Back in the days before digital, when photographers shot film, few gave much thought to workflow. That's because the film-based workflow offered far fewer options than the digital workflow, and the way those options were executed was fairly straightforward. Even so, though most of them didn't realize it, all of these photographers had a two-part workflow.

The first part began right after the shoot. It consisted of processing all of the rolls or sheets of film. In the case of negative film, automated proofs, such as 4 × 5's or contact sheets, were printed from the negatives—usually by a photolab. The point with these proofs was to quickly create tools to use for further evaluation by the photographer—or the photographer's clients. Every effort was made to manage tone and color, but the point was to create proofs quickly and cheaply because they were merely tools used to identify the best photos. After those few best photos were identified, they were moved into the second part of the two-part workflow.

This second part of the film-based workflow was focused on fine-tuning these special images and preparing them for output. Every effort, and oftentimes much expense, was put into managing the strengths and weaknesses of each image. This was usually accomplished through a custom print that was handcrafted by a highly skilled technician. Retouching and artwork were often thrown into the mix when required to fix problems. The resulting image was a one-of-a-kind print that had little ...

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