The digital darkroom concept is the based on the conventional darkroom. Just as the Masters of Photography learned to mix their own chemicals and make tin and glass slides, just as manufacturers of film/paper developers and toners learned to adjust the latent image to the correct tones and colors, the taker of digital photographs must learn to use the digital darkroom, through software such as Adobe PhotoShop. Concepts such as dodging and burning in are the same in the digital darkroom. Not all of the photos one takes will be perfect. All, including the Masters, had to learn the basic skills to put the finishing touches on the photographic images. Digital latent images can and in most cases, must be process thru software to assure the truest reproduction of the image. Levels, curves, saturation, and filters, are a few of the skill required to hone the original latent image to a quality print.
Digital Printing. A good ink jet print will put a smile on your face. You can print near-photo lab quality prints at home for a few dollars a piece. I have used an Epson Stylus Photo 880 and 1270. I needed to replace the print heads in the 1270 so I decided to upgrade to the Epson Stylus Photo 2200. So far, the results, especially on enhanced matte paper, have been amazing. Not cheap ($699), this might be worth the price tag. The color and quality of the enhanced matte paper is very uniform and constant from screen to paper. On semi-gloss 13"x19" paper, a quality digital photograph retains the sharpness and color of the final digital darkroom product. Coupled with any digital SLR camera, I doubt that most folks can tell the difference between a 35mm print and a digital print. Currently, approximately 60-80% of my D2X photographs enlarge to 11"x 17" with little to no loss in detail or graininess (digital clumping of the pixels, too soft pixel edges, etc). Most of the rest are my fault for not obtaining maximum sharpness when shooting the photograph.
Read and explore all websites and books dealing with Photoshop and photography. I've just learned to use multiple duplicate layers (masks) to enhance color and sharpness, to control the details in shadows and highlights. I never use the sharpen or unsharpen tool. I've learned to use layers and a High Pass Filter. Much better control and results when I need to sharpen a photograph. Learn to use the clone tool to remove unwanted pixel artifacts (noise) and dust.
The most important tool to learn to use will be the Level/Curve adjustment. I'm just learning how to use the curve tool to adjust the shadows to bring the detail out, to adjust the blown-out areas to bring in some the detail. Dodge the shadow areas to help bring the detail out. Use the burn-in tool for the highlighted areas. I find starting with the burn-in or dodge tool set at only 5% exposure and work in small strokes seems to work for me. All of these adjustments are the same principles as the conventional darkroom.
Use the duplicate layer tool when dealing with a tough photo such as a snow or cloud scene. Adjust the duplicate layer to help offset any problems on the original. Make the adjust such as exaggerating the lightness on the duplicate layer, then adjust the opacity to where the two layers adjust the image to a more correct state.
Epson makes near archive quality prints with their inks and papers. A variety of finishes (glossy, semi-gloss, satin, etc.) and paper weights provide a broad range from inexpensive lesser quality prints to quality prints , using 97 mil or thicker paper, premium paper, etc., that provide prints that will last 20+ years when matted, framed and displayed correctly. Learn to use color profiles and to color correct your monitor. Search the web for the latest information and products on color management and monitor correction procedures. A safe bet would be to set your printers controls to Adobe 1998 if you can input a color profile. Using Photoshop, under the print functions, you can make these adjustment. Speaking of Photoshop, learn to use this powerful digital darkroom to make adjustments to exposure, composition, sharpening, noise (digital grain), and many other manipulations.
Always more to come