The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

How To: Make Second Pass Lith Prints

Second pass lith is a phrase coined by Tim Rudman (the printing legend) and is another tool in the printers tool belt that, like lith printing,  can open up a whole new world of printing possibilities.  Just like lith developing a plethora of colours are available to the printer who takes the 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 paper 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 wasn't 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 in my standard developer (making sure it was slightly denser) and came up with this:


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 for me) 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 highlights, but it didn’t work as on redevelopment the shadows 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 as 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 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 underexposed delta films developed in Rodinal give hideous, hideous grain!  Won’t be making that mistake again!  That'll teach me for trying to shoot 100 iso in a dimly lit room!  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 to pinkish red, plum, steely grey and brown!  I’m going to say it again – experiment!

So as you can see from this very brief walk-through 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.  As always, happy printing everyone!