Tuesday, 28 March 2017


I think I may be becoming addicted to lith.  Could be worse things to be addicted to, I s'pose.

Missy at the Whiterocks a couple of years ago, OM-1 raised to her eyes.  Note the bare feet. Easylith on Foma 131 paper, for those who care about such things. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Snap from a small island

One you might have seen before in a different guise.  A lith-developed print on Ilford Warmtone 5x7 RC paper.  Not toned, just naturally warm.

Rathlin Island, looking West, summer of 2016.  Snapped up on the M6 with a 21mm Voigtlander lens.  One of those wee silver LTM lenses with a adaptor to fit the M6.  A thing of beauty it is, too - with a focussing prong and all.  I could live on Rathlin, even though it's only a couple of miles one way by about 5 the other.  It's one of those places that feels just so in touch with Mother Earth and whatever weather she decides to throw at it, which is usually a lot.  And even though there is electricity and Internet these days it feels very un-connected. And there's history to the place - everywhere.  On the way to school this morning I asked Missy if we were going to Rathlin this summer and she looked at me as if I had horns (a good Ulster colloquialism that one).  The gist of the reply was 'Of course'.  Can't wait.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Ilford Cooltone vs Kentmere

"Reelcraft" - A thing wot I saw when wandering about Coleraine Marina the other day.  It houses a fuel line, necessary for those boats with engines.

Anyway, I had printed it out on Kentmere VC Select last week, gave it a slosh in sepia and was pretty pleased with the result.  Then a couple of days ago, when I received the new Ilford Cooltone RC paper, I printed the same neg, just for comparison.  Here ya go:

Kentmere on the left, Cooltone on the right
Clearly the Cooltone print is way more contrasty.  It's strange, before the Cooltone print I was pretty happy with the Kentmere, but when I look at the two side-by-side the Cooltone one has a lot more sparkle to it.  Of course it's entirely possible that the Kentmere print could have done with a bit more contrast. With a different scene things might be the other way around, but given the fact that the main subject is metallic and has a lot of reflective highlights I think the higher contrast print works better.

Just for the record, the untoned print on Ilford Cooltone paper:

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Ilford Cooltone

Been playing with a new (to me) paper - Ilford Cooltone RC.  Ilford describe it as have 'a cool image tone on a cool white image base'.  Sounds about right then, eh?  I thought it might suit the winter light we get around The Liberties.

The print is much punchier than the scan, for some reason.  The blacks at the first step there are really deep and the white of the salt very white.  I think you could probably get a really graphic look to your prints with this paper, if that's what you want.  I used good old Multigrade developer for these prints.

These were the first couple of prints out of the wash with this paper, so it's too early to really say too much about it.  But certainly the resulting prints are eye-catching, maybe even a little too contrasty.  I should really print some old negs and see how they compare with, say, Kentmere or Ilford Warmtone.

Again, the print has much more life about it than this scan, on my monitor at least.  It's easy to get very high contrast with this paper, as you can see.  Not unpleasant, but probably not suitable for all subjects.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Virtually real

This is my mate Dr C, who I used to work with not so long ago.  He's pictured here in his den, surrounded by more computer hardware than you could shake a stick at.  Still, that's what he does - he gets paid to play with this stuff, all day long.

Not the best shot in the world - just snapped off last weekend as he was showing off his latest tech.  This is a crop - I was handholding the square-shooter at about 1/60th.  Seemed to work OK.  All those computer rays have clearly caused his hair to fall out - even more than mine, it has to be said.
The research work we did was very applied - creating computer games for rehabilitation.  Mostly for people with stroke.  We would drive about all over the country getting people to test the systems we built - sometimes the same person for several months, a couple of times a week.  The theory was that the game-based systems provide better engagement than traditional rehab solutions, which mostly involve fairly boring, repetitive movements.   There was one lady we used to visit - lived way up the country at the end of a very long and bumpy single-track lane.  No neighbours within shouting distance.  She'd been widowed a few years ago and had since had a stroke which had left her in a pretty bad way, mostly wheelchair-bound.  She lived on her own and had a really tough lot, but I can honestly say she had the sunniest disposition of anyone we ever worked with.  An amazing lady.

Anyway, my mate Dr C is still banging away at this stuff, playing with virtual reality headsets, motion detection systems and pretty cool games.  If it wasn't for all the admin involved, the stress of research targets and the almost yearly 'restructuring' of University departments it would be close to being the best job in the world.  Next week yer man is off to Italy, he tells me.  Last month it was Spain.  And he's a couple of weeks to do in Oslo later in the year.   I did a fair bit of travelling in my day too, but to be honest, while it's always nice to go somewhere new, I don't miss it.  Airports are really not fun places to be any more and I find travelling more of a hassle these days.

So I got to try out his latest systems the other day and it was clear things have moved on in the couple of years since I've been out of it.  The technology was much improved - the headset provided better immersion, smoother movement and more accurate registration of the graphics with your own hand movements.  I'd really love to see this work come to fruition and be installed in all the stroke units up and down the country - in every country.  Eventually, of course, the idea is to have it in the home, so people can use it anytime, just as they do with a TV, laptop or games console.  That's the plan, anyway.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Playing around

Just been playing about with the prints from last week - toning and stuff.  Nothing spectacular to report.

Ilford Warmtone RC in lith

Same print toned in hot selenium (windows open :). Decent shift in colour, even if not that appropriate for this particular wintery scene.

I toned the Polymax print too, just to see.  A bit of a pointless exercise, really, since to my knowledge you can't buy this stuff any more.

Original print: Kodak Polymax II in lith

After toning - took it well, eh?

Friday, 10 March 2017

More paperwork

Some more work on different RC papers with the hot and weak Easylith developer.  First off we have Ilford Warmtone, which we know works pretty well:

I like the depth in the sky on this print of Portstewart Bay.  That's not a smudge in the middle, by the way - it's a lone seagull heading Northwards.

Next up is an fixed grade glossy paper, Kodak Polymax II.  I know nothing about this paper - I was given a box of it some time ago and this is the first time I've used it.  Its probably ancient - I liked it a lot:

Although not such a pronounced lith effect as compared to the Warmtone above it came out looking pretty good.  It looks a bit streaky in the sky, though - not quite sure why, it could be over-enthusiastic tray agitation.

Then we have Adox MCC 312:

Isn't that rather lovely? Lower in contrast than the other, but sometimes that's OK.  I think me developer was losing it's ooomph by this stage, which might well be the reason.  But still, a decent result - there's a subtle warmth to the whole print which is very pleasing.  And no, I didn't Photoshop out the seagull - it was a different neg.
Lastly comes Fotospeed's Oyster paper:

Much more colour to this paper, which didn't really come out in the scan.  It almost looks like it's had a mild sepia tone.

So there's a bit more to do, I think, with regard to getting to grip with these papers.  The next step is to do a bit more work with just one paper at a time, try to get the contrast up on the Fotospeed and the Adox papers in particular.  There's exposure as well as dilution and temperature of the developer to play with, so enough to keep me off the streets for some time, I reckon.  And just for the record, I also tried that old stalwart, Kentmere VC Select - in fact that was my first paper of the day.  In case you're wondering where that one ended up, it's in the bin :)

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Lith on RC paper

Some more lith experimentation, since that seems to be the flavour of the month.  Unfortunately what was almost a half-decent snap was somewhat ruined by an invading shadow of a lamp-post, which I failed to spot at the time.  However, that's not really what this story is all about.

When I was reading Tim Rudman's Lith Printing book the other day I saw that he not only referred to Ilford Warmtone Fibre paper as lithable, but that the RC version also got a mention.  This intrigued me, since I never really thought about using an RC paper with lith - I don't know why, but I just assumed that it was a process that would only work with fibre paper.  Anyway, since I had a nearly-empty box of 5x7 Warmtone RC lying about I thought I'd give it a go.

Dr Rudman suggests that both versions of the paper respond best to dilute, hot lith (in the book 40 degrees is mentioned, which certainly is hot).  So I made up some as hot as I could without resorting to a kettle - certainly it was over 30.  I was suitably stingy with the developer, mixing 10ml of A, 10ml of B and 500ml of water - good, eh?  I overexposed by 4 stops to begin with:

As you can see, the result was, well...interesting.  With the other papers I've used, in the Moersch Easylith developer the image can take anything up to 5 mins to make an appearance but this one appeared within 30 seconds and seemed to accelerate at a fearsome rate.  I'm sure that isn't supposed to happen - perhaps it was due to the temperature of the developer.  At any rate it caught me by surprise, as you can see, and the whole thing rather got away from me.  When things are happening so quickly, you forget that during the few seconds you are holding the print up to take a closer look the process is still accelerating.  From what I read about it, once you have decided the print is there or thereabouts (i.e., you are happy with the shadow tones) the best course of action is to get it into the stop bath without delay.  Forget even about draining the developer from the print, just get on with it - you get the point.  Anyway, the clouds in the top right of the print in particular look nicely textured, even if the whole print has a bit of 'What's going on here then?' quality about it.  It's art, innit? Think JMW Turner on a bad day.

The golden rule in lith developing, I understand, is that highlights are controlled by exposure, shadows by development.  I closed down a full stop and went again:

OK so the print has opened up a bit and although it is more conventional-looking there is still a degree of lithy-ness about it, albeit it fairly subtle.  In hindsight it probably wasn't the best negative to choose for this little experiment.  Anyway, you can clearly see the offending shadow of the lamp-post in the foreground. I think I prefer the first print...

This last one shows the effect of a dunk in some hot selenium - things are warmed considerably, this RC paper certainly takes the tone well.  Not that suitable for this particular subject, mind you, which was taken in cold winter light one morning last week. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Ilford Warmtone and lith

I promised some more words on my lith adventures.  A while back I saw Bob Carnie's YouTube video of him working in his darkroom.  It's always nice to see someone else's darkroom adventures - it's not a thing you often see, for obvious reasons.  Particularly good when the person involved is an expert, of course.  Mr Carnie was singing the praises of Ilford Warmtone fibre paper and lith. Now I tried that a while back and nothing worked for me, so I'd kind of set it to one side for a while.  But, given that I've a shedload of this particular paper, acquired a while ago from a guy who was selling out his darkroom, I thought I'd give it another go.  I was glad I did.

Same neg as last time - the one of St Thomas's Church in Rathlin Island.  OK so I looked at the Ilford Warmtone lith print from a while back (the one that didn't work) and thought what can I do to bring this round?  Since you need to 'heavily over-expose' the negative for lith developer I thought maybe I had erred too much on the side of caution last time, when I overexposed by 2 stops.  So this time around I opened the lens up 4 stops and sure enough, that seemed to do the trick:

Not perfect, but there is something there so I was encouraged.  Contrast is low, as you can see and there's a bit of a greenish tone to the whole thing, which isn't very attractive.   If you compare it to the Foma 131 paper version (here) it just doesn't look great. 

I then did probably what I should have done some time ago - I did a bit of research.  I looked up Tim Rudman's book on Lith Printing and sure enough, under Ilford Warmtone he makes the following observations: "Lith effect more subdued and understated with less colourful results.  Many possibilities on bleach and re-development".  

OK so far so good.  The bleach and re-development sounds great but I need to read up a bit more on that before doing anything.  But saying as how this paper is supposed to reach well to toning, I soaked the print in water again and then sloshed it around in some selenium heated to about 30 degrees.  The change was pretty noticeable:

As you can see the whole print looks a lot more alive - perhaps even more so than the first print on the Foma paper (although to make a fair comparison, I should really tone that print as well).  Certainly the green cast has disappeared to be replaced by a much more pleasing warm tone, almost verging on a copper appearance, or "plummy-red" as Tim Rudman puts it.  Anyway, I was pleased enough with the outcome.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A beginner's view of lith printing

As you may know, I've been doing some lith work recently.  It's proving interesting but there are a lot of variables which I'm trying to get to grips with.

I'm using Moersch's EasyLith developer - basically, this is lith developer for beginners.  There's an A and a B solution and you decide what proportion you want of each and dilute it heavily with water.  1:15 to 1:50 is suggested, which is quite a big range - so for example, 1:25 would mean 20ml A + 20ml B + 1000ml water.  Higher dilution means stronger exposure, longer development times and softer/more colourful highlights.  Lower dilution for less exposure which leads to more contrast in the print, less colour and undeveloped mid-tones. To start with the negative is heavily overexposed, by 2 to 4 stops.  The development stage then takes anything from 5 to 15 minutes and while it is very slow to get going, once the print reaches a certain point you get what is termed 'infectious development' and the shadows turn black quickly.  If you don't snatch the print from the developer at this point, the next shadow zone also turns black and any detail there will be lost.  So although you are stopping development before the midtones and highlights have fully appeared, if all is well these will spring to life in the fix.  This is completely different to the usual fix stage for conventional printing, where nothing visible happens at all  - everything has taken place in the developer.

One corollary of all that is that since you need to be able to see the print progress in the developer, you need to ensure that your safelight is indeed safe over the long period of time that the print will be in the developer.  Some people prefer to use a safelight torch which they use to check progress intermittently, rather than leave their main safelight on the whole time.

At first glance, lith developing seems like a black art - there are seemingly hundreds of different methods and while not all papers react to lith developers the ones that do would appear to have their own individuality with regard to how the finished print looks.  I read around the subject a bit but like all things in life there comes a point where you just have to get your hands dirty (or wet, in this case) and try it out for yourself - in my case with Foma MG 131 paper.

What can you expect from the process?  Ideally deep blacks, colourful mid-tones, white highlights and a print that looks very different to conventional printing.  It's early days but I have to admit it is a bit addictive.  Toning can add another dimension and again there are a hundred different variations, from the usual selenium to copper, gold, carbon - you name it.  You can re-bleach a conventional print and lith develop it, you can have a two-bath lith development process (with differing proportions of the magic potions), the list seems to be endless.

The two things that keep me awake at night (well, not really, but you know what I mean) are predictability and repeatability.  Like most things, predictability comes with a mix of knowledge and experience - if I have in mind how I would like my print to look, then what do I need to do in order to get there?  Sure, sometimes you get side-tracked in the darkroom and end up with something different to what you envisaged - usually that's a good thing.  Repeatability is always harder to get right in the darkroom, in my experience.  Even in conventional printing, if I get to a certain stage and then up-sticks for the night, the following day I never seem to be able to pick up from where I left off.

Enough talking - here's a scan of a print:

St Thomas' Church, Rathlin Island 2016
Maybe not a typical example of a lith print (if such a thing exists) but certainly very different from a conventional print of the negative.  Decent contrast and there is probably more colour in the print highlights than appears on this scan (at least on my monitor).   Now I probably should have been happy with this and moved on but no, the day after I went back to tweak things little here and there and make a larger print for the wall.  Let's just say the repeatability gremlins followed me around that day and things didn't work out as I expected.  I'll say more about that next time.