Intro to Cyanotypes and Safety


Introduction to Alternative Processing in Photography


Lesson Info

Intro to Cyanotypes and Safety

Alright, I'm super excited about this. It's the first time I've processed this much at the studio. We did film a couple months ago, but this is a little bit bigger undertaking, so I'm pretty excited about this. Cyanotype, Cyanotype process is an amazing, amazing process. It's one of our early photographic processes. It was created by a person named Sir John Herschel, who when you study the history of photography, John was responsible for all sorts of stuff. He's responsible for fixer, to help stabilize prints. He's responsible for cyanotypes. There's just like a huge, huge part of his life ended up being a foundations of photography, and the interesting thing about a Cyanotype was he wasn't actually looking to create a photograph. He was trying to create a new way to make blueprints, and it just happened to be a side piece off of that. And there are still thousands and thousands of people who participate in cyanotypes everyday. It's a very popular process still, because it's super easy...

. It's one of our easiest processes, and it's also one of our safest, and it's very, very versatile. The things you can do with it are pretty amazing, so you're not really limited to just being stuck with a digital negative, so to speak. So, we'll talk a little bit more about some of the things you can do with Cyanotypes as we move through the afternoon. In general, the way any these, all processes work is we're going to start and we have to sensitize and coat the paper, the paper then has to dry. The negative goes on it, it's going to go in to our exposure box, then it goes through some type of development process. Each process is a little unique, but very similar, so you'll kind of get a rhythm. Once you can kind of do a cyanotype, it's easy to do a Vandyke, it's easy to do a platinum print, it's easy to do a salt print, argyrol print. A process is pretty consistent, which is one of the things that's nice. It's just the chemistry that changes. We're also going to try to show you a variety of different ways you can actually coat paper. Different types of papers to work with, so over the next session and then tomorrow with those sessions, you're going to get exposed, I think, to a lot of different aspects of this. So, we'll go ahead and jump right in. The first thing I want to talk about though, before we get too deep into this, is we wanted to talk about safety. So, I mentioned it a little bit earlier, but we have safety in the dark room is something that's really important and particularly as we start to get involved with the chemistry, it's even more important. Like I said, cyanotype isn't a hugely volatile, or chemically difficult, or a dangerous process, but we're going to go ahead and just kind of review some of the general rules I like to use in all of my dark rooms, but like cyanotypes, you can literally make a bed sheet into a cyanotype and lay on it. So, in the grand schemes of things, it's not too bad, but in general, I always wear safety glasses when I'm in the dark room, and I get kinds that wrap around the edges of my eyes, so I don't want anything to splash up. I used to not be so adamant about safety glasses in the dark room, and then my partner in life, and my artistic partner, Lori, was like, "You know, as a photographer, I would think "you'd be a little more protective of your eye sight." I was like, "Huh, that's true," and after that, I pretty much wear safety glasses all the time. The other thing I wear all the time now is I wear gloves, and these are Nitrile gloves, and I prefer Nitrile gloves over other types of gloves because one, they don't allow chemical particulate to pull through. So like rubber gloves for dish washing, like some of the chemicals are small enough they can actually leach through the rubber gloves. Also, latex gloves actually don't stop the same level of particulate and you can develop an allergy to latex, so I like the Nitrile gloves. They come in a variety of sizes. You can get them from auto repair places, you can get them from Amazon, you can get them at grocery stores sometimes. They come in a variety of colors. So, and they're cheap enough that I don't have to worry about if one tears, or one rips. They can just go in the trash and get recycled. So, I always like to have on gloves when I'm working in the dark room. Sometimes, I'll wear one glove if I'm working back and forth between the computer, I usually actually just keep my hands clean and dry, and then I have one to actually work the computer with. So with the digital aiding process, sometimes I've got at least one glove on. The other piece is a chemical mask. So, in the dark room, in general, there's three things that we can have run into problems from a safety stand point. We can breath in, we can absorb, or we can ingest. Those are the three ways we suffer from chemical problems in the dark room. Ingesting is easily solved by not having food in the dark room, by not eating it. Which sounds funny, but you'd be amazed at what people put in their mouths. In the dark room, I've watched people come in and they've got a sandwich and they'll literally set it down on the table, and we're like, "Okay, that's going into the trash." They're like, "Nah, it will be fine." Absorption, which is why we wear gloves and usually have on an apron or longer sleeves, so you don't actually have the chemicals hit you. And then, the mask is for dealing with airborne particulate or fumes, so there's certain odors in the dark room that people are highly sensitive to, so you can wear a mask that works for particulate or fumes. These canisters actually pop off, and are replaceable. If you buy one of the bigger masks, this is from three AM. I just got it at home supplies store, but the cartridges come in different formats. This cartridge is for particulate, I have ones for fumes and I have one that does both. So you can just put those on, and then the key is this just goes over, you got to make sure it's snug enough that when you basically cover the breathing hole, it puffs your cheeks out, so that's how you know it's snug enough, and I wear this anytime I'm mixing dry chemistry. The little dust mask that you use for like, you see for dry wall repairs and stuff like that. The particulates not quite fine enough and so I always prefer to wear a mask like this. They're not that expensive, they come in a variety of sizes, but this is something, anytime I'm working with mixing up dry chemistry for the most part, I wear my mask. There's some things we'll talk about from a safety stand point that can help mitigate that. Can you grab that, Gina? That will mitigate that, to help, but I still like to prefer to wear the mask. Other than that, you can see we put down a piece of plastic over the table. I like to make sure that anything that's got a porous surface on it is protected by some kind of plastic so that the chemicals won't leach into the table. In the case of cyanotype, it would leave a blue stain, so if you have a really nice table, and you spill cyanotype chemistry on it, it will turn potentially blue. Silver nitrate will stain, so there's a lot of things that'll stain that, so I like to have a coated surface for the table. You also want to make sure that everything has got a label on it, so these are labeled. This is from the first part of the kit from Bostick and Sullivan, that's the cyanotype, A and B parts. And so, you want the chemistry labeled. You want to make sure you're paper's labeled. You want to know what everything is in the dark room at all times. What you don't want to do is reach over and grab a glass of something that you don't know what it is, because how things get mixed, the order they get mixed in can be critical. But if everything's got a label, you'll be a lot better off, in that regard. And then, other than that, I like to make sure I have enough space, so it's going to be a little bit interesting here, because we're going to be moving parts of the dark room around left and right. Shifting so you guys can easily see what's going on, but in general you want to set for a safety reason, and from a cross-contamination chemicals, and from keeping things dry that need to be dry. Usually you have you're dark room split into a wet side and a dry side. So, you're going to be coating and keeping your stuff that needs to stay dry on one side, and then your trays that have water would be on the other side. In my dark room, there's a little wall partition I put up, just so something can't spill across. So, even without very much room, you can successfully work in the dark room.

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!