Photographs by Frank

19 February 2021

A Response to Joe’s Questions

In his comment on my “first salted-paper print” post, my friend Joe raises some interesting questions (in italics below). I thought that I would reply publically here rather than in an email to him alone.

So, do you prefer this process to your cyanotypes?

It is not so much as preferring one process over another. Rather the key, I think is to fit the photograph to the process and to the “mood” (aesthetic?) that one wishes to convey.

And, for me, why?

I think that I can answer this on many levels. The fun of learning and hopefully mastering something new. Having another tool for artistic expression. Or to paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary… “Because I can”!

You have a good image that would be a great print via the usual ways of printing.

It is interesting that you raise this point. Back a month or so ago, as I was setting up a printer with Piezography Pro inks, I make prints of this series of photographs using the “full warm” inks*. These prints (scans shown below), on a satin paper, are very nice but not as ‘special’ as the salted-paper prints.

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* The Piezography Pro system modifies an Epson printer to use only black/gray inks. The inkset consists of two sets of four inks. One set is warm toned and one is cool toned. The software allows one to mix the two set of inks to arrive at a final print of any tone in between, including dead neutral, if that is the desired result.

19 December 2020

Steel, Stone and Wood

Filed under: Alternative Processes,Cyanotype — Frank @ 10:00 PM

I haven’t made any cyanotypes in about a month. It has been too cold in my basement “dim room”; about 45 degrees. A few days ago the house was chilly enough that we started the basement stove and suddenly it was warm enough in the basement to work again.

I printed three 4×5 inch negatives from exposures I made several weeks ago, coated some 5×7 inch Rives BFK paper and made these prints.

It is satisfying to be at a place with the cyanotype process that I can get nice prints without much fussing about. I am not sure that I ever got to that point my first “go round” with cyanotype a dozen plus years ago.

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24 November 2020

2020 Winter Solstice Print

Filed under: Alternative Processes,Cyanotype,Winter Solstice Prints — Frank @ 9:00 PM

I don’t think that I have posted here before about my tradition of sending a print to friends and family in celebration of the winter solstice.

I am early this year because I was a bit nervous about having to print so many copies of a single print via a “wet” process. However, I was able to make twenty successful copies (on 5×7 inch paper) of this print in one long dim room session. I took prints to the post office yesterday.

The following is the photo (and accompanying text) that comprise the 2020 version of this tradition:

David Vestal (1924-2013) was a well-known photographer, critic and teacher. For many years he sent friends and family a small holiday print.  In 2013 I decided to begin a similar tradition. The print you have in front of you is my eighth “Winter Solstice Print”.

At the end of each year, I choose a photograph made during the preceding year; one that, I think, turned out well. I expect that most will not have a holiday, or even a winter, theme.  I make a dozen or so small prints and send them to folks whom I think might enjoy them. I do not keep a list of those receiving each year’s print and expect to send prints to a different selection of folks each year. Thus, do not be offended if you do not receive a print every year!

This year’s print, a cyanotype, is titled “Jane’s Barn”. The exposure was made on 6 April 2020.

I was headed back towards the house on my (allegedly) daily walk. The bright midday sun sharply illuminated this view of the back of our neighbor’s barn through the still leafless trees. It is a scene that I had passed by hundreds of times, but had never photographed.

Cyanotype is a photographic process invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel. In this “year of the virus” I have taken up making cyanotypes after a hiatus of about a dozen years. It took me roughly a month back in April to work out all of the details of making prints in my basement “dim room”.

The cyanotype process involves painting a lemon-yellow solution of iron salts onto paper – Fabriano Tiepolo (130 gsm) in this case. Once the paper is dry, it is sandwiched with a negative in a contact-printing frame and exposed to ultraviolet light. Traditionally, the sun was used as the UV source. However, I use a homemade UV light box containing “black light” LEDs. Exposures take several minutes. These days, I work exclusively with inkjet negatives prepared from digital files and printed onto a clear film.

A pigment (Prussian blue) is formed via the action of the light on the iron compounds, producing the image. The exposed paper is washed free of the unexposed iron salts and dried to give the print you now hold.

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15 September 2020

Another Batch of Cyanotypes

Filed under: Alternative Processes,Cyanotype — Frank @ 6:30 PM

Last week I prepared another batch of four negatives (at 4″x5″ on half a letter-sized sheet of OHP film) from some old files and made some more cyanotypes. I am pretty pleased with my process as it stands and am now able to confidently make nice prints without much struggle.

I am still trying to decide on my “standard” paper(s), for cyanotype. I printed each of these four negative on four different papers*.

The differences between papers are very subtle and all made good prints. So as not to bore anyone, I show only one print from each negative!

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* The four papers are:

Fabriano Unica White (250 gsm, 50% cotton, $0.11 for a 5″x7″ sheet)
Stonehenge Warm (250 gsm, 100% cotton, $0.17 for a 5″x7″ sheet)
Fabriano Tiepolo (130 gsm, 100% cotton, $0.16 for a 5″x7″ sheet)
Rives Heavyweight White (175 gsm, 100% cotton, $0.27 for a 5″x7″ sheet)

All these papers were purchased as large sheets from Acuity Papers (a small outfit in Indiana; highly recommended) that I cut to size myself.

21 August 2020

New Cyanotypes

Filed under: Alternative Processes,Cyanotype — Frank @ 12:30 PM

Back in March I began the process of relearning/perfecting the making of cyanotypes after a twelve year hiatus. Following, much experimenting and testing over the past few months, I am now trying to make some finished prints some of which might even (hopefully) rise to the level of “art”.

All of these small (4″x 5″) prints were made in the last week or two by contact printing a digital negative on hand coated paper.

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23 May 2020

Cyanotype on Vellum Backed with Copper Leaf

Filed under: Alternative Processes,Cyanotype — Frank @ 10:00 AM

Back in early April, when I started making cyanotypes again one of the papers I tried out was a cotton vellum I had lying around. I thought it might be interesting to layer the translucent vellum on top of other materials.

I was aware of Dan Burkholder’s work where he backs prints on vellum with gold leaf and thought that maybe his methods would work with cyanotypes. I signed up for Dan’s “Inkjet Alternatives Workshop” which was scheduled for the end of April. Of course, given the current state of the world the workshop was cancelled.

However, the Burkholder’s recently began selling a kit for gilding prints so I bought a kit to experiment with. I figured that a workshop would have been ideal but that the kit would get me started. I was intending to learn the materials and method with inkjet prints before moving onto cyanotypes.

However, as I went to start experimenting with the kit at the beginning of the week, I said to myself… “Self, why not just try with cyanotypes.” So I did!

I chose an image of the Cape d’Or light in Nova Scotia made with my camera obscura for this test. The negative is 4.5 inches square.

After a delay of a couple of days during which I made a stock of cyanotypes to experiment with, I began the gilding process on Wednesday. I had my first finished glided (using copper leaf) cyanotype by late yesterday (i.e. Friday) evening. The image is 4.5 inches square and it is mounted in an 8×10 inch mat.

Here it is, although I don’t think that the scans do it justice:

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It has a few flaws which I can hopefully avoid with the next one but it is, I think, not half bad for a first attempt!

9 May 2020

Cyanotype Toning Experiments

Filed under: Alternative Processes,Cyanotype — Frank @ 4:00 PM

If you follow my blog, you will know that back about a month ago I started making cyanotypes again after a hiatus of roughly twelve years. I began by adapting my previous knowledge to my current situation.

Since pretty much everything (printer for digital negatives, UV light source, physical space, etc.) had changed I began more-or-less from scratch. The learning curve was relatively short since I was not starting anew in terms of experience. Once I had the basics figured out I moved on to toning cyanotypes.

Earlier this week, I decided to do a bit more systematic experimenting with the toning of cyanotypes. I began the process by accumulating multiple copies of more-or-less the same cyanotype prints to use as starting material for toning. I won’t bore you with the details, but it took me two evenings of work to accumulate enough small prints for a toning trial.

Toning cyanotypes requires two components, a polyphoenol and a base (or alkali). There are three commonly used pure polyphenols: tannic acid, gallic acid and pyrogallic acid. Natural mixtures of polyphenols in the form of coffee and various teas are also sometime used. They are not considered here.

Most of my previous work was with tannic acid. I did have a stock of gallic acid which I had tried only randomly before. I had never tried pyrogallic acid before so I ordered some for this set of trials.

The commonly used bases for toning are sodium carbonate (washing soda) and ammonium hydroxide (household ammonia). I also wanted to include (because of some very preliminary tests a week or so ago) sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in my trial.

The general procedure I used for these experiment was as I described previously. I pre-wet the dried prints in water for two or thee minutes minimum and then transferred the print to a bath of the 2% (w/v) polyphenol in water (i.e. 2 g / 100 mL). After soaking in the polyphenol solution for 5 minutes, the print was drained and dipped briefly (10-15 seconds) in water and then transferred to the base solution (7.5% w/v for sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate or 5% v/v of household ammonia) for another brief interval (15-60 seconds; tone judged by the eye of the beholder). Finally the print was washed thoroughly in water before drying.

In general this procedure causes, in addition to the desired shift in hue, a very mild bleaching of the color . Thus is is best to start with a print that is on the dense side of acceptable rather than one on the light side.

There is also a lose of contrast due to staining of the highlights. This staining seems least with gallic acid and worse with pyrogallic acid. I have not investigated the staining of papers in any systematic way, but expect that there will be some variation among papers.

My first series of tests investigated the effect of changing the polyphenol. All the toned prints in this series were treated with ammonia as the base. These prints were on Rives Heavyweight cream paper (175 gsm). Here are the results:

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For the second series, I used prints made on Arches Hot Press (300 gsm) paper and varied the polyphenol again. The base was ammonia as it was in the first series.

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It is interesting to note that the paper seems to affect the final tone achieved by each combination; compare the corresponding images in the first two series. Given that I have only tested two papers, this will need further testing to confirm the generality of this observation.

For the third series, I again used prints made on Arches Hot Press paper (300 gsm). Tannic acid was the polyphenol and I varied the base. (Note that first two prints in this series are the same as the first two in the second series.)

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When toning with sodium carbonate, the color, which ends up as a chocolaty or reddish brown at completion, passes through a warm purple phase on the way from the native blue. In the past, I have tried to stop the process at the intermediate stage without much success and without any reproduciblity.

Since bicarbonate is a weaker base than carbonate, my thought was that it might let me “trap” the intermediate tone more reliably.

The result of this trial shows that bicarbonate certainly gives a different tone that is less reddish-more purplish than does carbonate; compare the last two prints in this series.

20 April 2020

Toned Cyanotypes

Filed under: Cyanotype — Frank @ 10:00 PM

I’ve spent the past week and a half working to perfect both my basic cyanotype process and to re-explore the toning of cyanotypes in order to get colors other than the Prussian blue that is the native cyanotype hue.

If you are interested in the gory details of toning continue reading after the images. Otherwise you can stop here!

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The first three prints are on platine (a paper designed for alternative processes such as cyanotype); the last image print is on Stonehenge Warm, a traditional printmaking paper. Note that the tone achieved with carbonate is influenced by the paper.

Here are the gory details…

Toning of cyanotypes involves two classes of chemicals, one needs a polyphenol and a base (alkali).

Tannic acid and gallic acid are commonly used pure polyphenols; coffee or tea are also sources of polyphenols and are sometimes used to tone cyanotypes.

The two most common bases used are sodium carbonate (washing soda) and ammonium hydroxide (common household ammonia).

If one looks at the literature, there are many, many different procedures people have devised to use these compounds to tone cyanotype.. Many of the descriptions talk about the variability in cyanotype toning and some even entourage one to embrace the serendipity and make one-of-a-kind, never to be reproduced singletons.

I guess that I am too much of a scientist, I want toning procedures that are repeatable and controllable. Thus, I have spent sometime experimenting to find a stable procedure.

My procedure, using prints that have dried overnight, is this:

  1. Re-wet the print for at least 2 minutes in water
  2. Soak in tannic acid* (2.5 g / 100 mL) for 5 minutes
  3. Rinse by dipping quickly in water (15-30 seconds)
  4. Place print in either sodium carbonate (7.5 g / mL) or ammonia (5 mL of household ammonia in 100 mL water) until desired tone is achieved; generally 30 – 90 seconds.

When one places the print in the base, the color quickly begins to change. I usually let the color change go to completion as I have found it difficult to stop the change in a reproducible manner; something to work on in the future. Sodium carbonate gives red-brown tones ending with a rich chocolate brown at completion. With ammonia one gets various shades of purple ending with an almost gray color at completion. In both cases the final shade achieved is influenced by a little by the paper used.

This procedure gives little if any bleaching of the image. In my view, this is a big plus. It basically eliminates the need to print the original cyanotype on the dark side and then hope that the result of bleaching (characteristic of many other procedures) is both pleasing and reproducible.

* I have done a few experiments using gallic acid as well but for the moment have concentrated on tannic acid. I have been using reagent grade tannic acid which is fairly expensive. I have ordered some food grade tannin, which is a reasonablly priced, but less pure for of tannic acid. We’ll have to see if it is an acceptable substitute.

9 April 2020


Filed under: Alternative Processes,Cyanotype,Landscapes — Frank @ 4:30 PM

It has been just a month since my last post. Like most of us, I imagine, my world has shrunk in these strange times. I have not made many new photographs in the past month. I have been busy though.

Back on 3 January, according to Amazon, I bought some “black light” LED strips with the intention of refitting my UV exposure unit. This unit is used for making alternative process prints via contact printing.

When I made this unit, probably fifteen years ago, I used fluorescent bulbs designed for reptile cages. These bulbs were getting old and cranky. I know… just like me! Three of the six bulbs would not start at all no matter how much I fiddled.

Thus about two weeks ago, I finally broke out the screwdrivers and pliers, removed the fluorescent fixtures and replaced them with the LED strips. It took me all of a half hour. I’m not sure why I waited so long!

Light source at hand, and a bunch of virially induced downtime available I have begun making cyanotypes again. It has probably twelve years since I last worked regularly in cyanotype

Since 31 March I have spent six sessions working in my “dim room” in the basement*. I basically started from scratch by determining exposure times with the new light source. The LEDs are about twice as fast as the old bulbs were. Exposures are taking 5 minutes give or take.

I moved on to printing step tables in order to optimize the curve applied when I print negatives digitally. These curves are used to control contrast.

I then explored variations in processing and a number of different papers.

Yesterday, things really started to come together and I made decent prints from three negatives as shown below**.

Shown are files straight from the scanner with no further processing. They show the entire piece of paper… I even left in the step tables for those who care! 😉

The digital versions are just a bit flatter than the actual prints. The images are 4.5″ square and come from my camera obscura.

The first two are printed on Arches Hot Press, a traditional watercolor paper. The third is printed on Stonehenge White, a traditional printmaking paper. Both papers are very smooth, 100% rag papers and are relatively “heavy”; 300 gsm for the Arches and 250 gsm for the Stonehenge.

I’m close! Another final tweak to the curve to, hopefully, improve contrast in the highlights and I’ll be ready for serious work!

After that it is back to experimenting with toning of cyanotypes. This is something I had much fun with previously.

Then maybe I’ll move on to Van Dyke Browns or salt prints. Those will take much more effort in terms of a darker workspace and how to handle the waste. Having a septic system makes one think very carefully about the latter!

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* One reason that cyanotype is nice is that, being a UV sensitive process, one does not need a strictly dark room. Avoiding sunlight or fluorescent lighting all together and using dim light otherwise suffices.

** I picked these three images to test with because, for cyanotype, these represent difficult tonality. Cyanotype has a fairly short range and contrast is somewhat limited compared to silver-based processes or, especially to digital prints. In my view, these three images push the limits of what is possible with cyanotype.

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