litho effect

In the spirit of my 2020 resolutions, this was going to be called sunshine on lith, but I have dropped the pun and used a straight title.

So this is about the Photoshop settings to make lith prints. Or perhaps lithy.

A lith print is defined thus: “warm tones, hard shadows, enhanced grain and creamy highlights are signature characteristics of lith prints”. That’s from Ann Pallesen. Traditionally it would have been an actual print on Litho paper, which is very high contrast. The print was developed by inspection in dilute developer and then pulled and fixed as the image developed and before it turned to pure black and white. Definitely an art. There are enough variables that each print will be unique.

One of the joys I found when I went from a wet darkroom to digital was the ability to make small changes, see what they looked like and reverse or tweak them. And when I had settled on a result I liked, I could make as many finished copies as I wanted. So to make a lith print, what I would need to do is warm the tones with some colour, make the shadows dark, add grain and then a bit of blur on the highlights.

Method 1

Remove colour by desaturating with one or, better, two Hue Saturation adjustment layers. The reason and method for this is here.

Duplicate the background layer and call this new layer Clipped. Create a Levels adjust ment layer linked to it and drag down the white point to block-up the highlights.


Add noise to the Clipped layer with a value of around 9%. The menu options are Filter, Noise, Add noise.


Temporarily make the Clipped layer invisible to work on the background.

Adjust the levels of the background, moving the black point to the right to lift and lighten the shadows.


Sepia tint the picture. Add a fill layer at the top of the layer stack using Layer, New Fill Layer, Solid colour. Set the colours to R210 G165 B90. Set the blending mode to Colour.

Make the Clipped layer visible again and use an unsharp mask with values of around 100%, 6 radius and 0 threshold. To do this use the menu options Enhance, Unsharp mask.


Change the blending mode of the Clipped layer to Multiply.

If necessary, add a Brightness/ Contrast adjustment layer at the top of the stack to tweak the image.


Litho 1

Method 2

Add a Hue Saturation adjustment layer above the background with blending mode Overlay. Set the Hue between 10 and 25.

Create a new fill layer above the Hue Saturation one with RGB values all set to 128 (50% grey), blending mode Overlay.

Add noise to this fill layer with an amount of around 10%.

Add gaussian blur to the fill layer with a radius of around 0.4.

Duplicate the background layer, calling it Mask. Use Filter, Adjustment, Threshold to Select the shadows. Invert the layer with Ctrl i.

Shadow mask

Move the Mask layer up the stack above the fill layer. Group the mask layer with the fill layer (Layer, Group with Previous). Add some gaussian blur to the mask layer to smooth the tones.

Add a layer at the top of the stack to sepia tint the picture. use Layer, New Fill Layer, Solid colour. Set the colours to R210 G165 B90. Set the blending mode to Colour.

Stack 2

Litho 2

This second method might be closer to the litho effect, as the shadows are darker. Anyway – over to you. Have a play and see what you can do.

High key

Flooded with lightness,
Disposal of dark alone.
Does a pun translate?

… and that, dear friends, was a haiku about haiki. Thank you; I’ll be here all week.

High key pictures are meant to have a low contrast range, little or no shadow and delicate highlights: basically to be filled with light. High key is often used for pictures of women and children, but that is a stereotype begging to be broken.


So if you are shooting for high key, use plenty of fill light to lighten the shadows and reduce the contrast. Diffused frontal lighting will hide the skin texture. If you are using one of those clever digital cameras, expose to the top end of the histogram (without clipping the highlights). For film, place the skin highlights on Zone 7 or even 8 – so meter for the skin highlight area and overexpose by one or even two stops.

Then what? To the Photoshop!

Bring in your picture and do any spotting or correction. Add a levels adjustment layer. Move the shadows-end pointer in the output levels slider up to lighten the whole image.

Make a duplicate of the background layer and place the copy above the levels adjustment layer. Add some fuzz to the duplicate layer with Filter, Distort, Diffuse glow. Set the graininess to around 9, the glow amount to 12, the clear amount to 15. Set the blend mode to Screen and the Opacity to 90%.

Add a new fill layer above the duplicate, filled with solid colour. Use white or the main highlight colour in the face as the fill. Set the blend mode to Soft light and the opacity to 80%. Filter this layer to add blur: use Filter, Blur, Gaussian blur with an amount of around 70 pixels.

Will and Dan

This is what the layer stack looks like.

Haiki stack

There you go. Just don’t use it for everything. You will also be pleased to know that brighter pictures are thought to be better.

Angle of view

We refer to lenses by their focal length, and usually convert that to a full-frame 35mm equivalent. But since different sizes of sensor or film have different equivalent focal lengths that give the same field of view, we might do better to talk about lenses in terms of their angle of view. Then we would know exactly what we were talking about (a world first!). So my new compact camera that has a fixed zoom would make sense to me – I have no idea just by looking at it what equivalent in 35mm terms the 7.4 – 44.4mm zoom is. All the numbers tell me is that the lens is a 6x zoom.

There is also a difference between what the lens does and what the sensor or film uses. The lens projects a cone of light, but the sensor sits inside that cone and captures a portion of it. Since the sensor is usually square or rectangular, the most it can capture would be when the cone of light just covers the diagonal of the sensor. I think that’s misleading in real terms though – it’s like the way TV screens are described by measuring the diagonal of the screen. In practical use, what matters is the angle of view seen by the longest side of the sensor. That sets how wide you can capture a landscape or how tall a building (unless you are shooting a square format, in which case they are the same). So a 60 degree angle of view lens on my 6×9 roll film camera will get the same shot as a 60 degree lens on my APS-C digital. The difference will be in the amount of detail captured. If I changed format to say a 6×17 camera, I would still get the same side to side angle of view if I used a 60 degree lens. All that would change is that I would lose a lot of the vertical dimension. I could get the same picture by cropping down a different camera to the letterbox format, providing I was still using a 60 degree lens.

You still need to think in terms of the focal length though, if you switch lenses between different formats. A 40mm lens on 6×6 covers the format and provides a 70 degree angle of view. Put that lens on an APS-C camera and the smaller sensor can only see a portion of the field of view. The focal length stays the same but the angle of view seen by the sensor changes, in this case to a 33 degree lens. It is a handy way to get cheaper long lenses to use on smaller format cameras though – I’ve used what would be mild portrait lenses on medium format as long tele lenses on APS-C to shoot sports. The famed Kodak Aero Ektar at 178mm focal length was the same angle of view on aero film as a 50mm lens on 35mm/ full frame. Stick it on a medium format camera and you have a decent portrait lens (in terms of angle of view).

Who cares? Well, it makes it much easier to understand what a lens will do than quoting the focal length. My Canon compact has a 54-10 degree zoom lens, equivalent (in old money) to a 35-200mm zoom on 35mm or 23-131mm on APS-C.

Working with angle of view rather than focal length means I could do some test shots on ‘free’ digital with say, 90 and 60 degree lenses and know exactly what lens to take if I wanted to use a different camera for the final shot, without having to do sums.

Of course, if we wanted to be even more practical we would measure our lenses in mils rather than degrees. The army uses mils, as it makes it much easier to correct the aim of things or estimate distance. I only found out about these when I borrowed an army compass and saw that it had too many numbers on the dial. Mils might be more useful than degrees when you are shooting pictures at a distance. Knowing roughly how wide a stage is and how far away you are, you can fairly easily look up the angle of view of the lens you need to cover it. Want the singer to roughly fill the height of a horizontal frame? Same calculation:

Angle in mils = subject size in mm / distance in metres.

So if you were shooting a car race and wanted to fill the frame you could work out what lens to use. Say you are 60m from the track and you want the field of view of the camera to be 4m wide. You need a lens with an angle of view of about 67 mils. A 500mm lens on 35mm gives you 73 mils, so that’s what you would take (or a 300mm if you were shooting on APS-C).

The army does this sort of thing a lot, so they have ready-reckoners for working out the size of a distant object in mils so that you can estimate the range (or in our case, pick the right lens out of the bag). The width of one finger held out at arm’s length is about 30 mils. Two fingers together are about 70 mils. Work out what combination of fingers matches your lenses and you can work out what you need before you take it out of the bag. The other trick with mils is that it makes it easier to estimate distances:

Distance in meters = size of object in mm / width or height of it in mils.

So a 3m long car covered by my single finger (30 mils) is 100m away. For closer work you could use a card rangefinder.

But I expect that in a hundred years time we will still be talking about lenses by their 35mm format equivalent focal length.

Stand and deliver

A few years back I had the job of arranging the speakers for a photography club. There was a regular repeating group of local pundits, so of course I went totally off piste and got people in who did more than the usual landscape and a bit of wildlife. One of these was the (sadly missed) Terry Cryer. Apart from being a wonderful raconteur and a brilliant printer, he was also a great photographer. One of his pictures was a little girl stood in a doorway. He said it was almost too dark to focus, so he threw the film in some D76 diluted 1:100 and left it for a couple of hours. My spider senses were aroused – what was this thing he did? It was stand development, and I was at least a hundred years late to the party. So I parked the idea in memory as something that might come in useful one day.

Day – and I had a roll of film shot under difficult lighting. Very contrasty, with intense highlights and deep shadows. What I needed was a method of holding back the development of the highlights while bringing-up the shadows. There was something rattling in the back of my head about standing around. To t’interweb!

It seemed the answer was semi-stand development in dilute Rodinal. Even more joyous was the message that the same development method and time worked for most films, so I could fill the tank with different types or speeds and get loads of stuff done in one go. So, here we go – Rodinal diluted 1+100; normal agitation for the first minute then leave the tank to stand; one careful inversion every 30 mins; tip it out, wash and fix after two hours. And it worked!

Even better was the news that it could be used on old film or film with unknown sensitivity or exposure. I got a very expired roll of Tri-X as part of the Emulsive Secret Santa with the first couple of frames shot by the donor and me to finish. It worked better than I hoped, even though the film itself was fogged and spotty ( which reminds me of my teenage self).

I had previously tried two-part developer as the magic combination. This too is supposed to preserve the highlights while developing the shadows. The problem is that I seldom got it to work. Unless I made it fresh, my film was grossly under-developed. But the joy of stand development is that the developer is freshly made, just that there is not much of it in the water.

It seems to work though, and it works with pushed film. There are some films that are recommended to not develop with this method, such as Fomapan 320 soft, but my regular diet of HP5 works well. Do I use it all the time? No, I don’t want to take more than two hours to develop a film. I am also worried that I could end up with streaks, so normal film gets normal methods. It’s a useful tool in the box though for when you could have underexposure or a wide exposure range on the film. And isn’t that how you used to tell a Real Engineer – that they had a graded set of hammers?

What about two-part development though? Doesn’t that do the same thing, with less risk of streaking? I would use them to do different jobs. Two-part development works by soaking the film in developer, and then activating just the developer that was absorbed in the film. I would use two-part development when I had greatly overexposed the film. It holds back the highlights because they only have as much developer as they absorbed. So this should be great for pulling film: giving it two or three stops of overexposure so that you get loads of shadow detail. I actually did this as an experiment, photographing a willow tree in full leaf in direct sunlight. Each frame in the sequence was overexposed by an additional stop, but all that happened is the shadow detail increased: the highlights stayed the same. So this is great for when you have to deal with high contrast and want to render it ‘normal’.

People of York
Shot on a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye on ISO 400 film in bright sunshine. Coped nicely with overexposure.

I would use semi-stand development for when I had pushed the film. The highlights are held back because they exhaust the developer locally, while the shadows continue to develop. What Terry Cryer did was to push his film with the picture of the little girl: underexpose and then bring it up in development without increasing the contrast too far to be printable. I would also use semi-stand for when I had very mixed scenes on the same film. An example was recently, where I was using an unsophisticated camera to take both night shots and daytime landscapes. Bung the film in the tank and semi-stand it and all the frames turn out OK.

No doubt people use either method to do either job, and I think even my description of them ends up saying that they are the same. For me it’s all just theory anyway: I’ve found two-part developers to be unreliable, while semi-stand uses known good chemicals. So while I might theorise about using different methods, I would use semi-stand for both situations.

And an aside – why semi-stand and not stand? Stand means no agitation at all, and really does risk getting streaky negatives. Semi-stand means agitating a tiny amount; just enough to stop the streaks. And not a double-entendre in sight.

Is it worth trying? For sure, so that you have it there if you ever need it. Give it a go. I’m adamant. (Sorry!)

Making pictures pop

A quickie, as it’s Boxing Day.

If you could do one thing in Photoshop to make your pictures look better, this is it.

Try doing this before you do any other edits. If you are worried about the effect, make a copy of the image layer and apply the effect to that. But I believe this works so well that I would apply it to every picture, whether I then make any further edits or not.

“So what is this magic?” I hear you ask. It’s using an unsharp mask to make the picture pop.

There will be a similar menu sequence in other good image editing programs, but in Photoshop (Elements, in my case), it’s Enhance, Unsharp Mask.

Mask 1

Make the settings Amount 20%, Radius 60, Threshold 0.

Mask 2

Photoshop has a preview tick box. Before you commit the effect, click this on and off to see what it is doing to your picture.

I hope you like it. I do. It’s a simple way to make the mid-range tones and detail stand out.


Getting toned

One of the great things about black and white pictures is you can make them any colour you want.

Why would you do that? Well, sometimes it can add to an image. Imagine a picture of an old sportscar, toned in British Racing Green. How about being able to control the subtlety of a sepia tint? How about adding a hint of colour that matches the paint on the walls (or is complementary)? Or toning the highlights in a scene slightly warm and the shadows with a hint of blue?


The last one – toning the highlights differently to the shadows – is split-toning and used to be really difficult using chemicals.

Rather than smelly stuff and plastic trays, you will need somethng like Photoshop: Elements is fine, as is any similar program that will work with layers and blending modes.

Open your base image and change the mode to RGB colour (in case it is set as Greyscale). Then do all the things you would normally do to make it look nice. To change just the shadows, add a new layer above the image that has blending mode Lighten. To tone just the highlights, make the blending mode Darken. Then fill the layer with the colour of your choice and play with the Opacity to tweak the level of toning.

The following set of layers –

Set 2

Produced this picture.

The mighty Nikonos at Wheldrake Woods
The mighty Nikonos at Wheldrake Woods

If you wanted to tone with only a single colour, say for sepia toning, use a single solid colour fill layer above the image with blending mode Colour. If you want sepia, try filling the layer with the settings Red 210, Green 165 and Blue 90. Again, play with the opacity to tune the effect.


So where do you get nice colours from? Or in other words, where do you find the RGB settings for the colour of your choice?

If you have a Pantone colour in mind, there is a website here that gives the RGB values. If you have a named paint in mind, try this one.


Through a glass, darkly.

So I was listening, as one does, to some of those poddy talk-show things. A couple of them mentioned the use of filters in black and white film photography. The discussion came around to what effect filters have and what to use them for. I started by shouting at the radio (I was listening in the car while commuting). Then it migrated to ‘as any ful kno’. Then it changed to my thinking how best to describe what filters do. This is that description. You may prefer that I stayed the silent fool.

Let’s get colour out of the way first. If you avoid the use of those awful Cokin filters of yore (you thought a tobacco graduate was a university-leaver making a poor career choice?), you are left with two basic filters: neutral density and polarising.

Tobacco graduate - what was I thinking?

ND filters will let you either use long exposures for those creamy moving water shots or, in graduated form, hold back a bright sky to give the foreground a chance.

Polarisers can take reflections off glass and water, darken some areas of the sky and increase contrast. Here endeth the colour filters.

Black and white is capable of much more manipulation. The basic idea is that a coloured filter lightens its own tone on the negative and darkens the complimentary (meaning opposite) colour. “Fine” you may think “but what’s the opposite of green?”. Strictly it’s magenta, but you can vary between blue and red to get the exact effect you want.

There is a very good online resource here that describes how colours are grouped and work together and has an interactive colour-picker to let you experiment. As an aside, if you find a colour you like, it gives you the RGB values for it, which you can use in Photoshop to tone an image. Perhaps a subject for a future post.

Traditionally, anyone shooting landscapes on mono film used a yellow filter. Yellow darkens the appearance of blue, so makes the skies darker and the clouds stand out more. The haze you see over distant objects is also blue, so a yellow filter cuts through this a bit and makes the scene look a bit clearer.

This works for all colours, but there is a little complication that stops the story ending right here – colour sensitivity.

The makers of black and white film had to work hard over many years to make it sensitive to all of the visible colours of light. The first films were really only sensitive to blue and were known as Orthochromatic. Since they can’t really ‘see’ red, they can be developed under a safelight. Most photographic enlarging paper is orthochromatic. Being only sensitive to blue doesn’t matter, as the subject has already been converted to black and white on the negative. There is a real benefit in being able to see what you are doing in the darkroom (or the ‘red room’ as watchers of Stranger Things are calling it).

Gradually the manufacturers added sensitivity to green and red, giving us modern Panchromatic film that can see the full visible spectrum.

You can see the difference in portraits taken on old and new film. The old Ortho film darkened skin and lips and struggled to render skies as anything but white. And note – there is no point in putting a red filter on a camera using Ortho film – it would only have the effect of a fairly strong neutral density filter. On the other hand, if you want to recreate the old Ortho look in a scene or portrait, use a blue filter on a modern Panchromatic film.

The fun comes in that, in adding sensitivity to red light, some films strayed over the line (bad films!) into the infrared. Using a strong red filter on these films can give the effect of using specialised infrared film. This renders blue skies as black, cuts through any atmospheric haze and can render leaves and grass as white. This is because the chlorophyll reflects infrared quite strongly. So a red filter, that you might have expected to make green go very dark, can actually cause it to go white. It depends on the film though, and on the amount and direction of sunlight.

So where does this take us with filters? Filters lighten their own colour and darken the opposite colour, within the constraints of what the film is capable of seeing. A red filter will darken grass and blue skies, lighten brickwork and make pale skin paler. A red or orange filter can subdue the appearance of freckles on pale skin. A green filter will darken blue skies but also lighten grass and leaves and darken brickwork.

You can see how filters treat colours differently if you have a copy of Photoshop or Elements that can do layers. Open a colour picture in the application. Add a new layer above the image – make it a hue/saturation adjustment layer and make the blending mode Colour (or Color). Name it Filter.

Make a second hue/saturation adjustment layer on top of this one and name it Film. Double-click the layer thumbnail and drag the saturation slider to -100. This will turn the image to black and white. The layers should look like the picture below.


Go back to the Filter layer and double-click the layer thumbnail and drag the Hue slider from side to side. What you are doing is seeing how a black and white film renders a colourful scene through various colours of filter.


The picture above shows what you can do. The original image is top left. The other images are various twekas of the Filter settings. The weird image bottom right is what the colours look like in my favourite settings, with the mono-conversion layer switched off. You may just prefer this anyway.

It’s worth a play, as you may find a setting that gives you a really sharp tonal separation in what would have been a blur of blending greys.

Actually, there is one more thing you can do with colour film or digital and filters and it involves flash. Put a blue filter over the lens and a yellow filter over the flash. Shoot portraits close enough to be flash-lit. The background will go a deep evening blue. This is how to shoot day-for-night.


Try it, and try the mono filters thing too.