When printing black&white in the darkroom, there are always people who, no matter what instructions they get, can’t wait to fully develop the print but snatch it from the developer when it “looks right” in the safelight (and usually will be disappointed with the tones later in proper lighting). Well, there is a suitable printing technique for “snatchers” – lith printing, where the success is based on the skill to stop developing at exactly right moment 😉

You can practise lith printing using many conventional papers – some of them work for lith better than the others. The principle is that you overexpose the paper by 2 to 3 stops (compared to normal process) and develop it in highly diluted lith developer. Typically you will gain a combination of soft, warmly tinted highlights and contrasty, grainy shadows – much of this depending on the paper used.

To get started with lith printing there are good instructions by Tim Rudman on the web. Also in Christina Anderson‘s excellent Experimental Photography Workbook there is a chapter of lith (and many other techniques to rip off new dimensions from standard b&w papers). Silverprint in UK have materials and useful info on their website.

I tried lith the other day, by printing an old 35 mm negative on Bergger and Forte papers, which were developed in Bergger BER-01 lith developer. The picture was shot in 1986 on Tri-X and the film developed in D-76 (the classic combination).

This first print was exposed for 50 seconds at F:4, developed for 10 minutes in BER-01 (normal room temp), dilution 1+10. Freshly mixed developer doesn’t give the best lith effect right away, so the print looks perhaps more like normal print developed in any warm-tone developer. The paper is Bergger Prestige CB Art 2.

After developing a few prints I noticed the results too contrasty. I could lower the contrast by increasing exposure and decreasing development, but too short developing time doesn’t make a good lith effect. Instead, the developer was diluted more with water (until 1+15), and just a little potassium bromide was added.

This print was then exposed at F:4, 120 sec. and developed for 11 minutes. This resulted some typical lith look: contrasty shadows and (in this case, the Bergger paper) pinkish highlights.

Jalo Porkkala: The Garden Gate, lith print on Bergger paper.

Here’s the first print that I’m satisfied with, at the end of the printing session. There’s something about the mood I was hoping to get with lith printing. Bergger paper again, F:4, 200 sec., developing 11 min 15 sec.

Jalo Porkkala: The Garden Gate, lith print on Forte paper.

This is a print from the next day, the developer was kept in an airtight container overnight, but it was exhausted already a little bit. The paper is Forte Polywarmtone FB Plus – it’s variable contrast, so it can be adjusted with filtering. Here I wanted to filter flat (180Y, about grade #00), my intention was to develop for long, thus raising the contrast. Exposure was 180 sec. at F:2.8, developed for 16 minutes.

Not exactly what I was expecting, but anyway another favourite of mine, although quite different from the previous one. It is soft, very grainy, kind of mystical…

More experimenting with Forte paper. The developer was going worse still, producing interesting but unpredictable results. Filtering #0, F:2.8, 170 sec., dev. 19,5 min.

One more print developed with the painfully slow, exhausted developer – not bad, kind of “bromoilish” look… Forte, filtering #0, F:2.8, 240 sec., dev. 24,5 min.

Think I will try to regenerate the developer and do some more printing one of these days. To be continued…