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Toning Cyanotypes and Cleaning Up the Darkroom

Lesson 26 from: Introduction to Alternative Processing in Photography

Daniel Gregory

Toning Cyanotypes and Cleaning Up the Darkroom

Lesson 26 from: Introduction to Alternative Processing in Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

26. Toning Cyanotypes and Cleaning Up the Darkroom


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Overview of the Alternative Process


Overview of the Digital Negative Process


Working with Black and White Digital: What You Need


Working With Black and White Digital Images: Color Settings


Working with Black and White Digital Images Lightroom


Working With Black and White Digital Images Photoshop


Working With Black and White Digital Images 3rd Party Plug-ins


Avoiding Key Artifacts


Creating the Step Wedge for Curve Corrections


Organizing Your Adobe® Photoshop® Files and Curves


Setting Up the Printer


Lab Safety and Workspace Set-Up


Setting the Maximum Black Time


Getting the Initial Curve Test Numbers


Correcting the Curve


Printing the Curve


Sharing Curves


Caring for the Digital Negative


Intro to Cyanotypes and Safety


Paper and Brush Types


Coating Process and Cyanotype Chemistry


Making the Cyanotype Print


Washing the Cyanotype Print


Creating Cyanotypes Photograms


Toning Cyanotypes and Cleaning Up the Darkroom


Introduction to Van Dyke Printing


Setting Up the Van Dyke Workstation


Van Dyke Paper and Coating


Van Dyke Exposure and Developing


Van Dyke Troubleshooting and Resources


Van Dyke: Split Toning


Van Dyke: Wash Cycle and Drying


Van Dyke: Clean Up Process


Introduction to Platinum / Palladium Printing


Platinum/Palladium Coating Chemistry and Safety


Platinum/Palladium Paper and Coating Options


Platinum/Palladium Exposure and Development


Platinum/Palladium: Equipment and Supplies


Ink Jet Negative Coating and Exposure


Platinum/Palladium Chemistry Options


Ink Jet Negative Development


Platinum/Palladium Waxing Images


Platinum/Palladium Troubleshooting and Resources


Sharing Your Work Digitally




Matting and Framing Options


Editions and Signing Options


Alternative Processes: Further Exploration


Lesson Info

Toning Cyanotypes and Cleaning Up the Darkroom

Let's get a tray of, I'm gonna process one in. Let's get a tray, let's get the toner mixed up. Tray of toner. So in a cyanotype process, we basically can take an existing cyanotype and then we put it in a toner so it gives you a completely different look which is one of the other cool things about these al processes is you're not stuck with the initial look. You can always go in and do something to it after the fact. So in this case, what we're gonna do is go in and we'll add the toner here. Now you can tone with a variety of different subjects and a bunch of different things. You could try toning with coffee. You could try putting it in a bath of tea. So there's a number of different things you could attempt to do to change the look of the print. So in the kit you're getting from, let's do four minutes this time. In the kit you're getting from Bostick & Sullivan comes this cyanotype and comes this toner. So you'll get that and the how long you leave it in the toner will dictate ul...

timately the look of the print. So here you saw that go to a nice deep blue. We just lost the striations of the feathers. So that would be a function of just time there. You can see it a little bit in that one on the edge there but that would be the function of that. So the toner is very similar. You've got two components to the toner. You're gonna mix up a little bit of A, a little bit of B, mix it together into a milliliter of water. It goes into a tray and then we actually just leave it in the tray and then it needs to go through a long wash cycle after that to make sure that all the residual chemistry comes off of that. While Jean is preparing that, we're to a point now where we're starting to get down towards the end of the day. We're at the toning part so we're about done with our prints so we're not gonna move much past that. We need to start thinking about getting the dark room in a position to be cleaned up or preserved in position for the next day. So a lot of times when I'm working, if I'm working on cyanotypes or printing process, I might leave the dark room set up to print the same process for several days in a row. In the case of a cyanotype, what I'm gonna do is preserve, I'm gonna preserve, the water tray is just gonna get dumped because I don't need to preserve that. The hydrogen peroxide tray, if it's not expired and doesn't have a heavy blue tint to it, I'm just gonna leave that tray there and ready to use for the next day because I just don't want to waste the hydrogen peroxide. And the last tray is just a residual water bath so that can actually just be dumped down the drain as well. I take the brush out, so in this case, what I've got here is some paper towel. I'm gonna go on ahead and clean the glass rod and make sure that there's no residual chemistry on the glass rod. I don't want anything to dry on there. I don't want anything to get attached to that so when I come in the next day it gets contaminated. I'll actually run it through some water and make sure that there's no chemistry down on the inside of the tube so that gets completely clean. This brush, you'll see, has the word cyano on it. This brush is used only for cyanotypes. So you're gonna get a number of brushes. One of the first things you want to do is label your brushes. You will have a Van Dyke brush, you will have a cyanotype brush, you'll have a platinum brush. If you do salt printing, you'll have a salt brush. Because the brush holds chemistry, residual chemistry from its prior sessions, it's called seasoning, you actually want a little seasoning on the brush. You actually get a nicer coating usually. But if I use the cyanotype brush with the platinum, I'm introducing cyanotype chemistry into the platinum process. To avoid that, each process gets its own brush. That's why in the kit, you're getting three brushes because you're getting a three process kit. So you're gonna want to get the brushes done. But your basic label, so in this case, I have my cyanotype brush, I'm gonna blot out as much water out of that brush as I can and get it as dry as possible. And then I usually clip it and just let it hang to dry. You're gonna sometimes get some of these little hairs will start to come out. I'll trim those off or pull them off. And then I'll show you what I do. I built this very very advanced expensive storage device. Cardboard with tape. And then once my brush is dry, it goes in there and I pull it down and then that just protects the bristles from accidentally getting fanned out when it goes into its kit. So then this brush will get stored with the cyanotype kit so that gets organized. Any excess paper goes back into its kit and I make sure that it's all face up because all my paper is stored face up. So the paper gets redone. This glass will get sprayed down with an ammonia-free cleaner, so whether it's Windex, the one in the can that makes this foam when you spray. But I don't want any ammonia on there because I don't want any chemical contamination of the residual ammonia being left. I clean this off because this glass starts to get little bits of chemistry that drop in. Oh my gosh, I've been talking and I forgot to turn the alarm off. This will be interesting. I'll get this cleaned up, I'll get the lightbox turned off. I'll clean the glass inside the contact frame as well. And what my goal is ultimately get set up for is I'm not worried about the clean up for today. What I'm trying to do is get the dark room set up so I can effectively start immediately tomorrow. In all of my experience in working with hundreds of students and dozens and dozens of dark rooms, people who have to come in and clean up yesterday's mess in the dark room have horrible printing days. If they can come in and just start with a clean dark room and everything is set up and ready to go, the brushes are clean, all the graduated cylinders have bene cleaned out, the trays are clean, they're just ready to go, they seem to have a much more enjoyable day. The other reason I like to make sure that that dark room's cleaned up is I can inventory. Like when I came in here, I knew I came in with two brushes. So when I'm cleaning up, if I'm missing a brush, I know that, oh, I dropped a brush somewhere, I can't find something. I also keep track of the amount of paper I use. So today I used three sheets of paper. My inventory stays at a certain level because what I don't want to do is get into a process if I'm out of paper, I've run out of paper to print with. So knowing that, oh, I'm down three, I can tick that off of my inventory. That inventory sheet just sits in my dark room and I'm ready to go there. So there's an easy way for me to stay on top of things as we go through. The shot glass, it's used for all the processes so same thing. It'll get rinsed out with water, get cleaned. It gets set to dry so when I come in tomorrow, I know that this is ready to go. I don't look at it and think, what's that yellow sticky stuff? No. (chuckles) No drinking. So get that cleaned up. So everything gets cleaned up and organized. The negatives all get put back into their proper place. Okay, so that first tray closest to you is the bleach. The second tray is tannic acid. Alright, so where'd that first Jefferson Memorial image go? Got it. So, we're gonna go into the bleach and the image is gonna get almost completely bleached out. So we go into the bleach and you can see the image starts to almost immediately fade away. This is the part that kind of freaks everybody out. There's a process like this in the film development world where we bleach and redevelop negatives. In the film world, too, people freak out. They're like, oh my gosh, it's almost gone! So we're gonna bleach that out til we have just a hint of the shadow left. And this can be replenished. So this would actually be saved into a bottle and then as it starts to expire, we can replenish that. The bleach would just be disposed of accordingly. Along those lines, when today's processes, there's nothing that really doesn't end up, in most cases, down the drain. For your photography though, you need to pay attention to the disposal based on your local ordinances. So like where I live in the country, we have a septic tank so a lot of stuff that can't go into the septic system. It has to be taken up to the county's hazardous waste recycling place. And they don't charge for it, they just don't want it dumped down the drain. In King County, Washington, where we are right now, there are certain things are allowed down the drain, certain things are not. As a general rule of thumb, anything that has a heavy metal in it like silver, or selenium or something, can never go down the drain. So tomorrow when we do Van Dykes, they'll use a fixer which actually will pull off any of the unused silver as it stabilizes the image. That can never go down the drain because of the metal that's in there. Okay, so we've got the image here basically bleached out. We're gonna pull up and we're gonna hold this for about 15 to 20 seconds so that the actual bleach can drip off and then we're gonna go in to the acid baths which will start the actual toning process. So this will go in and this is to taste. So the longer it stays in here, the deeper and richer that color's gonna get but you can see the image is starting to come back. Phew, this part always freaks me out. One of these days, I'm gonna screw something up, too, and it's not gonna come back and then it's gonna be like, oh. And then I'll be like, oh, could I sell that as the invisible print? So, we get everything cleaned up. UV light box goes off, contact frame gets cleaned up, and at that point, then I'm ready to go for the next day. Even if I'm gonna do the same process the next day, I'm gonna come back in tomorrow and I'm gonna do cyanotypes, everything is cleaned up, everything is put away, trays get done because you just don't want to be in the position of that cross-contamination. Okay so, a couple of other pieces I want to cover about a cyanotype, (mumbling) is we do the toning here. We also, like I said, can use these prints for multiple processes. So the one thing that's nice about a cyanotype is it's not a process that is going to be heavily cross-contaminated by another solution so it really works as a nice base. So if you're a person who's like, I really kind of like to experiment and play with the different elements and the different aspects of the image and I want to try something different from an artistic standpoint with my work, a cyanotype is a good place to start because it lends itself to a huge level of experimentation in terms of working with other processes. One of the things we're gonna do tomorrow is I'm gonna show you how to take a inkjet print and do a platinum print over the top of it. And so that's another thing you can do with a cyanotype is you could print with certain colors, mask off certain parts of the image and play that way. So there's a massive experimentation factor that you have when working with these alternative processes. And one of the reasons I love working with younger photographers is they don't have a fear factor of doing something wrong and so their willingness to experiment with these processes is crazy. So the things they'll try to do with a photogram or they'll be like, hey, can I put a cyanotype, what happens if I spray my baseball hat and then I play a baseball game outside, like, and they show up and it's really amazing cool things because these processes lend themselves to that. They're about experimentation, they're about figuring things out. The other piece about them that is great is, if you get a chance, like the Museum of Modern Art down at San Francisco has a massive collection of cyanotypes and so there's a number of different aspects of the cyanotype that you can work with and see historically over time so it's one of those continued pieces. Anna Atkins is considered the first woman photographer, woman, Anna Atkins. First woman photographer kind of in the history of photography and she was doing photograms of botany and flowers and things like that using Herschel's methodology and so it's really a great, and the history that this is one of those ones that in our history books, we oftentimes ignored that fact but she does beautiful beautiful stunning work and really extended the uses of a cyanotype for something beyond just photography. So a lot of, like I said, people still using it, a lot of experimentation and things to play with. So you could see, we've got some purple tint back into that image and then just time we'll move it into the wash for that but eventually it'll get that deep kind of plum-y color. If you don't bleach it as long and then put it into the acid bath and then pull it back out, you can actually end up with almost a blue-purple balance between the two so you've got some ways of experimenting with that. So you can really play with extending and compressing those different images. I'm wondering about, on that print that you're working on right now, how there's the step wedge on there. Is that to kind of get make sure your first test is okay and then the next one you just wouldn't have that on there? Yeah, exactly, yes. So the next print like if we, this is just water. So this next print, so I would have done that one with the step wedge and this one that we've just incinerated because I forgot it was in there with the buzzer off, doesn't have the step wedge. So that would go in and without the step wedge. If I wanted this Jefferson one, I would go in, turn the step wedge off in the digital file, reprint the negative without the step wedge. But yeah, it was in there just to give a sanity check for the process and it occurred to me that I didn't have any negatives without a step wedge except that one and I wanted to show people how that worked. Oh, I didn't cook it as bad as I thought. No, you weren't too far past it. Okay, so if the camera can see, I'll pull this back in the light. You can see those little marks there. So that's just a little bit of me with that brush when I came in afterwards. And you can see I tried to make something cool happen and it really just doesn't work for me. So that's why once that image is kind of in there, you just kind of gotta leave it where it's at. I ended up with some highlights that are a little light in here so I'd probably go back and process that image a little more. It came up a little light in the negative for that. Any other questions from anybody online? I did want to know if you could talk again to the kit itself. Yes. Okay so, the kit that Bostick & Sullivan pulled together for us is the cyanotype chemistry and the cyanotype toner which you see here. So the two parts for the toning. It includes, I have instructions for you in the handout, you also get their instructions for using those. Then it has the Van Dyke kit. So the thing we're gonna do first thing in the morning tomorrow is we're gonna make Van Dyke prints which are those brown prints. You'll get the Van Dyke kit and the Van Dyke gold toner in that. You'll see that toner tomorrow as a part of that process. You'll also get the platinum palladium printing. And we're using a method called the NA2 method so it uses a little bit different chemistry than the traditional platinum printing but we're gonna go ahead and use that NA2 method. You'll get the NA2 kit. This is enough to make a couple of hundred prints. The Van Dyke will make probably a, I think it's depending on the size negative, 50 to 80 prints. The platinum's gonna make you somewhere between 50 and 80. So you're gonna get those kits. You're gonna get a package of the Pictorico. So you get 20 sheets of the overhead transparency to make digital negatives with. You're gonna get 25 sheets of the Rives BFK paper. You'll get six sheets of the Arches Platine, six sheets of the Stonehenge, six sheets of two other papers. So you're gonna get 24 pieces in the paper sample kit. You're gonna get two Hake brushes. You're gonna get a Sterling brush. You'll get a brush like this for the platinum work. So all of that is what's included in that kit. So there's nothing we're using, like, I am literally using the chemistry out of the kit, the brushes that come out of the kit. Everything that's in the kit, you're actually getting to see and that's what we're using from an experience standpoint. So there's no secret thing that I have that's really cool. You can have that. From a standpoint of getting started, if you ordered that kit, and call up and say, I want the Daniel Gregory kit, and they shipped it to you and you got it, what you saw here is no, there was no magic secret cooking behind the kitchen. Literally equal drops of that, equal drops of that, brush on paper, stuff from your house, photogram. So you could get started literally the minute it came home. There's nothing really complex about this. These trays are my photo trays but if you wanted trays, just hit the Dollar Store, someplace you can buy Tupperware and buy the cheapest trays you could find. You don't need any fancy photographic thing and you need sunshine. And as much as I joke about there being no sunshine up here, cloudy overcast days, sunny days, all have ultraviolet light. It's just the exposure time will change a little bit. So you're just gonna have to peel back and check your exposure on the cyanotype but even if you don't have a UV lightbox, it'll absolutely work. Contact frame isn't required, just a big piece of glass that you can set on top. So if you didn't have a contact frame, you can just put a big piece of glass on top. So you could easily get started with all this. Bostick & Sullivan, that is a contact frame from Bostick & Sullivan. That size 200, 220, something like that for the contact frame. It's buy once for your entire life. I have another one that's bigger which we'll see tomorrow but I've had those contact frames for going on 15 years. They last forever if you take care of them. So but anyway, that's everything you're gonna get in the kit. Everything, literally everything you need to get started from doing it.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Alternative Processing Handout.pdf
Grayscale Percentage to RGB Values.pdf
MSDS Saftey
Bostick Discount Code.pdf
Matt Cutting Cheat Sheet.xlsx
Step Wedge Creation Spreadsheet.xlsx
Alternative Process

Ratings and Reviews


For a long time, I have read, studied and tried alternative processing, mainly Platinum/Palladium printing. I want to create longest lasting prints and may be share the info at Creative Live. But this presentation saved me many a hours. A few minutes into the lecture, I purchased the class and as the class progressed, I was extremely glad. Thank you Creative Live, thank you Daniel Gregory.


Excellent class on Alt Process and fantastic bonus materials included with purchase!!! I have extensive digital printing and darkroom experience but haven't done much alt-process to date. This is perfect timing for me as I have several personal projects that I would like to re-visit using some of these techniques. Thank you Daniel!!!

James H Johnson

I have been making platinum/palladium prints for about 1 year. This is the 3rd workshop that I have attended. The first two were one on one. Daniel has done a fantastic job of covering the material and explained the process it detail and easy to understand. This course is fantastic and highly recommend it.

Student Work