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About Alternative Process Photographic Prints

The terms Alternative or Historical Photographic Processes refer to any non-traditional or non-commercial photographic printing process. There are many techniques using different chemicals, substrates and processes to produce these alternative art prints. Many of these processes were invented in the early 19th century and are done today in much the same way they were done then. Contemporary photographers are revisiting these techniques and adapting them to utilize our modern technologies (ie digital negatives).


Alternative photographic printing processes result in the creation of one-of-a-kind handmade images, with the imprint of each photographer’s special individuality and artistry. You may have heard of some of these processes, such as Platinum/Palladium, Gum Bichromate, Tintype, Bromoil, Cyanotype and Van Dyke prints.

I have employed Cyanotype (blue emulsion) and Van Dyke (brown emulsion) processes for their overall simplicity compared to some of the other processes. However all Alternative Process Printing requires the use of a contact negative (same size as final print) or photogram material (any object placed on the sensitized surface, such as a leaf or flower) to create an exposed image.

In the Photogram method, the image is made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of the light-sensitive paper (emulsion has been painted on) and then exposing it to light. The result is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone that depend upon the transparency of the objects used. Areas of the paper that have received no light appear white; those exposed through transparent or semi-transparent objects (such as dried plant material or crumpled wax paper, for example) appear as various tones of grey, while fully exposed areas are deep blue (cyanotype) or dark brown (Van Dyke) in the final print.


I first started making these Alternative Process Prints in the 1980’s. If i wanted to use a negative as the image base, I would enlarge a 35mm or larger camera negative in the darkroom onto a sheet of Lithographic film to get a full sized positive, which I then, in turn, directly exposed as another contact image, onto another sheet of Lith film to get the full sized negative for exposure. Today, we produce digital negatives in Photoshop, which are then printed out onto transparency film on desktop inkjet printers. Working in Photoshop provides much greater flexibility allowing such possibilities as the creation of layered images from several sources, as well as exciting effects such as gradient fades, etc. From this point on, the technique is done exactly as it was in the first days of photography in the early 19th Century.

The process for Cyanotype is as follows...(Van Dyke is the same with different chemistry):

Mixing chemicals:
The cyanotype is made up of two simple solutions.
• Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate (green) are mixed
with water separately.
• The two solutions are then blended together in equal parts.


Preparing the substrate:
Paper, card, textiles or any other naturally absorbent material is coated
with the solution and dried in the dark.

I use 100% Cotton Rag Printmaking Paper or Rice paper.


Printing the cyanotype:
Objects or negatives are placed on top of the substrate to make a print.
The cyanotype is printed using UV light, such as the sun, a light box or a UV lamp.



Processing and drying:
After exposure the material is processed by simply rinsing it in water.
A white print emerges on a blue background. I use a short dunk in a weak dilute
bath of bleach or Hydrogen peroxide to clear the highlights and intensify the color
between initial and final washes.
The final print is dried and evaluated.


I sometimes overpaint the print with delicate strokes of watercolor
and/or metallic pigment.
Some prints get a collage treatment with archival papers.




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