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Solarization & Cyanotype Photography

Updated on September 28, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

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public domain | Source

There are many techniques that are associated with photography or simply are categorized as photographic processes or techniques. Two such techniques are solarisation and cyanotype.

Solarisation is a process by which an image that is either on film or prints have colors in reversed order; blacks appear as whites and whites appear as blacks. These color reversals can be done to parts or to the entire image.

The process is rather simple to accomplish; the film is exposed to light during the processing phase or the same can be done through a photo editing software program with the stylize filters/tools. This technique is mostly used with black & white film but it can also be done with color films wherein colored lights are used to overexpose the film.

The darkroom technique is mostly trial and error since slight variations in exposure time and light strength can create unpredictable results during a critical stage in the developing of the film. It is better two start with a 3 minutes exposure interval with a low voltage light such as a 30 watts bulb and experiment from there with longer times and stronger lights.

This technique is used mainly as an artistic expression and this work can often be found in post modern art galleries, art publications, photography publications. The colored prints produced by this process are reminiscent of the 1960s art movement, with a wild array of colors encompassed withing one image.

The results are more subtle with monochrome film as darker shadows or lighter highlights can be mixed within the image. Even though the basic principle behind this technique is simple, the safest and easiest method is to apply the technique in a digital format, as doing so in the lab requires various measurements and time limits as well as the necessity of handling photo chemicals, having a water source, a developing safe-light among others. | Source

The second process does not involve the use of a camera, a lens, or a tripod. It does involve the use of chemicals and a sturdy paper, and the Sun or an ultraviolet light lamp, commonly known as "black light",

The process is known as cyanotype and in reality is a photographic printing process by which prints are colored in a deep cyan blue hue. Used in the past mainly by engineers this is where the word blueprint originates from.

Paper, preferably one that is durable, is the recommended medium of capture with this style or a thin cotton fabric works very well too. Keep in mind that once the process is completed, the image will become permanent.

When applying this process, the chosen material that has been previously saturated in an ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide mixture is exposed to the light for about 10 minutes with the subject placed directly on top of the paper or cloth. This will create a "silhouette" of the item.

The mix should be about equal parts of an 8% potassium ferricyanide with 20% solution of ferric ammonium citrate. This photosensitive solution is applied to paper or cloth and left to fully dry in a very dark area, preferably light proof and only removed when ready to print.

To produce positive images the same process is used but it involves using a large format negative, although 35mm works good too, onto which an image has been recorded, this negative is exposed through ultraviolet light (UV lamps works better) with the projection falling on the coated paper or cloth.

After exposure the print is washed under running water to remove any unused solution which should be of a yellowish tint. Note: when dealing with any chemicals; wear gloves, keep away from clothing , dispose of unused chemical and wash your hands afterward. The chemicals used for cyanotype will dye your hands a deep blue and you risk being associated with the Smurfs.

When this process is further edited with a digital editing software, some tints can be applied and the images take the appearance of the old daguerreotype style photos.

Even though paper or cotton cloth are the preferred carriers, some cyanotypes have been produced on non-porous surfaces like metal and stone, but this is not recommended due to their rigidity, the ease with which they dry and their associated weight. | Source

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I'd never heard of cyanotype, but those photos look awesome. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Very interesting. I think there is pre-treated paper available, as I remember doing a leaf-print in the sun on special paper as a day-camp craft project when my kids were in Girl Scouts.

      I grew up in a darkroom my dad built. He did strictly black and white, but it was fascinating, and gave me a lifelong interest in photography.

      Thanks for sharing a fascinating subject! Voted up.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      @Krysanthe: I think you will like the ones which I haven't published yet! lol


    • Krysanthe profile image

      Kathy Hull 6 years ago from Bloomington, Illinois

      Nice! I never even knew these techniques existed. My mind is spinning thinking of all the possibilities.

    • sangre profile image

      Sp Greaney 6 years ago from Ireland

      What amazing photos you would have using this technique, would be so different to the normal photos we all see in our albums.

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      I had no idea either. Very cool technques. Always interesting Luis!

    • fucsia profile image

      fucsia 6 years ago

      I did not know these techniques. Very interesting!