Another black and white image from my print archive today. Click here to read an earlier post to learn how these have been digitized.

Click on any image to see a better and sharper enlargement.


This Image was taken about 40 years ago on the edge of Derwentwater near Keswick in the English Lake District. Rowing boats (or Skiffs as they are called), were drawn up on the shingle edge of the lake, readily available for hire at small jetties. It was late afternoon and the sun was delineating the shape of the skiffs. In the distance, towards the far side of the lake there was a small Sail Boat. A chance finding, but without the balance and tension that that small patch of white provides, the print is incomplete.

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s there was a vogue for producing Lith Prints. At its simplest level this was a technique to reduce a full-toned black and white print to one containing purely black and white tones. Here is the Lith version of the straight print seen above from my print archive.

ARPS5_DS75340The Lith process was time consuming, It involved printing the original negative onto lith film (usually onto 6 x 6cm film – the old two-and-a-quarter square) to obtain a Lith Positive. The Lith Positive was then contact printed onto another sheet of Lith Film to produce a Lith Negative from which the final print was then made. At each step the film had to be processed like any other film. And dried. The tricky part of the process was controlling the tone threshold: one side of which everything was rendered black and the other side white. A bit of trial and error, and test strips, was involved to retain the right amount of detail in the final image.

In the Digital Era you save several hours of work! In Photoshop it’s a simple matter of Image / Adjustments / Threshold and play with the slider. Simple! And below is the Digital re-working of the original image seen top of Post.


Hard to spot the difference but the Digital version has a little more subtlety to it, the darkroom version being a little more ‘chunky’ in the way the ‘threshold’ has been rendered.

And the moral of this story: those of you who have never worked in a darkroom have no idea how hard we had to work to achieve results that in the digital era are obtained in a few seconds. Sob! Sob! But the sense of achievement in those dark days was massive when you got it right!


About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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19 Responses to Skiffs

  1. In the past I have used my digital images to make screenprints, photo-etchings, solar plate and paper-litho/gum arabic prints. Many of these processes feel like reversing or un-doing the sophisticated images that we are used to in the age of digital images. The results are far less predictable and variations add character that may be hard to achieve digitally. Some think it is an odd thing to want to do but I have made some very rewarding prints. As you say there is a different sense of achievement. I have spent a few days many many years ago in a photo darkroom and appreciate the work that went (and still does!) into producing stunning images. Many young people may look at old B&W photographs and there reference points are computers and photoshop. I look at them in wonder and remember the smell of the chemicals and the worry of developing film for the right time! Here is a digital photograph of a gum arabic print that I made: I think it looks closer to the sort of images that you might get from using a glass plate slide/negative. It was good to see your lith image and thought I’d share my more recent experiences undoing todays technology! Best wishes, N

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks so much for those fascinating observations. There are purists and there are those who enjoy pushing the boundaries. It has always been thus in any art form. I saw the amazing Lichtenstein exhibition earlier this week – well worth seeing. He pushed the boundaries in many ways: re-interpreting Picasso and Monet amongst others, and of course also re-creating scenes from the comic books. I enjoy manipulating images to distil something that is different – there are many options in Photoshop’s filter gallery for starters. Creativity lies at the heart of all Art forms – with photography it doesn’t end when we press the shutter button. Re-interpreting a captured image is half the fun – it brings out the maverick in me. It’s a personal voyage of discovery. I only keep what I like and if someone else likes it, then that is always a bonus.

  2. Len says:

    You bring back a lot of memories of spending hours in the darkroom to produce what today takes minutes Andy. I think only those who lived through the challenges of the darkroom will ever appreciate it. I wonder what the next generation will think of what we do today. Super images, both old and new!

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Len. I often wonder what people like Ansel Adams would think if they were still around today. Working in the Darkroom was a bit like cooking a meal. It was all the preparation beforehand and the clearing up afterwards that consumed the time as well as the enjoyable bit of making pictures

  3. Fantastic images Andy and Fascinating post.

  4. oneowner says:

    Very nice images, Andy. I used the Lith process to achieve the high contrast look for many years, too. It was, as you say, time consuming (not to mention expensive) but very rewarding. It was also fun but I have to say I don’t miss doing it now. I learned a technique where you took the lith positive and negative and put them together slightly out of resister to get a line drawing effect. I haven’t tried that in Photoshop but it should be easy to do with layers and blend modes. I can see a new project coming up.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Ken. I thought that post would resonate with you. I also tried out the Sabbatier effect with Lith: flashing the light on during the development of the inter-negative. Somewhere I have the one really good result of that atttempt, (which was a line image), and a lot of failures! Look forward to seeing what you achieve.

  5. Mark Summerfield says:

    Those were the days! Hours, days, sometimes weeks in the darkroom trying to tweak the print. Never tried the Lith process as I seemed to have enough trouble with normal printing! I am truly amazed at how much detail you are able to pull out of your old B&W prints – looks to be well worth the time and effort if this is the sort of image you are now able to produce.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mark. A lot of us seem to date back to those fixer-smelling days! I was surprised too by how sharp these copies of the old 20 x 16 inch prints are. They have had only minor tweaks in Photoshop and of course a little bit of sharpening. It’s saving me a huge amount of time.

  6. Nice to meet you….love finding other photographers and seeing their work. Yours surely didn’t disappoint.

  7. says:

    #1 please! Beautifully gleaming !

  8. ehpem says:

    Another variation on this theme – my father is a potter, and one of the things he sometimes does is to transfer pictures onto his pottery.
    The method is to create a high contrast image in photoshop, reverse the image and then he prints it on a modified photocopier. The photocopier does not heat-seal the toner, and the machine is old enough that the toner has a lot of carbon in it. The unfixed toner is then applied to a light coloured wet slip that has been applied to the unfired clay pot, by pressing the paper to the slip – the toner sticks to the slip – and the paper is removed. Once the slip and toner have dried he then applies a clear glaze over top and it is fired in the kiln. The carbon in the toner does not burn away, but the other components do, leaving more of a dark grey image than a black one, beneath a shiny layer of clear glaze. It takes several days, and it took him many many tries to perfect the technique. It is a great combination of high tech and ancient craft, and the results are highly satisfactory.

  9. ShimonZ says:

    You bring back a lot of memories with this post. Most of my work with the media was not for the art… but because I had to produce certain images for a customer… but often it lead to play.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thank you Shimon. I don’t think I could ever have done photography commercially – I think I would have found it rather soul destroying to produce images to order

  10. Mike says:

    Oh you are so right Andy. The digital process almost feels like cheating. And what a sweet shortcut it is!

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