Tag: alternative

New Books

Since the move I’m still adjusting to my new work space. I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with all the windows in every room. I never thought I’d miss having an interior closet of a bathroom. Speaking of, even my closet has windows! I am starting to think that my only truly light-proof solution is to work at night. I’m a natural night owl anyway but I prefer not to exacerbate my tendency to stay up until all hours. But I’m getting to the point that if I don’t start creating something soon I’ll go a little nuts.


In the meantime my solution is to buy new books. Looking at other people working helps to get my juices flowing and motivates me to figure out how to make this space work for the fiddly printing methods I enjoy.


My first purchase this year was long overdue. I finally bought the bible of alternative processes: The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes 3rd Edition by Christopher James. The new edition has a brand new, huge section on wet plate collodion. It has been a trendy technique for a few years now. Despite that, it’s a cool process. If a nice lens ever makes its way into my life I may build a camera and play with wet plate but I have also been playing with a combo technique marrying digital manipulations with alternative printing methods to give me what I like about wet plate without all the chemicals and large format camera. I’m still playing but I think I’m close to something worth continuing. Anyway, this book touches on so many techniques that there will be something in it that sets your brain on fire. Half of the methods in the book were unknown to me until I read through it. It was nice to see Mr. James mention Luis González Palma (his official website is down as of this entry but hopefully it’ll pop back up soon). It is impossible to look at his work without some sort of reaction.


If you are interested in historical and alternative processes, The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes is invaluable.



My next purchase was Salt Print by Peter Mrhar. I adore salt printing. It has such a dreamy quality even if I’m using negatives made from my digital images. Because it’s printed on water color paper you can do so many surface techniques to it. I know albumen tightens it up a bit but until we start our next flock of chickens I think I’ll stick with plain ‘ol salt printing. This book caught my eye because of the mention of orotones.

orotone(this image came from a website dedicated to orotones.)

The book has very clear directions for salt printing on glass to facilitate the creation of orotones. And I do love shiny things. We just discovered a pile of glass sheets in one of our sheds at the new house. Gotta love 100+ old houses and the weird stuff you have popping up when you poke around. The rest of the book has some valuable information about technique but I mainly bought it for printing on things other than paper and the various varnish formulas.


Photographic Possibilities by Robert Hirsch is the latest book to make it into my collection. I got it this afternoon as an early anniversary present. My husband is good at picking books for me. So far I can see that this book will be good at breaking any creative block concerning photography. I love the section on creative process and working through an idea. It also touches on numerous historical processes with well laid out chapters that include all the formulas you will need plus techniques. The book also goes into non-traditional techniques like chemigrams, hand-coloring with a variety of mediums, and transfer techniques. I need to spend more time with the book but so far it looks interesting.

Salt Print Attempt #1

Last night was exciting! Well, it was exciting to me.

I tried salt printing for the first time with the kit from Bostick & Sullivan. I also used the gold toning kit though so far it looks like the prints need longer toning times. It was an interesting few hours. For starters, I have no idea what each stage of this process is supposed to look like. This is completely foreign territory for me. At least I’ve done cyanotypes on and off over the last 10 years or so. Tonight I was going off of written descriptions of what to look for and just winging it using various internet sites. I think I got lucky as far as which curve to use and how to print the digital negative for this process. I’m knocking on wood and kissing my muse’s butt right now.

I used two different digital negative printing methods and tried both out last night. One looked nice. The other was a miserable failure. I had a feeling the second one would not work but I had no idea what would happen with the first.

First, my failure:


It’s still wet but you can see the overly high contrast, lack of detail, and the muddy highlights.

I was following some advice on a random website that suggested using colored ink to block light and allow the highlights to develop slower. I followed his directions but the results were less than stellar. I had my doubts as I was working on that so I also decided to do a mix of advice off of several websites and tried to create as dense of a negative as I could while preserving as much tonality as possible.


I still need to learn more about the process but I’m pleased with this attempt.

My other attempt was much better. I’m not sure if I could have pulled more detail into this negative or not. I’ve seen some detailed prints online and in books. I need to research the process more and see how far I can push it. This kit is nice but once I get this down and get fairly predictable results I may move on to mixing my own formulas to see what happens.

Just for the sake of, I put together a file so I could see the original image with the cyanotype and salt print. The variety of the different processes is interesting and I feel confident enough in proceeding with these alternative processes. Now to figure out a project to turn into a series …


Cyanotypes (and the beginning of more contact printing)

{Warning: Long Post}

Cyanotypes can be a very satisfying process to work with. When I was in college I took an alternative photography class and cyanotypes were one of my favorite processes. We also learned  gum oils, Van Dykes, a dry plate method for doing tintypes, and a few more processes I’m sure I don’t remember anymore. For anyone just starting out with contact printing (specifically, printing out an image on paper vs. developing an image in a dark room) I recommend cyanotypes. They are one of the easiest, cheapest methods to try. You only need the sun, some paper, and the chemicals. You don’t need a dark room. But you do need to be aware of UV exposure if you aren’t going to expose the paper immediately.

I liked the idea of having a fairly consistent workflow so I decided to build a UV light box. There are several websites and books out there to get you started. Try to find someone familiar with electrical work (if you are not) before you start so the wiring will be done safely and correctly. Also, keep in mind that too much UV exposure can be harmful so when looking at plans keep that in mind. Some people build their boxes with the bulbs facing up. I chose to build mine to be fully enclosed. Sourcing bulbs cheaply can be difficult. Hopefully this website is still in business in the future and still has decent prices (Top Bulb). I used F20T12 BL (black light) bulbs (not BLB). I purchased the sockets and ballasts separately so that I had more control over the spacing of the bulbs. Yes, I should have documented the build but I didn’t. Have patience and plan well. A few google sessions should result in a good understanding of what you need.

I also recommend Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes. It has a good overview of different processes along with recipes if you want to mix your own chemicals so you have more control over your results. There are so many books out there and many of them have good information. I tend to research and read a lot before I start a new project so I always recommend checking out as many information sources as you can. Bostick & Sullivan sells a cyanotype kit that will get you started and yields good results. You can also get a kit from Photographers’ Formulary but I haven’t used it. They do sell bulk chemicals though for when you want to try your own mixing. Another fun website is Rockland Colloid. They have a tintype dry plate kit among other things.


Light box in the building stage.


Light box being wired. I used 10 bulbs in my box.

My light box took several weekends to build mainly due to needing to re-cut a few pieces and waiting on my father-in-law to visit so I could talk him into helping me wire it up. Once the box was done, Dan Burkholder’s book was a life saver. I do shoot both digitally and on film but the biggest film I shoot is 120. Contact printing means that the print will be the same size as the negative so you either need to shoot on larger film or learn to make digital negatives. Burkholder recommends the higher-end Epson printers and that is what he gives instructions for in his book. You can use other brands and you can even get away with using dye-based inks but after playing around on my own I found it easier to bite the bullet and get a nice Epson.


 First test run.


 Step charts utilizing various curves found around the web and other sources.

With a working light box and a few curves to play with I started printing out my negatives and trying them on various papers with various exposures. With some papers it makes a difference what side you use, so when you cut the paper down, mark the back with a pencil. I also write the name of the paper and the exposure time so that I can remember later. I started playing with Lana Aquarelle, Fabriano, Arches Platine, Rives BFK, and Arches Hot Press. Arches HP was the clear winner, but I’m glad I have a variety because I want to play with other processes and each process reacts differently to each paper.

Once your paper is cut down, it’s time to add the sensitizer. When adding the sensitizer to the paper it is safe to be in a room with a 40W bulb while coating, drying, and rinsing. Fluorescents can emit a small amount of UV and cloud your prints. Some people also use yellow bug lights or amber safe lights.  There are a few ways to coat the paper. You can use a glass coating rod or various brushes. I prefer using a hake brush. Once the paper is dry (you can use a hairdryer on a cool setting to speed things up) sandwich the negative and the paper between two heavy, uncoated pieces of glass and secure with clips. You can also use a contact frame. They are expensive to buy new, but I found some smaller ones at a reasonable price on ebay.  Set the whole contraption either in the sun or into your UV box and wait. In bright sun the print will develop in a few minutes. Look for the shadow areas to go blue then start to reverse. You may or may not see the shadows start to solarize and get a shimmer. Keep track of the time so you can adjust as needed. Once they are exposed, rinse the paper until all the yellow has washed from the paper. I’ve seen recommended rinse times from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Use whatever is recommended for your kit or recipe. Make sure you agitate the print and keep the water flowing. I have extremely hard water in my house so I start with a 3 minute rinse of distilled water and a dash of vinegar. I then rinse as usual and then do a final rinse in water and a dash of hydrogen peroxide to bring out the blues faster. You can also tone cyanotypes to alter the color but I haven’t played with that yet.


 Different papers and exposure times.


Trying to print from a scan of an old photo. These are different curves. None are very satisfactory. It leaves me wondering if making a digital negative from a photograph (vs scan) of an old print would be easier or not.


 The fogging at the top is from overcoating. Some recommend to do a light coat with distilled water and letting it dry until just damp before applying the cyanotype solution to aid in an even coat.

It is good to remember that you don’t need negatives, light boxes, or fancy printers to do cyanotypes. You can also do sun prints. They are equally as satisfying and all you need is the sun and interesting things to put onto your paper. Feathers create unique patterns and certain plant material can be pleasantly translucent.


 My stepkids had fun making sun prints.

I hope this post was semi-informative and made a few people want to go out and try this fun process. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without the help of Anthony Maddaloni. He makes this look so easy. Well, it isn’t hard, but I do over-think things. He is great about making me just do instead of plan to death.


 My favorite image to date even though it could use some tweaking. A Paris hospital lit up for Nuit Blanche. Made on my back porch with a digital negative and printed in the sun on Fabriano paper.

After I get my cyanotypes to where I want them I’m going to start on salt prints and dry plate tintypes. I may venture into albumen printing only because we have an overflow of fresh backyard eggs. Look for more blog posts then those experiments start up.