Photogenic Drawing

We all have digital cameras now, who ever bothers to think about how they work, or who got us to this point?

The FIRST picture ever take, who got the credit?

William Henry Fox Talbot invented the calotype process in 1826 (appx).

A canotype is the process of using Silver Nitrate to create an image.  The silver decomposes in sunlight leaving the area that shows the contrast or image on the page.  This decomposition only occurs if there is the correct balance of salt and silver… this process is called creating “salted paper”.

Our group has recently done a few tests on our own to really get a feel for what it is like and how many variables go in to creating a working calotype.  Read more below ****

Above: The First Photograph [France, 1826] Talbot



“The term calotype comes from the Greek καλός for ‘beautiful’, andτύπος for ‘impression’.”wikipedia, may 2011, <;.

Interesting Photographs created through this process:


Talbot.”Veronica in Bloom” ca. 1840




Links to check out:

(a little bit more history, listen well he talks fast)

(no sound, but very cool)

(longer process in depth, but slightly different than the one laid out below)


Our Experience:

Our group wanted to learn a little bit about how these calotypes worked.  We tried our own using variables of the following…

-percent salt used  -percent silver nitrate used  -type of paper


Paper Type Key:

A) 100% Rag

B) 400 Series Strathmore water color cold press

C) Carton Bristol board – regular surface texture

D) Strathmore Gemini 140lb- rough

Salt = NaCl

Silver Nitrate = AgNO3

And it begins……

[Below are our original percentages used (and coats anticipated) as well as the results ie: “A.” stands for 100% Rag as seen above]

Experiment 1) 2% Salt NaCl & 5% Silver Nitrate AgNO3 / half of this sample had 2 coats

A. The second coat of silver turned darkest brown (the first coat was not even distribution)

B. No change

C. The second coat of silver turn a greenish brown, very pale

D. Very little change


Experiment 2) 10% Salt NaCl & 5% Silver Nitrate AgNO3

A. No change/ slight yellowing

B. No change/ slight yellowing

C. (also had a lighter purple ting)

D. This one had the highest level of contrast, (almost purple tinge)


Experiment 3) 2% Salt NaCl & 12% Silver Nitrate AgNO3/ half of this sample had 2 coats

A. The second coat of silver turned darker brown w.o. Exposure

B. The second coat of silver turned light brown (light light brown before exposure)

C. The second coat of silver turned dark brown, (before exposure there was a green ting to the paper with silver application)

D. The second coat of silver turned light brown (not much of a change)


Experiment 4) 10% Salt NaCl & 12% Silver Nitrate AgNO3

(all of these had some contrast)

A. Little Change

B. Little to NO change

C. Little Change

D. Little Change



Process began:

-All shades in the room were drawn & indoor lights turned off (we were still able to see what we were doing, this was appropriate because the solutions we were using were not that light-sensitive)

-We had a 9”x6” plastic board for support

-Taped a border on all sides of the 2” x 9” strips

-Delivered liquids all with “pipettes” 12 ml

-Technique was delivered in “beads” or strips of solution dispersed along the top.

-2 lines of beads were used on each strip and spread vertically on the paper trying for an even coat (each paper received about 10 ml of solution

-After each coat we dried w. a hair dryer until dry

-Silver Nitrate was applied by taking a pipette and squeezing the liquid on to a foam sponge, this was the cleaner way of application, so not to contaminate.

-On all the salt was the first application_dried_silver application_dried_”exposed in a light box for 5min. w. out negative blocking some sun from some of the areas, (we chose keys and coins)

-The silver nitrate application was applied horizontally

-After the exposure, we removed the tape and the pieces of paper from the plastic board

-We submerged the paper in salt water for 5 minutes

-Then again submerged the paper in a bucket of water (running all the time to clean the water an remove any excess)

-The last two steps were done to set the print so that if exposed to light after this it will not change or continue to expose

-Lastly we dried the papers w. a hair dryer on low for the last time

And our prints were complete!… And the winner is…….


Experiment 1) 2% Salt NaCl & 5% Silver Nitrate AgNO3 / half of this sample had 2 coats

-We found it was the most reactive. Some images to prove our findings…

Above: Stage 1: after 2 coats (left side) and one on the right

Above: Stage 2: Dried and ready for the exposure.

Above: Stage 3: Just stepped out of the light box after 5 minutes, you can see the drastic exposure change!!! So Exciting!!!!!

**** Keynote: We found that the less salt and higher silver, the better reaction****

**** C & D on all tests were, in most cases, wrinkled due to the amount of liquid absorption. Also there seemed to be yellowing of these two papers. ****


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