Introduction to Alternative Processing in Photography

Lesson 25/49 - Creating Cyanotypes Photograms


Introduction to Alternative Processing in Photography


Lesson Info

Creating Cyanotypes Photograms

The next one we'll do is like I said, I want to be able to show that anybody has access to doing this. So, we have here is some feathers. So the feathers will have a certain level of translucency that will allow them to happen. I'm going to pull the negative out of the contact frame. I'm just going to spread some feathers down and we'll just let them fall where they may, that will be my exciting composition. So we got some feathers, sensitizer paper, tada. Okay, so this one though I don't have the digital negative. So, I'm not sure how long it's going to take so we're going to put it in for about three minutes and then we'll pull it out, pull back part of the frame. We'll take a peek and see what it looks like. When you're doing photograms one of the great pieces you do with it works with that is you varied objects and so you can put down something solid that no light will come through, you can then put down like feathers where some light's going to come through, lace works really grea...

t. Other pieces of paper you can cut out things and make little scenes. I saw a beautiful body of work at a museum that was basically replicas of famous city's skylines, they were cut out and then put down cyanotype and made the blue sky behind him. So it was kind of like that cool twilight blue and then the lights would come on through the buildings. So, pretty much anything you can put down you get this synthetizer for. So the other piece I wanted to show is the, can you bring back the glass rod? Is it not still there? Oh no, I still have it, nevermind. Don't bring me anything. So with the glass rod, what's going to happen is it's going to go across, and then it's going to be picked up put back down and then pulled the other way. The reason you're kind of stuck to eight by ten is the solution's going to wick along this edge and so I don't have a lot of room 'cause if I bring it down a little bit it will actually create a line where the edge of the glass rod is. So I'm kind of stuck to this size, so what you have is a 4x5, 8x10, 11x14, you just end up with some different sized glass rods to coat with. But in general if I was going to do the same thing, I'm going to grab a different negative. So we'll do this negative next. So basically what I want to know here is, I want to be significantly bigger 'cause my negative's only six inches, so it will be a little bigger but I'm okay with that. But I really want to know though is where my start and end marks are, so I'm just going to put a tick there for the start, and a tick mark there for the end. The glass rod's going to use a little bit less chemistry so you would probably need about 15% less, 20% less chemistry than normal, but I'm going to go ahead and use more chemistry than I need 'cause I want to show you what it looks like when you have more chemistry than you need and then how you can then resolve that problem, and it's with the brush, or with the glass rod I think it will be a little easier. So, the other thing with the glass rod is you're always gonna want to make sure that it stays clean. So you're going to make sure that after each use you're gonna clean your brush off. Same reason you're doing this. The reason this is back in the water is I don't want that brush to get exposed to any light and then show up, chemistry's been in there, it's now dried, I got all sorts of contamination, things happening so that's why it stays in its solution. Okay, so I'm going to mix this up. Actually, I'm going to have Gina mix me up a couple of drops. Can you mix me up 40 drops total? Do you want 40 drops for the-- 20 and 20, 20 and 20. She's going to mix that and then I'll pull this piece out. So we've been in there for three minutes. So we're going to pull that out and what we're looking for is we want a shadow development that's still got some detail in it and we want our highlights to be a little darker than I think we want. So that way as the highlight bleaches out a little bit, will still hold some detail there. If you pull it out when the highlights are perfect, then they'll be too light once the print finally processes. So that's one of the things you're kinda looking for, at what point do I have that little piece. This is the worst part too of doing all processes, when you get excited and you think oh my gosh I need to check it, and then I should wait, I need to check it. That's why being outside's awesome because I don't have a clock, I literally just pull back and needs more time, pull back, needs more time. If you're in Phoenix, if you're in Florida, if you're in Dallas, some place where there's light year round, the sun is an amazing ultraviolet exposing tool. It creates a slightly different tonal effect than the UV lights do, and it has to do with that there's more parts of the UV spectrum on impacting the print. So one of the things you can do is use the sun, and what I would recommend you do is figure out, oh during between the hours of 10:00 and 3:00 my exposure is about this time. But with a split contact frame you can just come out and check your exposure. With the feathers. (Gina mumbling) We'll see what happens here. You want to be when you're doing a photogram you want to be really careful when you pull back because you don't want your objects to move or they'll get misregistered. So we just pull back a little bit and you can see, but I still need probably a little bit more in my highlight in that feather. But I'm getting some nice shadow detail in there, so I don't want to probably go much longer than that. So I'm going to gently lay that down and close that up. So this will probably go back in for another let's say two minutes, so put that in for two minutes. And then I'm going to grab the coating rod, now with the coating rod, what I'm going to do is, so I'm right handed, so I always start from the right side and go to the left because I find the push easier than a pull. If I was left handed I would probably start and pour the chemistry on the left hand side. Unless I found the pull was significantly easier. So it's just kind of you got to do a little experimentation. But before I dumped all that chemistry kind of into the middle, now what I want to do is I'm going to pour it in a line as close to this mark as I can, as far as I can and then I'm going to put the rod on there and I'm going to wiggle the rod back and forth several times. That's going to cause a capillary action for the chemistry to pull down the length of the glass rod that I can then use to pull the chemistry across. When it gets to the other side I'm going to lift it up, put it on the outside of the chemistry line, wiggle it again, and then pull it back across. So it's a pull, lift, wiggle, pull, lift, over, wiggle. So it's just this little kind of motion. I know people who they can never coat with a brush. It just doesn't work for them, it doesn't matter, they try and cyanotype, they try a foam brush, they try a hake brush, they try a synthetic brush, nothing works, they get a glass coating rod, greatest thing they ever used. Other people use this thing and like they got it once and then it's in the 1,000 pieces about an hour later as it hits the brick wall. So, for me I've got them both, I kind of like playing with both. Basically I'm just going to pour that chemistry down that line like that. I put it into the chemistry and then I wiggle it until I get that coating action and then I pull it across, pick up, wiggle, and pull. Pick up, wiggle, and push, so pick up and across. Okay now, I've used, I've got a lot more chemistry than I need so I ended up with that line of chemistry. So I can take a clean papertowel and I can just lightly blot down and pick up some of that chemistry. Now I don't want to blot back in my image too much. As you can see it starts to get a lighter effect there. And so then usually what I do is I take my brush, and then I'll just try to feather out at that very edge a little bit of that chemistry. Now, one of the reasons people like this effect is you can see I ended up with some really nice straight lines around the edge, but what I don't have is the kind of brush marks. Let's just pull that and process that. No matter how it looks. One of the other things I'll see people do, and I'll show you this tomorrow as well is they'll get somewhere close like this and then they'll decide at this point like oh I think I want some brush marks, and they'll try to come in and feather them afterwards. That paper once it's at this point, don't monkey with it. Don't do anything with it, it literally needs to rest at that point. It's not at a state of being ready to do something else. So, it gets done and literally just gets set aside. Try to keep it out of the brightness of the ultraviolet light. We're pretty lucky the studio lights don't have very much UV to affect this process. Tomorrow we'll have to be under the ultraviolet light, protection lights, because the Van Dyke process and the platinum is a much more sensitive than this, so it's been actually, it worked out well for yes question? So when you're using the glass rod do you use the same amount of pressure you do with the brush? Yeah, it's as light, you don't ever want to be pushing in. It is a pull across, and that is a great thing like that if you're watching from the side, that is too much bend in the brush, it's literally just a pull across. And the people who, it's about that fast, and they stay up on that edge, they learned to coat like that. And they get these beautiful coatings. It's the people who are doing this who get frustrated because they don't have enough chemistry and they get weird brush marks and then there's a bunch of things that happen. I'll show you in some prints tomorrow where the coating's just bad and weird things happen and it's because of that over torque. The glass rod is the exact same way. That light little movement across and the only real pressure it's not even when it's wiggling side to side I'm not pushing down, I'm literally just side to side, and a pull. If you, the way I kind of tell people is if you can feel it drag, the paper, that's how you know you're pushing. And on the brush too, if it feels like the paper's giving you resistance it's too much. So you can see here in the interest of time I needed a lot more time on the feather there, if we can bring that up on screen. The feather ended up without any of the detail. But this other feather got some of the detail. So that probably needed you know another 10-15 minutes under the lights from an exposure time. And that's the thing with, the cool part is I would just grab another synthesized piece of paper, put it down, let it run longer, see how it turned out. One of the reasons that these processes are all so near and dear to my heart is I love the unknown experience of the play. And so I don't know what the image is going to look, I mean I know what it's going to look like but I don't know what it's going to look like. I don't know how the edges are going to come into play, how did the coating work. And the best things that happen sometimes are the mistakes that happen that you didn't expect. And I don't believe necessarily, I mean I read people who are film and historical people who print like this all the time talk about the sterileness of digital. And I don't believe that's to be true because I don't think photography as an art is sterile. But there is something about this experience that is different than how you experience the print and the failure of a digital space. The failure of the digital space is the print didn't match my monitor. That's normally what you hear people complain about, or the lighting ratio wasn't right. But here something that goes wrong is like way cool sometimes and the frustrating part is you don't know how to repeat it. You're like that's amazing, what did I do? I have no idea. And then you'll chase your tail for a while trying to recreate a failure because it had a really cool look to it. When you're doing photograms, you don't have to put it in a contact frame. With my book cloth I like to like set something up and sometimes I will just let it be what it is in the space between the objects and the paper do something different. And sometimes I'll put a whole bunch of things off on and then I'll pull part of them off half way through. So you get varying shades and it's like he says it's kind of fun just to play. Can you go wave that try around to dry that paper, I want to dry it because I want to do one more before we close out. So, the other piece that I get asked a lot about is well why don't I just do this digitally? Why don't I go in, I mean I showed you this morning there's a toner in there I can choose a cyanotype option and it does a cyanotype toning. There is a, it's a nuanced difference but to me it's a significant difference on a couple of things. One there's a connection to the work when I'm coating the paper that makes it feel more like my piece of work, and that just to me is the artist. So that's a big part of it, but the other part is as we're coating this that synthetizer is being pulled into the paper so there's a dimensionality and a depth to that. You'll see it even more in the platinum printings 'cause that pulls even heavier into the fibers of the paper. That look creates a depth to the photograph because of the paper that it's printed on and the way the coating process works, it is different than ink being sprayed on top of a piece of paper. And so it's not that it's worse, and it's not that it's bad it's that it's different. And so one of the things that I have always appreciated is the difference in the subtle nuance of the historical process, from that dimensionality and the depth. I felt like it gave an aspect to the photography and to my prints that was not replicated the same digitally. And so when you do tone, platinum, and plating prints and put a border on them and print digitally. It has a different look to it, and there's nothing wrong with that. It is an aesthetic that is not yet possible to be replicated digitally because of the actual way the materials and substreets behave. The other piece about this, and we'll see this tomorrow with the Van Dyke, we're gonna, you can tone. So we saw some examples of Gina where you can go in and print and modify through multiple processes with a cyanotype but one of the other things you can do is you can run a gold plating across a cyanotype which will actually create a very plum print. It was actually change it to almost a deep purple for the blue and it's how the gold reacts to the iron that's in there.

Class Description

In a world where most photos are captured digitally it’s good to remember the beauty of print and all of the creative options alternative processes have to offer. The history of printing photos introduces techniques and tools that can improve your eye in the field and open up doors to new perspectives. Fine artist and educator Daniel Gregory gives the steps needed to get you started in exploring the many formats out there. You’ll learn:

  • An overview of what alternative processing is and the many formats out there
  • How to create a digital negative
  • How to setup and test your curve
  • How to print a Cyanotype
  • How to create a Van Dyke Print
  • Chemistry, Safety and Developing techniques
  • Platinum and Palladium Printing processes

In this introductory course, you’ll be given the key elements to get you started in expanding your creativity and exploring alternative photographic processes.


1Class Introduction 2Overview of the Alternative Process 3Overview of the Digital Negative Process 4Working with Black and White Digital: What You Need 5Working With Black and White Digital Images: Color Settings 6Working with Black and White Digital Images Lightroom 7Working With Black and White Digital Images Photoshop 8Working With Black and White Digital Images 3rd Party Plug-ins 9Avoiding Key Artifacts 10Creating the Step Wedge for Curve Corrections 11Organizing Your Adobe® Photoshop® Files and Curves 12Setting Up the Printer 13Lab Safety and Workspace Set-Up 14Setting the Maximum Black Time 15Getting the Initial Curve Test Numbers 16Correcting the Curve 17Printing the Curve 18Sharing Curves 19Caring for the Digital Negative 20Intro to Cyanotypes and Safety 21Paper and Brush Types 22Coating Process and Cyanotype Chemistry 23Making the Cyanotype Print 24Washing the Cyanotype Print 25Creating Cyanotypes Photograms 26Toning Cyanotypes and Cleaning Up the Darkroom 27Introduction to Van Dyke Printing 28Setting Up the Van Dyke Workstation 29Van Dyke Paper and Coating 30Van Dyke Exposure and Developing 31Van Dyke Troubleshooting and Resources 32Van Dyke: Split Toning 33Van Dyke: Wash Cycle and Drying 34Van Dyke: Clean Up Process 35Introduction to Platinum / Palladium Printing 36Platinum/Palladium Coating Chemistry and Safety 37Platinum/Palladium Paper and Coating Options 38Platinum/Palladium Exposure and Development 39Platinum/Palladium: Equipment and Supplies 40Ink Jet Negative Coating and Exposure 41Platinum/Palladium Chemistry Options 42Ink Jet Negative Development 43Platinum/Palladium Waxing Images 44Platinum/Palladium Troubleshooting and Resources 45Sharing Your Work Digitally 46Archivability 47Matting and Framing Options 48Editions and Signing Options 49Alternative Processes: Further Exploration



For a long time, I have read, studied and tried alternative processing, mainly Platinum/Palladium printing. I want to create longest lasting prints and may be share the info at Creative Live. But this presentation saved me many a hours. A few minutes into the lecture, I purchased the class and as the class progressed, I was extremely glad. Thank you Creative Live, thank you Daniel Gregory.


Excellent class on Alt Process and fantastic bonus materials included with purchase!!! I have extensive digital printing and darkroom experience but haven't done much alt-process to date. This is perfect timing for me as I have several personal projects that I would like to re-visit using some of these techniques. Thank you Daniel!!!

John Hendricks

So good to hear the info. I am glad to have more input into this, my favorite process! Bought this one and will gain a LOT from this!