No Camera? No Problem!: Charming Cyanotypes
Here is how you can look at your world with blue-tinted glasses. Supriya Joshi tries cyanotypes, for a change, and explores their creative possibilities!
The cyanotype process found its origins in 1842, when it was discovered by inventor Sir John Herschel. Since then, the process of making a cyanotype has undergone several changes. Essentially, it remains a photo printing process that gives your photographs a cyan-blue tint. This form of photography requires the use of several chemicals, namely potassium ferricyanide, peroxide and ferric ammonium citrate.
What is a Cynaotype?
These are images created with the use of chemicals, resulting in a cyan-blue tinted equivalent. The chemicals used in this process are potassium ferricyanide, peroxide and ferric ammonium citrate. Cyanotypes can be created with a variety of subjects and can be made on several surfaces, ranging from watercolour paper
all the way to t-shirts.
Difficulty Level: 2/5
To make a cyanotype, you will first need to source all the items for the same. Visit a specialised pharmaceutical company or a chemist to get the chemicals. Also, you will need a plastic brush to paint the chemicals with. Once these are in place, gather the subjects you want to make cyanotypes of. These can be anything, from film negatives, to dried flowers and leaves. Finally, you will need a surface to make your cyanotype, so stock up a few watercolour papers.
Setting a Workspace
Before you start creating cyanotypes, it is most important to arrange for a clutter-free environment. You will need to work in a darkened room, so make sure you block all the light in that room using black sheets of paper. The only source of illumination in the darkroom should come from a safety light. It is a good idea to set up your workspace in your bathroom, as you will need running water in the final stage of creating cyanotypes. Take utmost care while mixing and applying the chemicals, and only handle them while wearing safety gloves and a mask. Wash your hands thoroughly after using these chemicals.
Making a Mix
In the darkened room, switch on the safety light and wear your gloves and then proceed to mix the chemicals. Mix 25g of ferric ammonium citrate and 100ml of distilled water in a bowl. Mix 10g of potassium ferricyanide and 100ml of water in another bowl. Ensure that the chemicals are mixed proportionately and stir them till they completely dissolve. Do not introduce them to each other until you start making the cyanotype.
In a separate mixing cup, pour equal amounts of these chemicals. Then, with your brush, paint the chemicals on the watercolour paper. Paint only the part of the surface that will be used for the cyanotype to avoid wasting chemicals. Let the paper dry completely in a dark area.
Arranging the Subject
Once the paper has dried out, it is time to place the subjects on the paper. This is where your decorative skills come into play. If you are making cyanotypes using film negatives, then simply place them on the surface.
For objects like dried leaves and flowers, you can arrange them in any way you think look aesthetically pleasing. Just make sure you give each element enough space, otherwise the edges may not look too defined. To keep everything in place, you can put a glass sheet on it. Once you are happy with the ‘composition’, cover the surface with a cloth, and carry it outside.
Cyanotypes can be created on surfaces like wooden boxes and even your clothes!
A Matter of Exposure
Bright sunlight is the best source of illumination for creating cyanotypes as the chemicals react to UV light. Remove the cloth from the surface and depending on the kind of paper and the season, set the exposure time accordingly, about 10–15 minutes. Once the exposure is done, bring the cyanotype back to the darkened room. Let it sit for about five minutes.
Carefully remove the objects from the surface. Using cold water, gently wash the paper. You will notice the cyanotype taking shape, once all the chemicals are washed off. Let the paper dry completely, and your very own cyanotype is ready!
A Variety of Surfaces
You can use several kinds of surfaces like wooden boxes, t-shirts, bedsheets and pillow covers to create cyanotypes. This makes it a great technique when you want to personalise gifts for your friends and family. Cyanotypes do need a bit of work, but they also offer some of the most beautiful effects and pleasing colours.
To learn about more non-camera photography techniques, click here.
This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Better Photography.
Tags: Shooting Technique, Supriya Joshi, blue, May 2012, No Camera? No Problem!, cyanotype, process