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Photogram and Sun Printing Photography Techniques

Updated on July 8, 2014
Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. | Source

Photograms and Sun printing are two similar yet different techniques of "taking" photographs without using a camera.

Yes no camera, lenses, flash or any other photographic tools involved other than a subject, photographic paper, a light source and patience mixed in with a little imagination. Similar techniques discussed earlier are Cyanotype and Solarization.

Some of the earliest images were actually photograms, not photographs, and were done by William Henry Talbot.

"Some of the first known photographic images made were photograms. William Henry Fox Talbot called these photogenic drawings, which he made by placing leaves and pieces of material onto sensitized paper, then leaving them outdoors on a sunny day to expose, making an overall dark background and a white outline of the object used."[3] wikipedia

These techniques have also been commonly referred to as cameraless photo techniques. Whatever one chooses to call them these projects are a good way to teach photography and show how light and photography go hand in hand.

These techniques have been frequently used as an artistic representation medium but they originally evolved by scientists and naturalists as a way of classifying and studying natural subjects as well as to create true records. One of the first persons to try these techniques was an English botanist named Anna Atkins.

"Anna Atkins (maiden name Anna Children) (16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871) was an English botanist and photographer. She is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. Some sources claim that she was the first woman to create a photograph."[3][4][5][6] Wikipedia

How does a photogram works; a subject is placed in direct contact with a photo sensitive material, usually photographic paper and then exposed to light. The results will produce a negative shadow with any areas of the photo sensitive paper which received no light will appear white. And with both techniques, especially Sun printing, color can be added to the prints later.

The process is better done indoors in a dark room with a safe photo light. Place the photographic paper on a solid surface, place the subject that you have selected on top of the paper, tun on the regular light source, a few seconds it's all that is needed, turn off the light source, then process the paper in a photographic print developing solution like the one used to develop and fix black and white film.

Keep in mind that subjects that are completely solid will produce totally white images and subjects which posses some level of translucency will create highlights in white and grey. The best samples are usually obtained from subjects that are semi translucent.

Exposure times will vary depending on the translucency of the subjects and the desired effects. The main appeal of this technique is how inexpensive the entire process is and the endless combinations of subjects that can be used and intermingled to create rather unusual effects.

This technique is also quite practical in teaching new comers into the world of photography about the effects of light and photography's dependency on it.

Sun printing is yet another quite inexpensive technique which is also fun to do.There are basically three ways of sun printing. Two involve the use of various chemicals and are time consuming.

The easiest is to place a selected subject on top of a black and white photographic paper and exposing it to the Sun. Depending on the type of paper and its sensitivity to light, the process can take from a few minutes to a couple of hours. The result will be a negative type image with purple or brownish hues. The final process is to wash and fix the paper like one would for a black and white print.

Sun printing is very useful for those which have a creative gene and an ability to design articles of clothing or for decorative purposes. By using certain photo sensitive chemicals, one can transfer the designs onto articles of clothing.

This takes more time, it's a little messy but it is without doubt one of the most enjoyable aspects of this genre.

Follow link for more ideas: Sun printing


Other that as a learning and unusual way of exploring photography from a different standpoint, there is not much of a market for prints done this way. However, some photographers have found a niche in this style and have shown their work in art galleries as well as publishing various books about it. These techniques have also been used by artists and the scientific community.

"Artistic cameraless photography, as the technique producing photograms is usually known, is perhaps most prominently associated with Man Ray and his exploration of rayographs. Others who have experimented with the technique include László Moholy-Nagy, Christian Schad (who called them "Schadographs"), Imogen Cunningham and even Pablo Picasso. Varieties of the technique have also been used for scientific and other purposes." wikipedia

Thinking of photographic activities that can involve your children and introduce them into the wonderful world of photography? then perhaps simple projects like photogram and sun printing may be just the thing.


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Cardisa & FloraBreeRobinson: thank you both. Glad that you enjoyed it

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I have seen such photos before, but never knew how they were created. thanks for the lesson

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      I have never heard of these techniques before. You really know your stuff and I like your hubs. Thank you for the information.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Thank you Lynn, as always your comments are appreciated

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      I have heard of this but never tried it .Interesting as usual Luis!!!