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Alternative Process: Intro to Lith Printing

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Guest post written by Dave Kirby. A 28-year-old photographer from Preston, England, Dave has been photographing for two years using only film. His favorite things are developing and printing in the darkroom, and he loves shooting 6x6. Check out more of his work on his blog and Flickr stream, or follow him on Twitter.

*Disclaimer: This tutorial on lith printing covers the basics, but also assumes the reader has a minimum knowledge of darkroom printing. For some background info and help getting started in the darkroom, check out the Beginner’s Guide to Film Photography.

The Basics: What Is Lith Printing?

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Lith printing is a process using traditional black and white photo paper combined with “lithographic” developer. This process results in very high contrast, black shadows, delicate highlights and coloured mid-tones. Lith prints tend to have a very gritty/grainy look in the lower mid-tones and shadows. 

Lith printing can breathe a whole new life into an everyday image; I have a few shots which looked dull and boring with traditional printing, but that I really love when lithed.  Colour is a natural by-product of the lith process.  Different papers combined with different ratios of developer at different temperatures yield different colours.  There is an almost endless combination of variables in the lith process that can produce different colours and textures.  (This can be extended even further by toning the prints.)

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When I first started looking into making lith prints I did a lot of research online, and noticed the two same names popping up over and over again - Wolfgang Moersch and Tim Rudman.  Both of these men are (current) pioneers of lith printing - trying out every kind of paper and developer at every temperature and dilution to see how each print reacts to different toners. Tim Rudman’s book, ‘The Master Photographer’s Lith Printing Course’ provides a vast wealth of information and is a great place to get started if you are serious about lith printing.  Wolfgang Moersch also provides some extensive articles about various lith procedures, including an area to purchase his own personal blends of lith chemicals and toners. 

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Equipment Needed:

Besides standard darkroom materials,  you’ll need lith developer and compatible paper. There are a variety of developers available; as already mentioned, Wolfgang Moersch makes and sells his own, but Rollei and Fotospeed also make them.  Personally I use Fotospeed LD-20.


Papers are a bit trickier, as some papers work well with the lith process and others don’t.  Foma is the primary brand still producing “lithable” photo papers which are available today. As a general rule of thumb, grade 3 papers and papers with a higher-than-average silver content work well with the lith process.


Some example brands of papers that work well:

  • Fomatone (particularly 131)
  • Fomabrom (gives a “grittier” feel to the print)
  • Adox MMC
  • Ilford Art 300
  • Agfa MCC 118
  • Fomaspeed N 313

The Process: Exposure & Development

Keep in mind: the two “Golden Rules” of lith printing (as stated by Tim Rudman) are as follows:

First, highlights are controlled by exposure, shadows are controlled by development.
Second,  colour, texture and contrast are related to grain size in the emulsion - which is related to development.

On to the process:
 

  1. Mix your developer.  Everyone has a different ratio they like to use, but your best bet is to start at 1:9.  Developer comes in two parts: A and B. Mix a ratio of 1:9 of A and 1:9 of B with water. You can vary the ratio to make the solution stronger or weaker, which will affect print colour.
  2. Pour the mixed solution into the developing tray. Keep the temperature at 20 degrees Celcius. (Higher temperatures speed up the developing process, but this requires a bit of experience.)
  3. Set up the rest of your paper chemistry as usual.
  4. Expose your paper in the enlarger. Test strips are a good idea, as lith print exposures can require up to several minutes. Pick the exposure from the test strip that has the highlight detail desired. Exposure note:the more you overexpose a lith print, the lesser the contrast and the higher the highlight detail. Most lithable papers allow up to 5 stops of overexposure.
  5. Place your paper in the developer. Lith printing differs from standard printing in that your image appears over a very slow period of time through a process called ”infectious development.”  The blackest points of the print appear first and will gradually get darker and darker. Second, the midtones will start to appear and get darker, followed finally by the highlights. Once the shadows hit black, development increases rapidly.
  6.  Pull your paper out of the developer when the shadows reach your desired black and put in the stop bath. Note: There is no set amount of time for this - it depends on your developer strength, developer exhaustion and the paper.  For example, my Fomaspeed N 313 takes about 8 minutes of developing before I get the print I want whereas my Agfa MCC 118 takes over an hour.
  7. Continue the fix and washing process as usual.

Let’s take a look at a print example to explain.  This was made using Fomaspeed N 313:

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The shadow on the left arm of the chair is totally blacked out with not much highlight detail in the snow at the bottom.  Before the arm of the chair got this dark, there was lovely detail there but I delayed - clearly I kept the print too long in the developer.  In order to get more detail in the highlights and midtones while retaining detail in the arm of the chair I would have to overexpose the paper more, such as 4 or 5 stops as opposed to the 2.5 stops used here.  (Note: When over-exposing your paper it is best to extend your exposure time rather than alter the f-stop on your lens to maintain image sharpness.)  Tim Rudman’s book is invaluable for this as he provides examples of how one print looks as exposure and development time are increased.


As mentioned earlier, different papers yield different colours - yellows, golds, browns, purples, blues etc (remember golden rule 2 - colour, texture and contrast are related to development). 

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Lith prints react very well to toners.  For example, Selenium toner can give everything from golds and browns to blues and purples (depending on paper.)  Gold toner turns prints a very soft blue. As a test, select a print you don’t love, drop it into the toner and leave it there for an hour or so. Watch how the print changes colour over time and  make a note for future reference. 

Hopefully this article has inspired you to makeyour own lith prints.  Looking around on sites like Flickr really helps you find new things to try with lith.  I haven’t looked back since starting - I absolutely love it and I’m sure you will too.

Tips for Shooting in Black and White

LEARN TO THINK IN BLACK AND WHITE

If you’re shooting in black and white, your biggest handicap is that your own eyes see in color. Color is vibrant and therefore dominating. Being able to perfectly visualize what you are looking at in black and white can massively improve your black and white photography. This is even more true if you are working in film, as you don’t have a screen which you can set to black and white.

Learning to turn off your “color vision” is neither easy nor difficult - it just takes some practice. If you make the effort, it will happen. Look at black and white images as much as possible, and then try to imagine them in color. Observe how the light looks indoors and outdoors at different times of day, intensity of shadows, shapes, forms and textures - they all look different in black and white versus color.


For example, if you are photographing a woman wearing red lipstick, it will be gray or black in black and white (depending on the shade of red and intensity of color.) Green leaves look gray. Navy blue turns black. Over time, you will be able to look at any scene around you and be able to imagine it perfectly in black and white, with different degrees of contrast.

PAY ATTENTION TO LIGHT

Paying attention to light is a basic tip for improving photography all together, considering photography is based on light. The way light falls on objects, landscapes and people is even more important in black and white, as there is no color information. The intensity of the light and how it interacts with the surroundings are key factors in black and white photography. If you’re using artificial light, you can control these factors. If you’re using natural light, you’ll need to learn to work them to your best advantage to achieve the style you want.

The time of year, time of day and position in regards to the sun are factors to take into consideration when shooting with natural light. Sunlight at noon in June does not look the same as at noon in January. Considering you won’t be able to alter the color balance to fit the mood you want, these factors become even more important.

PAY EQUAL ATTENTION TO SHADOW

Great shadow detail can truly make a black and white photograph look amazing. When shooting film, this works to your advantage as you’ll have more detail in the shadow areas than if shooting digital. Look for interesting patterns and textures when working in shadows, and to obtain maximum detail, meter the darkest area of what you are photographing and bracket based on that reading.

KNOW YOUR FILM

When shooting black and white film, your choice of film brand plays as significant a role as your lighting and camera settings. Grain size, contrast, sharpness, tonal range and push/pull factor will all vary with different types of black and white film. For example, many people rave about Ilford HP5 400 but personally I find it has too much contrast and grain for the type of black and white work I like to do. On the same note, Ilford FP4 tends to be my go-to black and white film because it’s extremely sharp, fine-grained and   looks fantastic when pushed a stop or two. Everyone has their own specific taste and style when it comes to black and white photography and playing around with different types of film can help you find what works for you.

PUSH AND PULL

As I just mentioned, I like to push FP4 a stop. A lot. Why? Because it gives that extra little pop of contrast, for black blacks and white whites. If you were going for a more faded, vintage, washed-out look, pulling your film a stop or two would help you achieve this effect. Pushing and pulling can also save you in difficult lighting situations when you don’t have another ISO available.

WHEN SHOOTING PEOPLE, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EYES

Have you ever noticed how Richard Avedon’s black and white portraits always have these ridiculously intense, piercing eyes? That’s because he bleached the eyes in his prints to lighten them. If you don’t want to mess with chemicals, you can also get this effect by dodging (both in the darkroom and/or in photo editing software.) If you’re an absolute purist, you can use a reflector but prepared for the model to squint.


For more help with film photography, check out:

How To Take Natural-Looking (Posed) Portraits

As a professional photographer, people will ask you to shoot all sorts of things… and it won’t always be gorgeous models or extremely interesting street scenes. One of the biggest sources of revenue for me personally is in shooting portraits of regular people who need photos for all sorts of things. I also get asked by magazines to shoot regular people for lifestyle stories, so it’s important to get a final image that looks natural and not contrived. The problem is that most people are not very comfortable being photographed, which makes getting a natural looking portrait somewhat of a challenge.

Personally, I am not a big fan of portraits that look stiff or posed. Sometimes it can work in the right context, but more often than not it looks awkward. There are several things that I do to avoid this while keeping my subject feeling comfortable:

1. Get to know your subject.

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(Emeline Piot, Fashion Stylist) 

I always, always, always talk to the person I’m photographing. About life. About music. About the weather. Whatever. I like to get a conversation going because it gets a rapport going - and a photographer must have a rapport with the subject. Talking helps people relax and frequently helps you learn something about them which can in turn  help you make a stronger portrait. I would say I chat with subjects for at least 15 minutes before I even take out my camera. That way the ice is broken before we start shooting.

The above image is of Emeline Piot, a very talented (and adorable) fashion stylist based here in Paris, who I was photographing for Marie Claire. It turns out that Emeline hates to have her picture taken, so I wanted to make her as comfortable as possible. We joked and talked about life while I photographed her for a couple of hours, and at the end of the shoot I had her sit down at a cafe and that’s how I got this shot. After she felt comfortable.

2. Allow some prep and warm-up time.

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(Alexandra Guerre-Joly, Photo Editor, BE Magazine)

The worst thing you can possibly do on a portrait shoot is to show up and whip out your camera. One key to shooting a “natural” looking portrait is evaluating the space you are shooting in, whether it be outside, at the subject’s home, or at the subject’s office. If you don’t take the time to choose a good setting for your subject and analyze available light in relation to that setting, your portraits will look rushed and awkward. It may actually even take you longer to shoot rather than if you had just spent 20 minutes looking around in the first place. 

For the above shot, the story was on successful women who are addicted to shoes. After touring Alexandra’s gorgeous Parisian apartment, I decided that in front of her shoes was quite fitting.

3. Movement is a good thing.

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(Isabel Marant, Fashion Designer)

As photographers, we often want our images to be as crisp and sharp as possible. But alas, straying from the scholarly path can actually make for a great portrait. I had the pleasure of shooting Isabel Marant a few years back and, while I have many other shots of her, this one is my favorite. For me, the movement and motion blur are what makes it a “real moment.”Try walking around with your subject and photographing them at the same time. Sometimes, mid-action makes a far better portrait than if the subject were still.

4. It’s OK to smile.

Many portrait photographers have a profound belief that asking your subject to smile makes for a cheeeeeeeezy portrait - which is not technically untrue. Except for the fact that 9 times out of 10, if you send a client a smiley photo within the selection they take it. Take the previous photo of Isabel Marant for example: the fact that she’s laughing makes it happy. And fun.

Instead of going for dead-on cheese, ask your subject to fake laugh. It sounds stupid, but it really works. You can also tell jokes if you think you’re funny enough to make the subject laugh naturally. Not all photographers are funny. Keep this in mind.

5. Provide direction.

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(Valerie Laderriere, Creative Director, L’Oreal China)

Most people don’t know which is their good side, bad side or best angle. They also don’t know if they have a weird mouth or eye twitch every time you press the shutter. Providing your subject with ample direction helps you get the shot while helping your subject feel reassured. I usually tell my subjects to follow my finger with their nose, chin or eyes to get the exact position I want. For portraits, it’s important to pay attention to details such as hand position (claw hands are the worst), slouchy shoulders or bulging fabric. It’s the type of thing that can ruin your portrait when you think it’s great, and you only realize when it’s too late.

For more photography help and how-to’s, check out I Still Shoot Film’s Help & How-To page.

How To Get Cheap Film

Step 1: Choose a local one-hour photo lab that still sells and processes film (as in 4x6 prints for the old ladies that still order them)

Step 2: Be super friendly and establish a relationship with the lab’s owner or manager. 

Step 3: Pay attention to which films are not selling.

Step 4: Ask if they have any expired or extra film that they’d be willing to sell at a discount. Offer to buy in bulk. 

Step 5: Jackpot!

UPDATE:

Did everyone see this:

5 Tips for Taking Better Photos

In the words of Aretha Franklin, “THINK.” Stop and reflect upon your shot for a minute. Is there a better angle? Are you shooting from the best location? Compose your photograph instead of just pulling a point and shoot. (This is one of the reasons I love shooting film, because you are restricted in your number of shots, so you make each one count)

Stop testing exposure limits. You all know what I’m talking about. Switching your ISO on your DSLRs to super high even though you know you will hate the noise afterward… Opening your shutter and pretending your body is strong enough to prevent camera shake… You know when you don’t have enough light, and you need to respect that.


Get close. Using a telephoto lens may be appropriate for wildlife and sports photography, but in many cases it actually separates you from your subject - which prevents your photograph from creating a connection. Try shooting with a lens that doesn’t extend over 50mm to force yourself to get close to your subject.


Use a light meter. This goes for you too, my digital pumpkins… if you think that looking at the screen on the back of your camera is sufficient for determining a correct exposure, you are mistaken. When you use a light meter, meter the four corners of your frame and various angles of your primary subject to get an accurate stop range.


Ask permission. Fear of bothering people is one of the main things that prohibits photographers from getting the shot they really want… but you would be surprised how often people say, “yes” when you just ask.

How To Make A Photogram (Cameraless Photography)

I’m going old school on you all…. First it was the classic  oatmeal box pinhole camera, now it’s photograms! Photograms are basically photographs without a camera, like a reverse silhouette. I had a photography teacher when I was 13 (her name was Kay and she was awesome!) who made the most badass photograms you’ve ever seen with dried flowers, screens, and other random stuff… and she used them as birthday and thank you cards.

Photograms are the perfect beginners project for anyone who would like to get right into the darkroom without all of the “learning.” Check out this article at ephotozine.com for a step-by-step photogram how-to (with explanations for why we use darkroom chemicals, sweet!)

How To Shoot Film For Dummies: 5 Steps

(or how to wing it with a camera you don’t know how to use)

If you’ve never shot film before, or if you’re working with a camera you don’t really know how to use, there are shortcuts to help you get to the gratification of shooting without so many calculations. Obviously, these are shortcuts and do not replace actual learning, but they can definitely helpful for trying out a film camera that you have never used before.

1. Shoot black and white: black and white film is way more forgiving, you have a full 5 stops of “error margin” that will still capture information. With color negative film you have 3, and with slide film you have 1 1/2 (this is in part why slide film is considered “professional” since it requires an exact exposure). If you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t know your camera yet, you are much more likely to end up with printable images if you shoot black and white.

2. Shoot in broad daylight outside: maybe not high noon, but shoot during the day when there’s plenty of light. Low light situations are tricky, so avoid shadows and interiors at first or you’ll probably end up with a super underexposed roll, and that sucks. This is a major one for me when I test out vintage cameras, because you can also see if there are any leaks in the seals or foam and get a clear sense of the definition at a higher f-stop.

3. Use the Sunny 16 Rule: If you don’t know how to use your meter, or it doesn’t work, or you don’t have one, this trick is a life-saver.

"On a sunny day set aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the [reciprocal of the] ISO film speed."

Let me translate (dummy style just in case): f/16 is an aperture number on the lens, shutter speed is on top, and ISO is the number printed on the film. For example, Ilford Delta 400 has an ISO of 400. [I’ve posted articles explaining aperture and ISO for those who are interested]

An example of the Sunny 16 Rule would be: For film with an ISO of 100, aperture at 16 and shutter speed at 1/100 or 1/125 (depending on your camera)

ISO 400 would be f/16 at 1/500 (unless your camera miraculously has 1/400)

Here’s a handy daylight exposure guide guide from the inside of some Fuji Provia (ISO 100):

4. Bracket: This is a technique taught in ALL photography classes, and it’s actually pretty useful if you really want to be sure to get “the shot.” Basically, shoot one stop at the “correct” exposure, then shoot one stop up and one stop down. For example, if you were following the Sunny 16 Rule (and you really, really, really wanted to be sure to have a great photo) you could bracket like so:

ISO 400 - 1 shot @ f/16, 1/500; 1 shot @ f/22, 1/500, 1 shot @ f/11, 1/500

(you could also bracket by changing the shutter speed instead of the aperture)

5. Avoid Portraits (just at first): I know, I know this sounds horrible, but really if you’re learning how to use film (or a new camera) the biggest challenge is exposure. And portraits usually require perfect exposure and great lighting. If you’re not great with exposure and lighting, you may be disappointed with your first portraits.

Photography Reading List

A lot of people ask me, “Where’s a good place to start” with film photography, which is a really broad question. Personally, my first experience was in the class I took when I was 10 years old, so I started off having a teacher explaining things to me… and continued that for many many years… I would recommend taking a class first and foremost, but I get that a lot of people can’t afford darkroom expenses, in which case I recommend reading. Lots of reading. In fact, I’ll give you a portion of what was my required reading list in the BFA Photography program at the School of Visual Arts:

Salut ! je parle en français couramment, mais je préfère de parler en anglais, ça va ?

I'm interested in getting involved in serious photography. At the moment i only have my bottom line digital snapshot camera, but the mother of a friend of mine is senior photographer for national geographic and she (and your photographs) inspired me to learn about it. how would you propose i begin? ultimately, i'd like to shoot film, but i suppose it's best (or cheapest?) to learn on digital. i don't know anything about it, though. any advice on how to start? thanks.

Asked by agincourt

The first thing I would recommend is to get copies of Ansel Adams’ The Camera and The Negative and read them (assuming you can’t afford a class, otherwise just take a darkroom 101). Yes, technically it’s cheaper to shoot digital, but I am not actually convinced that shooting digital helps you learn anything about photography. Because you see the result, you don’t have to calculate the correct exposure on the ISO/Aperture/shutter speed triangle, or think about the depth of field. You can just look and see if you like it. But that doesn’t teach you how a camera works.

Check out some of the cameras I post on Sunday’s ebay deals, there are defninitely some quality 35mm SLRs out there for under $100.

PS You could also ask your fancy pants Nation Geographic photographer friend to mentor you, I would have :)