Digital Proof

Back at the cafe’ I come to. It’s becoming a routine. One croissant, one black coffee. Gather my thoughts, re-read my notes, think of what music I’m into for this post and then off to the races. It has to be house. Something electronic. Some sort of beat created with the push of a few buttons and synthesized on a computer, or some other device of which I do not know much about.So I simply search for best house music, and this playlist comes up. Sounds like I found the one I want. A little early for a 7 am. But then again it could be that I just left the night club. Ya, right.

It’s blaring, some piano beat laid over the deep bass and multiple rhythms going on at once. Who is that piano player? Oh no, wait, it’s all digital.

Much like the proof sheets I am now creating when printing my film photographs. Digital proof sheets.

After putting the negatives on the film reel, then in the tank, developing them with all the chemicals, and letting them dry, this is the result.

Color film negatives

Film negatives, cut in strips of 5 and put in sleeves.

Then the hardest part. Choosing the right frame. Which one is in focus, which one has the right exposure, which one has the best composition and so on. Which frame is the best one of the all?

So we create a proof sheet, or as it’s also known, a contact sheet. We must turn the negatives into positive. You get a proof easel which essentially is a tray with a glass lid. In the darkroom you open the proof easel and align the negatives on top of a sheet of photo paper. You place the entire proof easel under the enlarger and expose the image for the seconds that are needed. Sometimes it’s 5, sometimes it 25. And once it is exposed there is no correcting it. Only re-doing it.

This is the result.

B&W Proof Sheet

Although I love having a proof sheet for many reasons, which I’ll get into below, I have moved towards a digital alternative, for many reasons, which I’ll get into below.

Proof sheets are perfect for choosing the right frame when compared to choosing it from a negative. Just by seeing them in ‘positive’ you can make a better choice of which frame to actually enlarge and print.

Proof sheets also help organize the work. You can overlay them over your negatives so that you don’t have to hold the negatives to the light every time you want to see if “that was the film with that photo of that dog flying through the sky”. No, you can flip through the proof sheets and see the photographs normally.

Another reason for which they are invaluable is that it improves your editing skills. I mean editing as in a picture editor role; therefore choosing the right frame among many. Sometime hundreds. With a proof sheet you can quickly scan through the frames and see which one catches your eye the most. And so you improve your ability in identifying the best frame quicker.

But there are drawbacks that I’ve come across. And here is where the digital world comes to play. Digital Proofs.

Why not scan the negatives at 200x and then have the possibility of zooming in to see if the frame is worth printing or not?

For example, even when using a magnifying glass, or a loupe, on a negative, it’s still hard to see if the frame has all the details you wish it had. There may be elements in the photo that can’t be noticed when viewing the photographs at such dimensions. Similar to Instagram, many photos look amazing on a phone. But would they have that same impact if printed on a 11 x 14 inch paper?

Digital Proof sheet

Another plus in digitizing proof sheets is that many times the exposure of the frames may change. One day you may be in a backlit environment, and others in a softer, more even light. And maybe the proof sheet you printed at 17 seconds doesn’t show the details on all photos the same way. So you may miss out on that one frame that was worth pursuing.

But with a scanner you can rescan it a few times. Truthfully, it hasn’t happened often because if the frame is generally over or underexposed it still isn’t worth printing. Nonetheless, it’s an option I like to have.

Once I’ve digitized the negatives, using a backlit Epson scanner, I review them closely on the screen, zooming in, almost to the screen size. I then note which ones I want to go print back in the analog world.

I print the proof sheets and circle the frames, ready to head back to the darkroom. Ready to adjust contrast, color tones, and all the rest the old-fashioned way.

Trying to imitate how the masters used to, and continue to work.

Student Protests 1968. Bruno Barbey

And the idea of proofs is everything but gone. In the continued spirit of this blog, while reading and researching I came across the possibility of creating proof sheets all in the digital world using Lightroom, for example. This can be a great way to show clients your work. In a few pages a collection of your best photographs can be neatly presented, be it 36 on one page, as it used to be, or only 4.

Some closing words? Analog photography is absolutely beautiful. The process, the surprise of having captured that frame you had in mind, that disappointment when you forgot to correct the camera settings, the photo that slowly appears from the trays and the physical contact with the photograph itself.

But as with everything in this digital age, be it house music or photography, why not use technology to our advantage? That’s what I’ve discovered by digitizing my proof sheets.  I have all the benefits I had before, but with the added luxury of saving time and photo paper, all the while being able to more accurately choose the frame to take back to the enlarger.

All this just to have it with me back in the physical world. Love it.


Until Next Time,

Colorless Landscapes