Creative photography and the Cyanotype process

Landscape, workshop

Photography & Cyanotype

Cyanotype is a creative photography printing process. Producing a cyan-blue print from anything you wish to print with. Often used for negatives or with natural objects. Engineers used to use this process as a low-cost way of producing copies of drawings. Known as blueprints.
In this time where we are all housebound and creativity is important for our well being, I wanted to share this process with you. I hope it inspires some of you to try and a new type of creative photography. I must warn you that it doesn't always work out the first time and some experimentation is required. But if you follow the steps below, hopefully, you with get the best out of the Cyanotype process.
This is a step by step guide to doing this yourself at home. You can use found items as simple as grasses from your garden. I often collect nice looking, see-through items from the garden. Then I will press them in books for some time before using them. The more transparent they are, the better they are for Cyanotypes. If you have something that is quite dense, you tend to get large blocks of white where they lay. But always remember that this is a creative process and it is a wonderful time to experiment.

You will need:

  • Chemicals
  • A brush
  • Container for mixing in
  • Measuring spoons or jug
  • Paper ( you can try any paper at all but I use art papers like watercolor paper or board )
  • Glass plus backing
  • Newspapers

Mix up the chemicals

Mix together solutions in equal parts according to the instructions on your chemicals. I use these chemicals for the cyanotype process. The chemical should be yellow/green and is ready to go.
Have your paper ready to coat. Coat it with a brush. I use a foam brush which gives a quick and easy coating. Try not to allow pools to occur. This should be done away from sunlight. Then leave the paper to dry in the dark. Sometimes I use the paper still wet to see what interesting results happen. Be aware that the chemicals will stain so I leave to dry on a surface that doesn’t matter, or on newspapers. I learned the hard way! If the paper dries in the dark to a green-blue or grey it is likely that something has gone wrong with the chemicals. 

cyanotype equipment

Expose the Cyanotype

Put your object onto the now ready paper. Putting a piece of glass over it helps flatten the object to the paper and allows for more detail and sharpness. You can see that on this one I experimented with adding some salt onto the paper as well. Leave to expose in the sunlight or by a window. The paper will gradually change colour during exposure. Wait until the paper has turned a dull greyish bronze colour. Most issues with cyanotypes are underexposure. The exposure times vary so much depending on the strength of light. In the wintertime in Scotland I left mine out all day to expose. In India I did some and they needed just half an hour. 

printing cyanotypes outside in the sun with creative photography process

Wash the Cyanotype

Rinse the print for a couple of minutes and you will see the colours start to reverse. Wash in running water until the highlights are white and the water runs without any colour. Do not over wash - I left mine overnight in water to see what happens and there was not much colour left by the morning!
washing a cyanotype print

Dry the Cyanotype

Leave your print to dry and the blue will get darker with time. This can take up to 48 hours so leave them to dry out. I hang mine on a little line in my shed on small clothes pegs.

How to dry out a cyanotype print

Frame

Just like digital photography, creative photography and the cyanotype process is not quite finished until your frame the result! These are small, easy projects with satisfying results when and when you frame them up they become a wonderful piece of art.

Blue print in a frame of a cyanotype print

1 Comment

  1. cath booton

    Thanks so much for this , I’m almost ready to get started . Any advice on what plants work well or even what doesn’t

    Reply

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