Posts Tagged: Cyanotype

Classes and Cyanotype Updates

So I haven’t been very photographically productive in the last few weeks as I have been very busy with work and as usual in the few weeks before leaving for holidays work always seems to get a little busier.

In the past few weeks I have finished my last class with Russel and Wendy Kwan in the exceptional and artistically awakening “Chasing Light Stranger” classes. I have mentioned their classes before but I will praise them again now. Wow! What great classes.

These are not your usual photography classes filled with technical information about shutter speeds or apertures or even advanced classes about lighting or the “Circle of Confusion”. No, these are about guiding or awakening the artist in you. They are about focusing your art into a project and guiding you along and finally bringing your project along to a theoretical completion. Not that your project is finished, but rather all the required elements and information are in place and have been passed down and discussed. With all this information you have a clear concise path and a focus.

As you work your way through to the 3rd semester, you learn about marketing your images, discussions on Pricing, Editions, Galleries, Displaying and the like. All aspects are covered including the required legal and business gobbledygook. I am looking forward to semester 4 that doesn’t exist. I can feel that withdrawal already. What i’ll miss the most besides the great knowledge and wisdom passed down to us is the great discourse between all the students, all the other artists! I have found the acceptance of being with a group of ‘artists’ really helps foster creativity. Its great being with a group of like minded individuals with similar goals.

With all my business work and some class homework I have had little time to do any photography and with the not so great weather I have not had many opportunities to work on my sun required cyanotypes. I did have a few opportunities however and they have helped me with some of the logistical and technical challenges of creating the cyanotypes.

Logistically this project became difficult right away just based n the sheer size of the images I want to create. The 16.5″ by 21.5″ images created on 22″ by 30″ paper is a challenge. The negative is the easy part. I have been able to create some great Digital Negatives with great density. I have been working on the proper “curves” for my negatives in relations to the cyanotype process and the formulary I am using. I did run into some consistency issues with the sun, clouds, time of day and so on but thats easy to figure out. Nothing a test strip print wont solve. The curves have been developed and I will soon post my techniques and my results. OK, perhaps not so soon (read below).

The most challenging issue has been the paper or specifically the size of the paper. One needs a lot of space in order to work with such large prints. One also needs special equipment! For starters, where do you find a contact print frame that large? You make one! I started by creating a cheap frame which has worked very well for me but I do have plans on building a proper wooden unit. I will post a blog on the cheap unit I built and another on my final wooden contact frame.

Once your image is exposed in the contact frame you need to develop or wash your print in a tray. Again, where does one find such large developing trays. The typical large trays are 20″ by 24″ inch which is too small. Even at these sizes the trays are very costly but I needed bigger. Note that plastic (or glass) is required here. Do not use metal trays for cyanotypes. So, ask an old world darkroom friend for help and they’ll suggest you use large trays designed for placing under washing machines. With a little research I also found that there are some Pet trays that can do the job. Again, I will post a blog on the tray issue with links to what I found.

So, with logistical obstacles taken care of, I was then left to deal with the technical issues. Which chemical formulary to use? The age old Cyanotype formula, the New Cyanotype formula or some hybrid process with enhanced or reduced contrast? I have played with this a bit and again will blog on my findings but most of my current research I have used the simple age old formula. Now that the curves have been developed, I will start working on the final formula selection and once that is done I will further refine the curves.

The greatest technical issue has been one of eavenly coating the paper so that my final print is clean and free of spots, blotches or streaks. This has proven to be a difficult process and one that has been enhance because of the sheer size of the papers that need to be coated. I have used and tested sponge, brush (I use a high quality Japanese Hake brush), roller, coating rod, floating and complete immersion. I have one other process to try that I think will yield the best results. Again, more on this later.

One thing that did work well and one process that I highly recommend is making sure you size your paper. There are various chemical formulas one can use for sizing papers and some are more suited to the cyanotype process. Sizing the paper is a coating that pre-fills and saturates the fibres in the paper allowing the final chemical coating to float on top of and adhere to the sizing material itself. This smoothens the surface, reduces the potential for blotching and can reduce the amount of chemicals used as the paper will not get saturated. This can save money by using less emulsion, perhaps not so much with the cyanotype process but is a must when dealing with silver and platinum salts. for now I have been playing with different concentrations of Arrowroot starch. Again, more details to follow.

So like I said, I haven’t been productive in the way of shooting or creating images but I have been busy. As for not creating my Cyanotype posts, I’m in flight now en route to Frankfurt Germany for two tours I will be leading. So, no Cyanotype stuff for 6 weeks but I hope to post images from the tours and some commentary on the tours and students in days to come.

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.01 – June 2013)
Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

Cyanotype – The Shoot

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

I have already shown some nude samples from images I had shot in the past. And, although they may be perfect to show as examples, I decided in ‘creating’ my images from scratch specifically for this project. Why?

First off, the images themselves, what should they be of? Should I do classic full body nudes, should I do tighter cropped body and light studies (which I like) or should I shoot something in between, perhaps with more complex frame filling compositions?

What about the format? Should I use the standard 35mm 2:3 aspect ratio, the traditional 4:5 aspect ratio or perhaps do some square (1:1) images?

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

The reason this is all important is because when creating a body of work or more specifically a project or collection, it is essential that the images have a coherent feel and look to them that holds the collection together. They should look like they belong together.

This can be achieved by keeping the lighting the same (or similar), by having all your images the same aspect ratio, using the same focal length lens and so on. There are many photographic attributes and characteristics that can be used to cohesively define a collection. This will be important with my Cyanotype project.

More importantly than the above however, shooting specifically for the Cyanotype Project will give me the control that I require when creating the Cyanotypes. Cyanotypes are generally fairly high contrast with few or limited mid-tones. By creating new images specifically for this media type I can better control the mid-tones. I can do that by making sure I start off with the right lighting, shooting RAW and then keeping the mid-tones in mind when I process my digital images, create my digital negatives and then finally creating my Cyanotypes.

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

On the lighting, as you can probably see from most of my nude images I tend to like rather dark high contrast nudes. By using a softer light that gives me softer transitions from light to dark, I can create larger mid-toned transitions between the light and dark areas. The overall contrast will be the same, but with slightly enhanced mid-tones.

Also, because the Cyanotypes are high contrast, any areas within an image that are very faint with just slight detail showing within a dark area will be lost in the Cyanotype process and will be turned to dark blue. Some of the faint detailed areas are important to the overall balance of some of the images and so one must make sure that these show up on the final Cyanotype image. By increasing the amount of light in those areas and properly exposing those normally faint areas, I can ensure details will be retained through the negative creation process and on to the final Cyanotype print.

As you can see from this post the Cyanotype Project truly starts pre-camera shutter release. The right lighting from the onset will translate to properly detailed Cyanotypes.

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

Next time you head out on a shoot, think about what you will be using the images for and on what media types you will be printing on. Will you be printing on high contrast glossy paper or on lower contrast matte paper or on some other media type. Properly exposing and making any adjustments before you print will greatly improve the quality of your printed work.

For my first shoot I photographed two models in a studio setting using studio lighting and a traditional black backdrop. The images here are different contrast levels that I will use to explore the process with. I did want to do some High Key images but will try that on my next shoot to see what that would look like in a Cyanotype. An afterthought I’d like to explore.

For me, this process has given me some excellent digital images I can work with to continue the project. Next up, let’s discuss the digital editing of the Raw files and then look at creating the Digital Negatives and the Specific Curves required for properly creating Cyanotypes.

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.00 – April  2013)

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

Cyanotype – The Negative

So the process for creating Cyanotypes all starts with the Negative. Well, OK, perhaps with the photo shoot to get a negative. I will do a post on that when I do my next shoot for this project.  One could of course shoot film and have readymade negatives. For this project however I’m looking at creating 16×20 images and unfortunately I do not have a 16×20 View camera at my disposal. So, I’ll be shooting digital images and creating Digital Negatives. No, not creating Adobe .DNG files, and not the Digital Negative term coined by the father of Camera RAW files Thomas Knoll representing the RAW data itself but rather printing old style Negative transparencies on Acetate film using my Epson 3880 printer.

The concept of creating a Digital Negative itself is fairly simple; however doing it well is a little more complex. You could simply create a negative image in Photoshop and print it or use your printer driver software to print a negative image if you printer driver can do that, but both these processes would be wrong, or at least would not result in an optimum Cyanotype print with the best possible tones.

Original Image

Besides printing a negative image we have a few other things to tend to. First the image also needs to be reversed. That is, it needs to be flipped on the Horizontal plane. The Negative image will be placed emulsion side of the negative to the emulsion side of the paper and then contact printed. This process reverses the image so this needs to be corrected to make sure words read properly and that right hands remain right hands.

Secondly, more importantly and definitely a little more technically challenging is that the tones need to properly be converted, or mapped, to produce a good tonal curve specifically for the Cyanotype process. Your perfect image with great Whites, Blacks and Mid-Tones will not convert perfectly during the Negative Conversion and even if they did, they would be a perfect Negative conversion for printing on standard paper, not on the greatly reduced tonal range of Cyanotype papers.

Negative Image, Reversed

I will cover the process I used in detail on my next post “Cyanotype – Curves”. However, some excellent information can be found on the Internet and in some books. Careful with the books however. Although some purport to help you with the Digital Negative and even with Alternative Printing Processes, very few help you with creating curves specifically for the Cyanotype Process.

For my first test I used an image that somewhat represented my project and then did a simple Negative Conversion and only eyeballed the curves to create what I thought would be a better negative based on my days in the darkroom. I then reversed the Negative image (flipped on the Horizontal) and printed my Acetate Negative. Again, I will cover in detail my printing process but for now note that I used the Epson’s B&W settings to get optimum blacks in my Negative.

Fake Digital Cyanotype, Colors and Density not right but an accurate representation of the details.

The Negative was printed on what is considered to be the best Transparency Film available for creating Digital Negatives, Pictorico Premium OHP Transparency Film. Note that this overhead transparency film is clean. For creating Digital Negatives for traditional B&W prints and some other alternate processes, White (as opposed to clear) Transparency film is recommended; the Pictorico Hi-Gloss OHP White Film. For testing and to keep costs down I first purchased 8.5×11 inch sheets. I also purchased Sun Art pre-made Cyanotype paper in 5×7 sheets.

Using my printed Negative I laid it overtop (emulsion side down) of the pre-coated paper. Over top of that I laid a sheet of Contact Glass to press the negative and paper together. This was all done in my office, no darkroom required. I place this setup outside on a sunny day for five minutes creating other test exposures of 3 minutes and 10 minutes.

Scanned Cyanotype, Some detail is lost, colors fairly good. If you enlarge the image you can see some of the diagonal banding from the paper.

The paper was then developed in a shallow tray of water with running water trickling into the tray. Apparently water temperature can make some differences and so can the addition of other substances to help darken the final image. I tried some tests using Lemon Juice. The results were great considering I didn’t use proper curves for the negatives, the quality of the coated Sun Art paper is less than great, the test exposures were not refined and proper developing techniques were not used.

On the pre-coated Sun Art paper my comment is based on both the cheap very thin paper that is used and on the banding effect that is either caused by their coating process or perhaps by the paper itself. Not sure which. But, used as kids’ projects by moms or teachers these would be very cool and very affordable.

Next post – Cyanotype – The Shoot

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.02 – March 2013)

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

Cyanotype – The Project

I did a lot of soul searching in my classes with Russel and Wendy Kwan trying to decide what photographic direction to go in, I finally decided to do a project on Long Exposure Landscapes but not your typical Michael Levine long exposures everyone is doing now.

Specifically, they will be different in subject matter and in the way they will be photographed and they will be printed as hand-made Silver Salt prints. Not a simple process but one I want to challenge myself with. They will also…. oh, wait, it’s a secret. A cool secret at that, and one that has me very excited. Later, when the project is closer to completion, I will share this secret with you.

One of my fake Digital Cyanotypes.

Why Silver Salt Prints? Silver Salt printing is a process that was used in the early 19th century and has the same timeless qualities that I love in photography and one I want to bring to my landscape images.

My first challenge was to figure out how to create the Silver Salt prints. Something I had no idea about when I first had the idea but having been schooled in the darkroom and having a great understanding of photographic processes, I was able to make a fairly educated guess at the work that would be involved.

I then did some studying on the subject which led me to read and learn about many other old world processes including the Cyanotype. While investigating the Cyanotype I decided I liked the look of the blue print but also it’s toned variants that can be made Pink, Red, Brown, almost Black and various other colors. As much as I liked the Blue color, I liked what the Cyanotype process did to the images themselves. It reduces details in the highlights and shadows, and contrast gets enhanced because of the reduction in tonal range. The slightly grainy effect also reduces sharpness a little but good sharp lines can still rendered. The images tend to be somewhat darker with a softness about them.

This process I decided would look great with some of the nudes I have been shooting and could bring out their classic beauty while reducing their personal nature. The final results of the monochromatic images would reduce the overall brashness of a typical nude. Cyanotype prints also seem to take on a feeling of nostalgic beauty that can be viewed without the modern interference and harshness that is present in most digital images.

The basic process of Cyanotypes involves mixing an emulsion from chemicals and then coating paper with the emulsion before exposing the image under a UV light source or the Sun. This process is very similar to the Salt Print process but much simpler in that it doesn’t require a darkroom and is safer and cheaper. This would be a good start to lead into creating Salt Prints for my Landscape project.

A new project is born. Deciding that I liked the look of the nudes with the Cyanotype process and that the Cyanotypes were a perfect lead-in to the Silver Salt prints, I decided to create a series of Classic Nudes printed as 16×20 handmade Cyanotype prints.

The project in its infancy still needs to have a few things hammered out. What will the nudes be? One woman? Several women? All classic beauties or women of varied body types, shapes and sizes? Will the images themselves be studies of light, shape and form of parts or whole bodies? Will they be made more personal by including faces?

Now I also have the technical issues to deal with. Will the Cyanotype prints be classic Prussian blue or toned? What paper should I use and how do I create the perfect Digital Negative for these Cyanotype prints? I have already been working on the Digital Negatives and have been developing Photoshop curves.

I have named the project mostly because I keep notes in a record book and I will also be blogging about the project and so I will need a reference name. Later, as the project comes along and gets more refined, I may decide to change the name to something that is more reflective of the project itself, but, for now it’s called Embodying Femininity.

Once I have mastered the Cyanotypes, whether my Cyanotype project is finished or not, I will start the Silver Salt Landscapes project.

Next Post – Cyanotype – The Negative

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.01 – March 2013)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

Cyanotype – History

So before we get into my Cyanotype Project, we’ll cover a little history.

The English scientist, astronomer and botanist, Sir John Herschel discovered the Cyanotype in 1842 as a means of ‘copying’ his notes. In the early days the paper was coated with iron salts and then used in contact printing. The paper was then washed in water and resulted in a white image on a deep blue background. The cyanotype was the first simple and practical non-silver iron process discovered a mere three years after the “official” announcement of the discovery of photography. The cyanotype provided permanent images in an elegant assortment of blue values.

Sir John Herschel

Along with the Cyanotype the precursors of the modern day blueprint process and variations such as the chrysotype (gold print) and the platinum process on the basis of the light sensitivity of platinum salts, Herschel managed to fix pictures using hyposulphite of soda in 1839, which is the still used today and better known as ‘hypo’. Herschel also gave us the words photography, negative, positive and snapshot. Apart from his great contribution to photography he originated the use of the Julian day system in astronomy; he named seven moons of Saturn and four moons of Uranus and investigated colour blindness and the chemical power of ultraviolet rays.

A Sir John Herschel Image

It was Anna Atkins who brought the Cyanotype to photography. In 1843 she began publishing folios of her photogenic drawings and in 1850, she began to publish more comprehensive collections of her work, completing a three volume anthology in 1853 called “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions“. These books contained 424 handmade Cyanotypes images. These were the very first published works to utilize a photographic system for scientific investigation and illustration.

Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions

Atkins placed specimens directly onto coated paper, allowing the action of light to create a silhouette effect, a process called a photogram. Apart from her other works, she also created images of feathers and ferns. By using this photogram process, Anna Atkins is regarded as the first female photographer. Anna also experimented with the Calotype process.

Photogram by Anna Atkins

A photogram is a photographic image made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material such as photographic paper and then exposing it to light. The usual result is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone that depends upon the transparency of the objects used.

“Louise” – Henry Peter Bosse

Another, relatively unknown early Cyanotype artist was Henry Peter Bosse. Henry was a prescient photographer in that he foresaw and adhered to aesthetic values which have come to define the work of German photo-journalists around the world. Straight forward composition and a concern for the efforts of man characterize Bosse’s photographic point-of-view, as it would come to be the basis of foto-reportage. Bosse took great care when making his presentation albums. He foresaw the need for color: the intense moody blues of his refined cyanotypes reflect this concern. His cyanotypes were exposed with large glass plates and printed on the finest French cyanotype paper, each sheet off-white measuring 14.5″ x 17.2″ and bearing the watermark Johannot et Cie. Annonay, aloe’s satin. The albums are leather bound. Beyond technique, in his appreciation for railroad bridges and structural steel, Bosse stood at the forefront of German appreciation for photographic look books concerned with the hand of man, modern architecture and urban design.

“Wagen” – Henry Peter Bosse

The Cyanotype process became popular with pictorialists, for whom a commercial paper called ferro-prussiate was marketed. The cyanotype process has remained virtually unchanged since its invention but a few variations have been developed, one of which is the New Cyanotype II developed by Mike Ware.

Today, there appears to be resurgence in not only the Cyanotype process, but also many of its historic brethren processes. Simple easy to use Pre-coated papers under the names “Sun Art” and “Super SunPrint” are available from and other sources and both Liquid and Dry Chemical Kits including the New Cyanotype II kits are available from various sources including and Photographers Formulary.

Next Post – Cyanotype – The Project

© 2013 Francois Cleroux
(Version 1.01 – March 2013)
Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.
Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

Better but not so Blue!

So many of you know by now that I was sick from prior to Christmas and spent three separate evenings in the hospital and then a full 8 days in the hospital with surgery and a few weeks recovering because of a bad infection. My ailment caused me to feel sick for many months prior to Christmas and very tired lacking any sort of energy to the point where I thought perhaps I had depression since I had been feeling bad for so long.

Click Image to Enlarge

Then getting very sick I was admitted to the hospital and had emergency surgery. Turns out I had a very bad infection and problems with my Gall bladder including it being full of stones.

Now, several weeks later, not 100% recovered yet but I already feel 200% better! Looking back I see and understand why I haven’t posted many blogs but did post one negative blog which is unlike me to do. I even teach Social Media and always say, NEVER be negative, NEVER attack which I did. I apologise for my last blog transgression. Not making excuses but obviously it was my state of mind from being sick. I also realized during that time I had neither energy nor even the wish to head out and do some photography. Obviously I wasn’t quite right.

But now that I am better both physically and mentally I’m all pumped and eager to shoot more. I have been taking the Wendy and Russel Kwan classes “Chasing Light Stranger” that have helped me tremendously with my photography art soul searching and it has inspired and focused me. I am now more driven than ever. I have several new projects on the go. The first I will share with you is to do a set of Landscapes (won’t give out all the details here yet) that will eventually be printed on handmade Silver Salt prints. A lofty goal.

In order to achieve that goal I have embarked on a simpler easier project that will help me with the Silver Salt prints using some similar techniques but in many ways much easier and cheaper. I am now doing a series of hand done Cyanotype prints of nudes. The nudes will mostly be lighting and shapes and form of parts only. The Cyanotypes are Analog Chemical based prints like the real Cyanotypes of old.

The process however involves making Digital Negatives and learning how to create the tone curves to bring out the best possible tonal range in a medium that lacks good tonal capabilities. I have already experimented with some images including a full nude to see what kind of details I can achieve. I am pleased with the results I have already achieved.

The process also includes coating my own papers with my own formulations. This will be critical when I get to create the Silver Salt prints but for now I am gaining some great experience coating paper and testing papers and such.

My next blog posts will include some samples of the work. I created some digital versions of the Cyanotypes but they do not look at all like the originals. I will scan some of the originals to see if they look more like the real thing. I will also experiment with Photoshop to see if I can create more lifelike replicas. The image above is a digital full body nude but it has lost a lot of the detail. The tones are not right and the process, or rather iPad app I used also reduces sharpness? Not sure why that is as the original analog Cyanotype retains great detail including great resolution in the long hair. I have posted the image so that some of you that do not know what a Cyanotype image looks like, could see or get the feel for it.

In my next few posts I will give better details of the project but also of the process in hopes of encouraging you to perhaps try it out on your own. Note that the process only requires a Dim-room as opposed to a dedicated Darkroom to create the coated papers and so it is easy to do in your kitchen or bathroom. The developing only requires the sun and running water. How easy.

Stay Tuned!

Next Post – Cyanotype – History

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.02 – March 2013)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux