Living in an age of sophisticated digital camera technology it’s easy to forget the extraordinary origins of the photographic process. In this tutorial we’re going to combine elements of digital photography with one of the medium’s oldest techniques, the Cyanotype process. We’ll capture an image using a DSLR and then make a cyanotype print in the beautiful hues of Prussian blue.
The cyanotype process was discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1842 and popularised as a photographic method by the British scientist Anna Atkins, who used it to make photograms of her botanical specimens.
Since then the technique has also been adopted by engineers and architects, who used the process to make duplicates of their large drawings – hence the term ‘blue print’.
After taking a photograph of a flower, we’ll show you how to turn the image into a digital negative in Photoshop. We’ll then explain how to make a cyanotype mixture using raw chemicals, which we’ll use to coat fine art paper.
Next, we’ll expose it to ultraviolet (UV) light – this causes a complex chemical reaction in the iron salts of the mixture, which creates a rich blue dye (also known as Prussian blue). The final result will be a striking image on the paper.
Once you’ve made your cyanotype mixture you can store it in brown bottles for future use, giving you plenty of opportunities to experiment with the technique.
Try making photogram silhouettes from pressed flowers and leaves, or playing with different exposure times to create unique and striking prints.
The cyanotype process is an amazing technique that captures the magic of the photographic method in its entirety – and it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds. So let’s get started…
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