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Some camera manuals and editing software refer to producing Cyanotype images. These are monochrome images, often similar in appearance to sepia images but blue and white.

These often differ considerably from earlier cyanotype images that had detail in white out of a blue background. Although today both are often referred to as cyanotype images, it's really the older image style that is, and others are just monochrome images produced as a blue and white tint rather than black and white or sepia.

Cyanotype images or blue prints, were developed as a means of copying notes and diagrams by Sir John Hershel, in 1842.

The astronomer and scientist discovered the light sensitivity of iron salts. The process he developed involved painting a piece of paper with iron slats solution and drying it in a dark room and then placing an object on it, for example a leaf, and putting it in the light, after about 15 minutes an image was seen, where the shadow of the item was white and the rest of the paper turned blue.

The paper was then washed in water where oxidation occurred turning the blue area a bright blue or cyan and fixing the image.

These images will fade if left in the light for some time, but have the unusual property that they will largely restore themselves if stored again in the dark. They do not store well in museum board that would be ideal for other old prints, so if you come across an original some research or specialist advice on storage should be sought.

Ann Atkins, often said to be the first female photographer, used this photogram process to produce cyanotype books documenting ferns and other plants from her seaweed collection.

The process can also be used with cloth, and this can be hand washed by hand with a non phosphate soap. If a phosphate soap is used the image turns yellow.

Cyanotype image by Anna Atkins made about 1851, original was 13.3 inches by 9.5 inches

Old Cyanotype Image of Hanewell Gardens (no more known)

This is a very simple and cheap process, and all you need is a UV light source, the sun or artificial light is fine, and the basic chemistry toady is an 8.1% solution of potassium ferricyanide and 20% solution of ferric ammonium, mixed together. You can increase the sensitivity and contrast of the sensitive mix, by adding 6 drops of 1% potassium dichromeate for every 2ml of sensitizer solution.  Developing/fixing is achieved with a 6% solution of household hydrogen peroxide (3%), in household use this is used as bleach. As these solutions are all very week, although normal care has to be taken, they are safe to play with and often the first alternative process people choose and can be used with children. You can add other items to modify it, and a lot of information can be found across the internet from those who see this as their chosen art form.

There is a 68 page 10x8 inch book with colour illustrations of the process called 'Blueprint to Cyanotype' by Malin Fabbri and Gary Fabbri, Malin is from Sweden and Garry from the USA. The book is a result of a masters they did from Central St Martins School of Design in London on alternative photography. The first 22 pages, including the basic method, chemistry etc, as well as contents of the rest of the book can be downloaded for free, from the publishers.
From the Digital Camera

Some cameras can produce tinted monochrome images.

The image to the left was taken with a Nikon D300, on the setting the manual calls Cyanotype, other colours and tints of colours are also available.

Creating Vintage Images - Old Look Photos 

Monochrome Photography



Soft images 



By: Keith Park Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: Cyanotype Topic: Photographic Techniques  Last Updated: 03/2012

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