Lith printing

Lith printing

Lith prints are black-and-white with strikingly high contrast. In the darkroom, the photographic paper is overexposed and then developed in a thinly diluted lith developer. But it is snatched from the chemical before development is complete, leaving gritty shadows, few midtones, and usually gentle, warm-toned highlights. The technique was very fashionable in the 1990s, and is associated with top darkroom printers such as Gene Nocon, as opposed to photographers whose work is lith-printed. It remains popular in fine art and with darkroom enthusiasts, especially as a way of printing infrared photographs.

The precise tones generated by the lith printing process vary greatly with paper type and development technique. Most common is a sepia or pink tone, though enthusiasts often immerse prints in other toners such selenium, which can make them more red-brown. If your photograph shows a winter scene, change the tone (see steps 3 and 4) to a cold bluein the darkroom this would require gold toner. Whatever tone you choose, high image contrast and the typical graininess of the shadows should help you achieve the correct appearance.

High-key images lend themselves well to the lith print effect.

  1. Make the image monochrome by adding a Channel Mixer adjustment layer. In this case, the Red channel produced the best balance of tones.

  2. Lith prints typically have high contrast. In the Layers palette, click the "Create new fill or adjustment layer" icon and select Curves. Then drag the curve into a gentle S shape, darkening the shadows and brightening the highlights.

  3. To add the toning, create a second Curves adjustment layer (I prefer to keep the toning distinct from the contrast adjustments). Select the Red channel and click a point toward the bottom of the curve and another near the middle. Don't drag either point, as their purpose is to leave the shadows unaffected by the tone. Instead, click a point toward the top of the curve and drag it upward a little, adding a red tone in the highlights.

  4. Next, select the Green channel and add two points to fix the shadows, as in step 3, and drag the curve upward in the highlight area. As you do this, the tone changes from a red that you would not expect in a lith print and then goes through more appropriate tones until an unrealistic greenish tinge starts to appear. When you like the tone, click OK.

  5. The shadows in lith prints often have distinct grain; it is generally preferable to put the grain on a separate layer. Holding down the Alt/ Opt key, click the "Create a new layer" icon in the Layers palette, set the blending mode to Overlay and check the "Fill with Overlay-neutral color" tick box.

  6. From the Filters > Artistic menu, choose Film Grain. The Grain slider has the most brutal effect on the outcome, and I prefer not to overdo it. Try the values shown (Grain: 9, Highlight Area: 2, Intensity: 6) as starting pointsbut the amount of grain is very much your personal aesthetic decision.

  7. The Film Grain layer now has grain across all tones, but lith prints typically have smooth, milky highlights. Double-click the Film Grain layer's thumbnail in the Layers palette and adjust the Blend If slider. Drag the Underlying Layer white slider a little way to the left, which clears grain pixels from the image highlights. Hold down the Alt/Opt key and drag the left half of the white slider away towards the centerthis smooths the transition between grainy and clear areas.

  8. As usual, because all the work is done on layers, you can fine-tune the composite endlessly. One tip is to place the Curves and Film Grain layers into a layer setyou can hide them all or change their opacity with a single mouse-click or drag.

Smooth, sepia highlights and harsh, grainy shadows are typical of lith printing. With the method here you can fine-tune the image tone and keep the grain on a layer separate from the photograph.

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