Emulating Kodalith: Back to the Future

Back in the film era, Kodalith film was the modern gateway to working in the wet darkroom to produce antique and lost printing techniques. What’s Kodalith? It’s a extremely high contrast, orthochromatic film that’s primarily designed for making line and halftone negatives for photomechanical reproduction. It has wide exposure and development latitude and was also used making highlight masks to improve the reproduction of important highlight detail when making duplicates from transparencies. Those photographers wishing to try older arcane printing techniques would make contact-sized (often the only way to make prints with these processes) negatives using Kodalith sheet film produced from 35mm originals.

That was then; this is now. Today I’ll show you  a “modern” digital way to accomplish a look that’s similar to old processes that formerly required you dunking your fingers or tongs into smelly and potentially hazardous chemicals. Since so many process required the use of Kodalith, it’s worth a look at a few digital techniques for producing Kodalith-like effects in the digital darkroom.

One of my favorite places to make photographs is the living history museum of the Adams County Historical Museum where my wife Mary captured this image of an old windmill with an Olympus E-510 and Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5–5.6 lens. Exposure was 1/800 sec at f/5 and ISO 200.

Photoshop’s Thresholds (Image > Adjustments >Threshold) command lets you create high contrast images from within Photoshop. To identify a highlight, drag the slider to the far right until the image becomes pure black. Drag the Threshold slider slowly toward the center until some solid white areas appear in the image. Or you can drag the slider to the far left until the image becomes pure white then drag it slowly toward the center until some solid black areas appear in the image.

Photoshop’s Stamp and Torn Edges filters is one ways to create high contract images but Thresholds will also do the same thing. It’s your call. 

mono.bookIf you like black and white or monochrome photography, you might want to pick up a copy of my out-of-print book Creative Digital Monochrome Effects. It’s still available and (I think anyway) is a fun read. New copies are available from Amazon for $9.99 or as a used book for the bargain price of $2.55 (plus shipping) for one of my favorite books.

Author: Joe Farace

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