Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lith Look-a-like



In a photography class I learned a printing technique using lith film. Lith film is a high contrast film often sold in sheets in sizes like eight inches by ten inches that are normally reserved for photo paper, and developed in the lab using special chemicals.
The printing technique uses a normal photographic negative and starts with using an enlarger to print on a sheet of lith film. The image on the lith film is a "positive" image, like any image you might print on paper. The film is developed, fixed, washed and dried.
Next you place the dried lith film sheet against a second unexposed sheet of lith film under the light of an enlarger. The image created on the second sheet of lith film is a "negative" image. The second sheet is developed, fixed, washed and dried.
Finally, the second sheet of lith film is placed on top of an ordinary sheet of photo paper, held tight against it with glass, and exposed under the enlarger. The final print on photo paper looks like a stylized black and white charcoal drawing. Figures are sometimes not even outlined, just suggested.
Because of the special properties of lith film, each step in the process creates a higher contrast image. Dark greys become black. Light greys become white. By carefully chosing the exposure time under the enlarger you can control the break-point in the gray curve between white and black, but because you are doing this in two steps (once when you create the "positive" and a second time when you create the "negative") it is extremely difficult to predict the final result.
Since the lith sheets need to dry each time before moving to the next step, the process takes at least two to three days, and a slight mishap at any step can ruin the final image.
A few days ago when fiddling with curves in Photoshop I realized that I could create the same effect digitally. Basically you force the dark grays to black and the light greys to white by manipulating the image with the Photoshop "curves" dialog window.
Instant lith image! Or at least a look-a-like. It's so easy I almost feel foolish for not having realized it could be done like this long before now.
Incidentally, the model in the image is Tom Lord.

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