Taking a picture is more than just pointing and shooting. Simple cameras are lovingly referred to as PHS models (push here, stupid). After ten years of photography and teaching it as well, I will attempt to write even complex topics easily to help you sound like a professional in just one page! Note that we’re only talking about black and white photography.
Photography – “Light writing.” When you write with light, you’re really affecting grains of a silver-based compound on the film. More light has more effect. A lack of light (or dark) doesn’t trigger an emulsion that “sticks” the silver to the film. The developing process begins with a chemical we call Developer. It removes silver that wasn’t stuck. The next chemical is called a fixer; it stops the film from reacting further to light and ‘fixes’ the image on the negative.
With light sticking the silver and dark not sticking the silver, the negative now is dark where there was light and is transparent where there was dark. The chemical reactions will continue on paper when we make a print. The paper will do just what the film did: It will get dark where light hits it and will remain paper-colored where there is no light. So the negative then reproduces the original scene by being opposite light values of the scene.
Ignoring all physics and accepting this as gospel truth, you now know that ‘depth of field’ is caused by a change in the camera’s aperture or f-stop. A small hole, or aperture, restricts the amount of light hitting the film and produces a “great” depth of field meaning many distances are in focus. With an open f-stop or a large aperture, light has more ways in and a blur occurs at distances where you didn’t focus; the depth of field is then considered “shallow.” The f-stop settings have small numbers for big openings and large numbers for small openings: This is the result of a mathematical equation decided years ago.
When using a starter manual camera, you probably preferred the Pentax K1000 or the K1000SE. If you were a Canon lover, the AE1 was your only obvious choice. Your favorite rule in photography is the “Sunny 16” rule. If you really know nothing of photography and must pick up a camera to use in front of others, ask what speed the film is (64, 125, 200, 400, 800), and set the Shutter Speed (usually on top) to a number that comes close. The F-stop ring will be a ring that makes clicking noise around the base of the lens. It has strange numbers measuring that old equation. Set the number to 16. This shortcut to a printable image (meaning the film receives an amount of light that neither over exposes or under exposes it) is only good in sunny conditions.
Having controlled numbers in the darkroom helps. The red light’s wavelength is long and used to light your way around the enlargers and chemical trays. The first tray of chemicals is developer, then a wash, then a fixer and then another wash and possibly a final rinse. These chemicals do to paper what the same named chemicals did to the film (although washes are usually just water). If you’re in the darkroom, the developer tends to be a fixed time of two minutes so that there’s a constant. Any changes are then made at the enlarger when exposing light to the paper. A yellowing print means the fixer wasn’t applied long enough; someone was in a hurry.
If you’re viewing a picture with lots of grays, you’re looking at the definition of “full range;” if you’re looking at a picture that’s high in contrast with black blacks and white whites, you’re looking at the definition of “full scale.” These brief comments are great compliments to knowledgeable photo students. Your basic understanding from this page will hopefully get you over the hump of having to ask questions a photographer has heard a million times before. It’s more interesting for an artist to discuss their take and variations on the process rather than explain the process itself. If you find a black and white photographer, you can now, basically, chat it up!