For The Love Of Lith

A brief flirtation with darkroom lith printing some years ago has had a considerable influence upon my digital imaging and by lith I mean the use of very dilute lithographic developer on ordinary photographic paper.  In fact I only started darkroom lith printing after I had set up to go digital   The new computer remained unused for photography for some eighteen months while worked out my late found obsession with lith.  When I eventually  turned to my computer it was to try emulating those darkroom lith prints digitally.

The salient features of a lith print are peachy creamy highlights and relatively cool and gritty blacks although  different papers might vary the resulting colour from khaki through to pink. I had been delighted how problems with printing infra red negatives, where highlights in foliage can often be base paper white, were resolved in lith printing by the highlights being suffused with tone.  There are of course many ways of simulating this digitally, involving duo-toning possibly or colourising maybe, but it was that suffusing of bright highlights with colour that I thought was the key.  I decided to try adding a layer of the appropriate colour to the monochrome image.  IE: Make a new empty layer in the layers palate and using the paint bucket tool to fill it with the appropriate colour.  I then blended blend that layer with the mono image layer using multiply mode.  It is sometimes necessary to tweak the mono image to ensure it is cool toned.  There are of course a great many variations and styles to be found within darkroom lith printing and much scope for experimenting with their digital imitation.  One such variation is add a second, slightly darker, solid colour layer and blend in overlay mode.  Although there are a plethora of methods and even special filters that will do that job now, I have continued to successfully use the above methods whenever I want to imitate a lith print. I also find it quite a good way of toning an image when seeking to tone the highlights too.  The influence of lith doesn't stop there however.

The making of these faux lith prints has led me to other techniques like the use of the find edges filter on the image layer which, when combined with beige colour layer, makes an image look like an old drawing.  This in turn led to allowing a little of the underlying image to show through the find edges layer by reducing its opacity, to give more substance to the picture.  I then moved on to inverting the find edges layer to make it white on black but still blended with the beige layer.  Then I tried allowing the original colour layer to show through the inverted find edges layer.  The resulting prints were a long way from those darkroom lith prints yet there is still a direct line of influence from those darkroom lith prints.  All of these techniques continue to occasionally find their way into my pictures somewhere, so perhaps I haven't gone very far beyond the lith at all. 

Finally, notwithstanding my delight at finding a simple way of simulating darkroom lith printing, my main inspiration and source of wisdom on lith remains Dr Tim Rudman. His website is