Alternate Photographic Processes


What are some alternative photographic processes that can be practised today?

Answer by: Hari Katragadda, Photographer

Call it a backlash to the now omnipresent digital photographs staring at us from our smartphones, which seem to shoot better and bigger files with every iteration, or just plain nostalgia for things past, the last decade saw a tremendous revival of the alternative photographic processes. Now, tribes of amateur and serious photographers passionately exchange technical and creative notes on WhatsApp and Facebook groups about their experiments. The ease of working with digital cameras and the convenience of Photoshop has mostly eliminated the surprise element from image making, which makes the field of alternative photographic processes ripe for experimentation.

Several non-silver image making processes were invented right after the invention of silver gelatin methods—the classic black and white photography—now referred to as alternative photography. Here are a few alternatives:

1. Cyanotype: Iron salts sensitive to sunlight or UV lights are used to make Prussian-blue coloured contact prints. Cyanotype is quite popular among photo enthusiasts, for its simplicity, low cost, and versatility of the substrates the images can be printed upon.

2. Vandyke: Another contact printing process which uses iron salts, silver nitrate and citric acid to make black, sepia, or rich brown prints.

3. Argyrotype: A safer and low maintenance sibling of the expensive and toxic process like Vandyke. This uses silver sulphamate to produce brown prints.

4. Anthotype: Prints of weak and low tonal range made with photosensitive extracts from petals, leaves, roots, and fruits.

5. Chlorophyll prints: A contact printing process on leaves and grass using the photosensitivity of chlorophyll present in them, to produce an image with tones ranging from dark to pale green.

6. Salt prints: Using table salt and silver nitrate coating, these are high contrast reddish brown tinted positives. Few other processes are albumen, gum bichromate, and wet-plate collodion. But, they are highly toxic chemicals, which if inhaled, can irritate the skin and eyes.