! :))

  3. nural
    nural ·

    You can even play around with B&W in the dark room, turn to sephia or solarize or anything is possible! I think it's ok to manipulate in the dark room since you are still working in the analogue world!

  4. veato
    veato ·

    I dont develop at home but use a lab (to develop and scan). I do wonder though if 1) I scanned at home I could get better results and 2) how much "automatic" colour correction, etc the labs machine does.

  5. paramir
    paramir ·

    @veato - from my experience, the lab scanners do a pretty heavy automatic color correction, aiming to produce bright colorful images. when you deal with cross-processed images, there is no telling where this will take the image... I had some scans from the shop which I later re-scanned at home, and I could not figure out how did the lab get the result they did. Scanning at home means more control. you can try different approaches on each image, which is mainly important when dealing with cross-processed images.

  6. lolfox
    lolfox ·

    I use to work in a photo lab and a darkroom before they started to become extinct and a lot of what you guys are saying is true.

    a minilab scanner tends to give quite bright and punchy images, especially with xpro negs... The software in minilabs is quite similar to photoshop as regards contrast saturation and colour changes yet i find it gives a slightly less forced look when you print directly on to paper. However, when scanned onto disc you lose a lot of detail and the images are quite burned out, especialy for xpro. I much prefer to scan at home and get the level of contrast and saturation that i find pleasing.

    In a dark room, you have an infinite array of posibilities for altering you image to the exact amount you want, but the type of film you use plays a lot greater roll. Its hard to change the contrast for example on colour hand prints... you have to have a more contrasty negative to start with. in a mini lab of photoshop, everything can be changed in a few clicks. Well done hand prints are great but time consuming and costly.

    As for the big question 'is there such a thing as an otiginal image?' the answer is no, despite what some fundamentalist analogue taliban you find on the internet may think... everything is about how you use technology to present your final image, because the post production is just as important as the actual taking of the picture. If you use minilab scans thats great, but you loose some personal freedom in having someone else do it... if you have a darkroom or access to it, that fantastic and can consider yourself very lucky since they are hard to find and very expensive... most of us use the relatively easy and inexpensive option of photoshop... we shouldn't be ashamed of it and i don't see why you should declare it as if it was some sort if sin as has been mentioned above. the only problem with photoshop is if you over-do it or do it badly and the final image looks rubbish. Clearly there is a big difference in adding a bit of contrast and saturation to doing the full high definition photoshop look which is not the look that belongs on lomography.

  7. simonh82
    simonh82 ·

    Really good article, i've been thinking similar things after reading a few photography books from the 70s. You can do so much in a real darkroom and you can be sure that most labs apply quite a few 'corrections' to your image when they print it.

    The only original image is the piece of film itself and to view that you need to at least shine a light (what colour, how bright?) through it to see it. Scanners in a lab or at home are using their own algorithms to invert a negative image and compensate for the orange colour of negative film, this is all manipulation, but if you stick to the basics and don't try to force a perfect image from a badly taken shot, then you're probably all right.

  8. stouf
    stouf ·

    Very nice and important post !

  9. mythguy9
    mythguy9 ·

    Sometimes it's also important to differentiate between scanning directly from a negative and scanning from a print. This is especially different in Black and White photography, in my opinion, because you have more flexibility on the post-exposure editing (e.g. burning, dodging...). Post-processing a print is somehow equivalent to digital post-processing, and I think the post-processing on prints is equally honest as scanning directly from film.


  10. lightblue
    lightblue ·

    This publication comes at the right time: I spent the last three nights without sleep, trying to get from my scanner the images as "real" as possible. I was very frustrated and found that sometimes is impossible to get exactly the "true tone". I have to resign myself ... I don't even have experience with digital manipulation, so i can't do a lot... Sometimes I can see the tone is a little altered because I see the film information letters are not in the right color. But I can not do best... :/

    Moreover, different scanners and different software give us very different results. Just take a look at those albums - the negatives are the same, but the software is different (Silverfast vs Scangear):



    It's even harder when I scan sprockets or fisheye photos. The black dots from srpockets and the circle around the fisheye photos "confuse" the scanner/software.

  11. tqueiroz
    tqueiroz ·

    Good article... We will never know what the original image looks like and I think that's the fun of it. I mean, everytime you scan, you can get a different result and if different people scan the same thing, you may get different results as well!


    I think the album scanned with Silverfast has the pictures closest to what I would expect from a color negative. Go in that direction and you'll get what you want.

    Ah, and don't worry, I've spent a few nights without sleep scanning too!

    As for sprocket and fisheye, you need to set a smaller area for auto correction first, then turn off auto correction and only then increase the scanning area to include the sprockets or black areas from fisheye. For more detailed information, take a look at this article:


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