Wednesday, 5 June 2013

How To: Create 2nd Pass Lith Prints

  Second pass lith is a phrase coined by Tim Rudman and is another tool in the printers tool belt that (like lith) can open up a whole new world of possibilities.  Just like lith developing a plethora of colours are available to the printer who takes time to get to grips with the process and is willing to experiment a little.  In this how-to we’ll run through the basics of 2nd pass lith so that you can get started yourself.

  First, we should talk about what 2nd pass lith actually is.  Unlike lith developing where we overexpose the paper and then slip it into the lith bath, with 2nd pass lith we develop a slightly overexposed print in our normal developer, bleach it back and then redevelop it in lith developer.  The special thing about 2nd pass lith is that it can be used on some papers that do not straight lith, meaning that new avenues are opened up for the printer.  I like to use Kentmere VC Select as it is readily available, relatively cheap and gives lovely greys and pinks on redevelopment.  It is best to experiment with the different papers you have.  Some that lith nicely wont second pass at all whilst others will give a good effect.  Take some time to try some of your stock out and see what you can come up with.  Tim Rudman regularly produces a PDF document with the results of papers and developers currently on the market.  It’s definitely worth a read and you can sign up to get it on his website here

  To demonstrate the process let’s talk through a print or two of mine that i have used this process on.  The first print we will discuss is one i took at a wedding of the front of the wedding car.  Not an especially wonderful print but it serves our demonstration purposes well here.  I did a test strip on from 0 – 30s at grade 2 and came up with this:

  I chose the 30s time as it had the detail i wanted (i was only printing this to make this tutorial so was too focused on getting exposure spot on).  I had to do a little dodging and burning (particularly on the bonnet as the sun was hitting it hard on the day) to get an even exposure across the print.  I should state that when you are making a print to 2nd pass lith it should be overexposed (made darker) slightly (around ¼ - ¾ of a stop, depending on the effect you go for) to compensate for the loss of highlight detail you will get when bleaching and redeveloping (remember the shadows will accelerate in the lith developer and so highlight detail may get left behind).  So, i developed my print (making sure it was slightly denser) and came up with this (which this damned blog hosting website wont let me rotate!):

   Nothing mind-blowing but it will do.  Note how the highlights are burned in quite heavily.  This is important because i want to retain detail in the bonnet highlights before the shadows get too blocked up.

  After the usual wash it is time to bleach the print.  If you have a bleach from a sepia toning kit that will do nicely.  Now comes experimentation time.  You can bleach the whole print back, bleach only the highlights, bleach partway into the midtones or bleach until you just touch the shadows; it’s really up to you.  Bleaching time will obviously effect the look of your final print so it is good to make a few copies of the same print and try different bleaching times, then compare the final prints and see what works for you.  The type of bleach you use will also effect the colour you get upon redeveloping.  Bleach supplied with toner kits is usually a potassium ferricyanide/potassium bromide mix but copper sulphate bleaches are also available (among others).  If you are only bleaching a little it is good to dilute your bleach (around 1:7 is what i find best) as this gives you more control.  If you put a print into full strength bleach it will disappear very rapidly, a weaker bleach will allow you time to inspect and decide when to pull the print.

  With this print i first tried bleaching only the highlight, but it didn’t work as on redevelopment the shadow blocked up before any highlight detail started to return.  Bleaching all the way back led to a very flat image.  In the end i bleached partway into the lower mid-tones resulting in this:

  After a good wash to make sure all the bleach was removed i put the print into my lith developer and started agitating the tray.  Another good thing about 2nd pass lith is that it can be done with the lights on, therefore meaning that you can keep a good eye on the print a development progresses.  You may find that development is very rapid, sometimes just 1 minute!  With this print the shadows started building up nicely as the highlights were starting to come in.  This paper tends to give nice greys in the midtones and lovely pinks in the highlights:

  I toned this print in selenium toner which reduced some of the pink and gave the mid-tone greys a cooler blueish colour.  As you can see, although not true lith it does have some lith characteristics like high contrast, cool grainy shadows and colourful highlights.

  Let’s now take a look at another print.  This is a quick portrait i shot of my wife Jess at a wedding we went to recently.  It was shot on Ilford Delta 400 and developed in Rodinal.  Big mistake.  I quickly came to see that delta films developed in Rodinal give hideous, hideous grain!  Won’t be making that mistake again!  But as i liked the shot i decided to give it a try with 2nd pass lith on Kentmere VC Select to see what happened.  I spent some time doing a test strip and subsequently had to change the grade to get the contrast i wanted.  A print at grade 2 resulted in this monstrosity:

   So i did a split on a sheet of paper, grade 3 on the left and grade 4 on the right.  Grade 4 gave me roughly the look i wanted so i did a straight print.  When it came to bleaching i left the print in the potassium ferricyanide/potassium bromide until the shadows were just starting to be affected. 

  I then washed thoroughly and began redeveloping in the lith developer.  The shadows emerged nicely and the highlights took on a pleasing pale pinkish tone.  When the time seemed right i snatched the print and stop, fixed and washed as usual.  I then finished off with a small amount of selenium toning to give a little extra “pop” to the print.  I like how the 2nd pass has forced the eyes to stand out from the shot more and given the hair nice detailed contrast.


  As with straight lith there are many factors that can affect the look of the final print.  The paper used, developer temperature and dilution, the type of bleach used, time bleached, time developed and the overexposure of the original print can all change the look of the resulting print; and it would be good to spend some time experimenting with these.

  But who’s to say that 2nd pass lith has to use standard developer then lith developer?  You can start with lith and end with lith if you like, or you can start with lith then end with standard dev.  It’s really up to you – again, experimentation is the word!

  As with straight lith, toning can often alter the colours you can get on the final print.  I find selenium can have a huge effect on the highlight colours particularly. It is good to take a print, cut it into strips and tone for varying amounts of time.  Some papers will show little change where others can go from yellow highlights t pinkish red, plum, steely grey and brown!  I’m going to say it again – experiment!

  So as you can see, 2nd pass lith is a lot of fun and is a great way of extending your printing vocabulary.  I hope you give it a try and i hope you like the results you get.  Here’s a print of mine to end on that is 2ndpass lithed on Orwo BN118.


  1. Hi Dave,

    I had never heard about 2nd pass lith before. Thanks for the detailed post. Especially the lovely portrait seems to have come alive in the lith dev.

    One question: does the photo turn very dark/black if time in lith is extended indefinitely (as it would in overexposed and only lith developed prints)? In other words, is the snatch point still critical? I presume lith only re-develops what's bleached back.

    Also, have you tried Ilford papers in 2nd pass lith?


    1. Hi Omar,

      Im glad this post has introduced you to something new and thanks for your approval on the portrait, it means a lot coming from a great printer such as yourself (i follow your posts on the online darkroom blog)!

      In 2nd pass lith snatch point is still critical. Regardless of how much bleaching has occurred everything on the paper still develops so its a case of finding that balance between exposure, bleaching and developing that will give you the final look you want.

      I have never tried 2nd pass lithing ilford papers personally. I believe MG WT papers lith in a way when the developing is done at a higher than usual temperature but i cant say for sure that it will 2nd pass. I do know that MG Art 300 does 2nd pass lith and can look fantastic given the right subject but again, i have never tried it myself.

      I hope that helps and if you have any more questions please feel free to get in touch.


  2. Thanks Dave!

    I used to lith print a lot during a period when both lith-able Forte paper and lith developer was available to me. Today, both are gone. I could try to mix lith developer from raw chemicals - gotta do some searching - and it's good to hear that at least Art300 works with lith, as I only have Ilford paper readily available.


    1. It must be tough living in an area where you cant get much gear. yeah at least art 300 is an option (albeit an expensive one). i hear its a bit of a pain but its doable. not sure hwo it does in straight lith though.