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The Querist of Forms

more sun stuff: advanced solar printing

Yesterday, I wrote about how to make photograms using paper treated with UV-sensitive cyanotype emulsion, available from various manufacturers.  Now I'd like to share some ideas for how to take that process a little further, by using the same paper to create a more traditional photographic image.  I'll be showing you two very similar processes using inkjet-printer transparencies.  One procedure creates a print with inverted values--like a photonegative.  The other procedure uses a negative transparency and produces a fine blue-as-blue-can-be photo print.  Both are amazingly cool, especially when you make a pair of the same image, positive and negative views, and present them together!

What it Looks Like

First I'd like to show you a series of images which will help the later descriptions and directions make more sense.  Here is a digital photograph that should be easily recognizable from this site!
I chose this image to work with because it's one of my favorites, but there's another reason. This was photographed in the Garfield Park Conservatory, and the light was so peculiar that day that it interacted with the dusty/waxy coating of the agave leaves and made the plant look both transparent and solarized.  The result is that it's difficult to decide whether this is a positive or negative! What do you think?

Because the transparency made from this image looks no different from what you see, I won't share that one.  But here is the solar print I made using the transparent version:

Notice how the vertical orientation is reversed here--the print image is flipped along the vertical axis so that what was on the left side in the original digital photo is now on the right.  Because the print is made from a transparency, it can easily be made to match the original orientation.  Just put the transparency against the paper "backwards."

Now here's an image of the "negative" I made by scanning the positive transparency and using my scanner menu choices to invert the colors (in this case, values) in the scanned image:

Eerie, isn't it?  It's still hard to tell which is the positive--is it the positive or the negative?

Well, before we burn our brains too much trying to figure that one out, let's look at the print that resulted from exposure with this negative transparency.




Cool!  One thing you've probably noticed about both the cyanotypes is that they are smaller than the original photo and the transparency.  Partly that has to do with the image size settings on the original vs. those on the actual transparency, and partly it's the way the web design software standardizes image sizes.  But the fat blue borders on the prints are there only because I printed the transparencies at a smaller image size than the original photo. Not all such prints have them.

How it's Done
You'll need the same basic supplies as listed in the previous post, with these additions:
  • A computer with photo software and printer (inkjet or laser are both fine). A scanner is optional, depending on your photo software. The scanner may allow you to invert an image when your photo software might not.
  • Transparency sheets for use with your kind of printer.
  • A digital photograph, either your own or one from the Web.  Please note that, for the most part, people (like me) who have copyrighted images of our own creation easily located through a simple search do not enjoy it when others use those images without permission and claim the results as their own. Be careful when choosing images.  If you want to work with an image made by someone else, try to use something in the public domain, or email the creator of the image to see if you can get permission.  Just because something's on the Web does NOT mean it is in the public domain.  Honestly, it's easier if it's your own image!
  • Scissors or a paper cutter to trim the transparencies to a more convenient size, if desired.

Once you've got all your gear together, you can start on the fun.
Making the Positive Transparency
  1. Get your chosen image up on screen.  Check its image size (not the file size; I'm talking about the actual inch/centimetre dimensions of your photo) and make sure it is not too big for your paper!
  2. If the photo is in color, convert it to black and white using your photo software.  This helps to improve the print results by simplifying the visual info.  If you think the black and white version looks "washed out" or dull, increase the contrast using your software.
  3. Pull out a transparency sheet and load it into your printer according to the directions on the package (and your printer--especially in terms of the orientation of the sheet!  I wasted several sheets before I remembered that one side is coated so the ink will stick, and it had to be loaded upside down and backwards.)
  4. Open the print dialog box to specify the media used to print on.  My printer driver software makes me access this via the button labeled "properties," but printers all vary.  You want to make sure you tell the printer that you're using transparencies, and many printers will have your actual brand of transparency there for the clicking!  If not, you can always choose the "other transparency film" option.
  5. Print!  You'll want to wait for the ink to dry before you try to trim it or use it to make a solar print, though.  The ink stays sticky for quite a while.
Making the Negative Transparency
  1. As with step 1 above, you'll want to keep that image file open.   Check to see whether your photo software will allow you to invert the values or create a negative.  If so, click "save as" to create a new version, and before you click "save" that second time, rename the file to something you'll recognize as the negative version of the first image. Then repeat steps 2-5 above.
  2. If not, you'll need a scanner or a copier that will allow you to create a negative.  Before you scan or copy the first transparency, however, be sure it's dry! (This part is more vaguely outlined because scanners and options vary so widely.) Basically, what you need to do is to scan or copy the first transparency and then use the scanner or copier controls (or software) to invert the values and create a negative.  
  3.  If you're using a scanner, you'll probably want to save the new scan so you can use it again. After this, all you have to do is print to transparency once more, or, if using a copier, copy to transparency.
  4. As with the first transparency, wait till it's dry before trimming and printing from it!
Making the "Negative" Print
  1. Pull out your first transparency--the one that looks normal. Put it between the paper and the glass/plexi, or load up your contact print frame.
  2. Follow the same exposure, rinsing and drying directions given in the previous post. Note: Sometimes, transparencies containing lots of dark regions will want a few more seconds of exposure, but remember, the optimal exposure is two minutes.
  3. The print you get from this exposure will look like a negative of the original image.
Making the "Positive" Print
Use your second transparency.  Follow all the same directions above, and enjoy the results!  Put them side by side and see what you notice in the negative print that you miss in the positive!

And...repeat!


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