How To Make A Digital Lith Print
Inspiration in photography can come from a variety of different sources. The inspiration for today’s blog feature picture was gained from the last post I put on Instagram. A picture taken earlier this year in southern Spain at sunrise but processed as a digital Lith print. The digital lith process is nothing unusual for me as I have been working with this look for the past 10 years. It has been said, “one of a type is a mistake, 10 are a fad and 100 are a style”. To create your own vision and style takes dedication and practice.
One of the most influential books on my photography has been “Photography and the art of seeing” by Freeman Patterson. In the book, he describes a photographer who works with a macro lens and the reflections from a chromium toaster. The person who photographed reflections in the toaster wasn’t taking pictures of a toaster, in their mind, they were adding their own way thinking about the shapes, patterns and colour that were produced.
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance”. Aristotle
I believe the telling word in the quote from Aristotle is the word “significance”, how each of us defines what is significant to us is a personal choice and will vary as time goes by and with each different situation. So for me to make pictures of puddles that have the appearance of landscape vistas all I’m doing is interpreting what I see in my own way. As with all things in photography, there are no right or wrong answers. Each of us has the right to interpret any subject in whatever way we choose.
Back in the good old days of the darkroom in the late 1980s, I would create pictures from film grain and shadows, very much in the style of today’s feature picture. Back then, I was using a Kodak film called Tmax 3200, you can tell the ASA rating of the film was 3200 now what is called 3200 ISO. When Tmax 3200 (TMZ) was developed in Agfa Rodinal film developer it produced grain like golf balls.
Limited Depth of Field
So moving forward into the digital age, how is the same or similar effect created in Lightroom and or Photoshop? As many of you will know much my photography is based on a limited depth of field. For this type of photography I use lenses with maximum aperture of f1.2, f1.4 or f1.8, at a close focus distance this gives me great control over the softness of the background.
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The feature picture
The feature picture was taken on a workshop recce in Shropshire at Slipperstone on a cold and wet January morning. The early mist had cleared and the picture opportunities weren’t that exciting. So the feature picture was made from puddles in the car park. I took about 20 shots but the ones used in this blog post have been selected because they remove the element of scale. Once the scale is removed the viewer appears to be looking at landscapes of an unknown size. Here a digital lith process has been used to give it the Andy Beel look.
My Digital Lith Workflow – this not a click by click guide
- Select a picture that works as a square crop if required.
- In Lightroom open and crop the shot square, convert to black and white.
- Export to Photoshop Ctrl /Cmd + E.
- Duplicate the Background Layer Ctrl /Cmd + J.
- Convert the Duplicate Background Layer to a Smart Filter Layer > Filter > Smart Layer.
- Open Silver Efex on the Smart Filter layer Filter > Google Collection (On a smart Layer you can revisit your setting and change your mind later).
- Insert the Kodak TMZ 3200 film grain, 50 Grains per pixel, 0 hardness for the grain.
- Reset Black Point of the Film grain effect curve back to zero.
- Use the SEP Histogram to check all tones fall in a range of Zone 2 – Zone 8 at this stage. The contrast will be increased later. Adjust brightness and contrast sliders if necessary.
- Save the SEP2 File, the file will automatically open again in Ps.
- For the Lith effect to look right the grain has to be in the mid tones and shadows NOT in the highlights. The next step is to mask the grain applied in SEP2 to just the midtones and shadows.
- Select the background layer, Open the Colour Range Tool from the drop-down menu pick Highlights, click ok.
- Feather the selection by about 100px – there needs to be a blend so the grain feathers in the highlights.
- Apply the selection to the Duplicate Background Layer.
- Invert the Layer Mask (select the layer mask then Ctrl /Cmd + I) – this selects the midtones and shadows – where we want the grain NOT to be in the Highlights.
- Save the file in Photoshop Ctrl /Cmd + S and Quit Ctrl /Cmd + Q . This opens the new Tiff file in Lightroom.
- Apply a Lith type curve and adjust the Exposure if necessary.
- Apply the Split toning to highlights 39 Degrees and Shadows 206 Degrees less than 5% Saturation for the Shadows. These are suggestions as a starting point.
- Darken the edges with Post Crop Vignette Tool with 100% feather.
- Darken the sky if required with either an Adjustment Brush or Graduated Filter.
- The look may be enhanced by reducing overall Clarity by about 50%, The aim is NOT to create pictures that look like they came out of a digital camera.
The workflow used to make the picture
The process used to make the final picture was a combination of Lightroom, Photoshop and Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2). The only reason for using Silver Effex is to mimic the TMZ film grain. SEP2 has the ability to recreate differing film grain looks. I’m using Silver Efex through Photoshop because it gives me the opportunity to change my mind that is not available when the plug-in is used through Lightroom.
Below a different view of the same location.