Category Archives: Paper

More Tiny Contact Prints

Here is the continuation of the tiny prints series. All of these are still from Rome, again the Lomo Belair X6-12 as the camera of choice. I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend about these and while sharing them online is great, seeing scans of them at what ends up being a much larger size than the actual print, they lose some of their impact.

This is a statue of the Archangel Michael, in the Castel Sant’Angelo. His body is stone but the wings are bronze.

Archangel Michael, Castel Sant'Angelo
Archangel Michael, Castel Sant’Angelo

The umbrella pine image is one of those that when I scanned the negative and worked with the image in Photoshop, all the “flaws” of the negative become quite apparent, and you start thinking it’s not a successful image. But contact printed, it cleans up nicely and really sings.

Roman Umbrella Pine
Roman Umbrella Pine

St. Peter’s Basilica Facade. This is one of the images that made me respect the Belair and its results more than I did initially. It’s still not going to ever match a serious panorama camera like a Horseman 6×12 with a highly corrected glass lens, but it does a great job for what it is, and certainly it scores extremely well in the value-for-money proposition – I got mine used for $200, whereas a used Horseman would set you back closer to $2000.

St. Peter's Facade
St. Peter’s Facade

The plaza in front of St. Peter’s was set up for a Papal Mass when I was there. The sea of folding chairs made for an interesting composition, leading your eye back to the obelisk and beyond.

St. Peter's Plaza
St. Peter’s Plaza

These are the famous three remaining columns of the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. This one really strikes me because of the simple, graphic nature of the subject. It’s another one of those images that everyone photographs when they’re at the Forum, and everyone knows it, even if you haven’t ever been to the Forum. Printing in platinum/palladium takes it somewhere new and different and it doesn’t feel like just another tourist image.

Three Columns, Temple of Vesta, Roman Forum
Three Columns, Temple of Vesta, Roman Forum

All these images are platinum/palladium prints, in this case all are a 50/50 blend of platinum and palladium, on the new wonderful Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag paper. I’m going to have to try a pure platinum print with it next and see how it behaves.

Photoworks Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing- sponsored by Hahnemuhle!


I have some very exciting news to announce – my upcoming Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing class is now sponsored by Hahnemuhle, makers of fine art printing papers since 1584. They recently introduced a new paper specially formulated for alternative process printing, specifically platinum/palladium, and are graciously supplying the class with a very generous stock of paper for the students to use. I hope this will be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership.


Portrait with Lotus Seed Pod
Portrait with Lotus Seed Pod

Paris in October – part 25 – Hans Z, Street Photographer

Meet Hans Zeeldieb, the street photographer working outside the Pompidou Centre. He was set up with his vintage 5×7, paper negatives, and portable darkbox doing portraits for 15 Euros a pop. He shot and developed them on the spot in 15 minutes. We struck up a friendly conversation when I saw his camera and he saw mine and talked a lot about photography. He sent me down the street a few blocks to the Centre Iris to go see an exhibit of wet plate collodion images by Jacques Cousin and several of his students, as well as some work by my friend Quinn Jacobson. Several years ago, I was involved in a gallery space in Hyattsville, Maryland called Art Reactor, where I curated a show of photographs made using the whole plate format*, and Quinn was one of the artists I selected. I think I made Hans a little nervous, as he overexposed the image of me. He did capture a good expression of me though, so I was happy to support a fellow working photographer.

In the first photo, I caught Hans with his hands in the darkbox, processing a print. The way it works, he exposes a paper negative in the camera, then develops it in the box. After the negative is developed, he sandwiches it with another piece of paper, opens a window in the dark box to expose it again, and processes the second paper, which now has a positive image. There are several advantages to this process – by working with paper, the development and fixing is much faster than with film, and you can use the same chemistry for both your negative and your finished print. I’ve seen or read about other itinerant photographers using much the same technique around the world, from Madrid to Kabul.

Hans with his camera, processing a photo
Hans with his camera, processing a photo

Here is a portrait of Hans outside the Pompidou Centre, just a close-up this time without the camera in the frame. He seems a little lost in thought – I think he was counting time for the print he was developing.

Hans, at the Pompidou Centre
Hans, at the Pompidou Centre

* Whole Plate format is the original photographic format, defined today as 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. It is not entirely certain how this size was chosen by Daguerre as the plate size he wanted to use, but reasonable speculation ties it to book printer’s printing plates. It has varied in its specification over time, but it settled on the 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 size by the late 19th century.

More student work from Advanced Topics in Platinum/Palladium

Trolley Stairs, Glen Echo Park
Trolley Stairs, Glen Echo Park

This is a blended platinum/palladium print (60% platinum, 40% palladium) print, on Bergger COT320 paper. This was by a student from my Intro class, but I reprinted it for this session (the student left the negative behind after the Intro class, and I happened to really like the shot anyway). This one was coated using a glass rod as opposed to a brush, to demonstrate the difference in the coating technique, and the final appearance of the print.

Crystal Pool, by Patrick Brown
Crystal Pool, by Patrick Brown

This is a palladium print on light Kozo paper, by Patrick Brown, one of my students in Advanced Topics. He was also in my Intro class. It’s so nice to get follow-on students so you can see their progress!

Kozo paper is a Japanese paper made from tree bark, and it is surprisingly strong for as delicate as it is – this is perhaps a 90 lb paper. It does have a tendency to dissolve in aqueous solutions, but if properly masked when developing, the image area can be preserved, even if the edges do get fringed a bit. This is a perfect example. I included the paper margins to show more clearly what the paper texture looks like.

We had some challenges this class session – the original idea was to try out some different paper types, and I had obtained a sampler of several kinds. We started the morning with Stonehenge, which was supposed to be a good paper, but something was dramatically wrong with the batch we got, as we were making 30 minute exposures and still coming up weak and flat. After this is over, I’ll get a little more for myself and try pre-acidifying it to see if that helps, but no mention of acidification was made in the sample kit and I couldn’t find any reference to acidifying it online. Fortunately we didn’t waste too much time before figuring out it was the paper at fault and not the chemistry, and life moved on.

Digital negatives in Palladium

Here is the first print in a series I’m working on. I’m going back through some negatives I made in 2004 with my Hasselblad on a trip to Spain. This shot is the cathedral in Salamanca, or more specifically, both cathedrals – the Romanesque and the Late Gothic/early Baroque, which oddly enough was built into the older cathedral instead of replacing it. I forget the reasoning off the top of my head. After I get a half-dozen or so printed, they will be going to a new gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia called Manu Propria, which specializes in handmade photography. The print is palladium, made on Bergger COT320 pre-treated with fumed silica.


Damn Software!

Ok – frustration time rears its ugly head again. Got all my software updated and connected together, and I even went out yesterday and splurged (there goes the rest of the tax refund!) on an Epson 3880 printer. Now that everything is wired up, I tried doing some scans with the new SilverFast AI8. Reflective scans at medium and even high res (1200 dpi) worked great. Scans from negatives worked up to 2400 dpi. The software allows you to input resolutions beyond 2400 dpi – I wanted to see what would happen at 4800 dpi because I was scanning a large negative (5×7 inch) to have it reproduced at very large size (30×42-ish, maybe even bigger). Well…… SilverFast AI8 choked on the request. The scan completed in a reasonable amount of time (maybe 5 minutes- SOOO much faster than on my old computer), but then took 20+ minutes to “process”, at the end of which, it failed. Again at 3200 dpi – same thing. At 2400 dpi, it worked just fine, so I’ll live with that, as A: technically that’s the optical resolution maximum of the scanner (anything higher is software interpolation I believe), and B: it’s still big enough a file (about 600mb) for the custom lab to work with.

I LOVE Kodak Portra 160nc film after this exercise though – it is VERY easy to scan (with decent software – with craptastic software no film scans easily) and it handles chaotically mixed lighting conditions with ease and aplomb. In the shot I was scanning last night, I had rainbow-colored neon, sodium-vapor streetlights, and fluorescent and incandescent interior lighting, at night, all in the same scene. The only thing I had to color correct for was a minor overall tint caused by sloppy processing at the lab I used at the time. Pretty amazing stuff. Now if they’d only charge less than $350 for a 50 sheet box of the stuff, I’d shoot it more often!

I do have to give SilverFast its props – I tried scanning the same negative with the EpsonScan software that came with the scanner – I had to do MAJOR color correction and density correction with the EpsonScan file. The SilverFast scan was almost dead-on on the first try, and I’ll just need to tweak to my taste, along with some dust and hair removal via the Healing brush. Figuring out how to do this myself saves $80-90 per image in scanning fees at the custom lab every time I want to make a print. Now, to figure out which paper surface(s) and brand(s) I want to use. I got a pack of Epson’s top-of-the-line premium glossy, along with a pack of the Calumet heavy-weight glossy paper to compare; the Calumet paper is dramatically cheaper than the Epson.

Dates announced for Platinum/Palladium printing Demo, 11-09-2011 at Photoworks Glen Echo

I will be doing a live demonstration of the platinum/palladium printing process at Photoworks in Glen Echo, Maryland as part of the FotoWeek festival. The date and time has been finalized – Wednesday, November 9, from 7-9 PM. Topics to be covered include: tools, paper, chemistry, coating techniques, processing, contrast control and altering image color. The session fee is $40. The session will be held in the upstairs classroom in the Photoworks facility.

Photoworks location and directions

Palladium Printing at Large Sizes

If any of you out there have ever done alternative process printing, you’re probably aware of the increase in technical difficulty that comes along with making bigger prints. Each size up adds a new wrinkle, especially when it comes to getting an even, consistent coat. It certainly helps to have a good paper that facilitates a consistent coating via sizing, baryta, or other pre-treatment. Another very important step is using the right brush. I’ve become very fond of the Richeson 9010 “Magic” brush for a good reason – the Richeson brushes have earned their name “magic” by the way the bristles are designed, they just make it easier to coat evenly and smoothly without disturbing the paper surface. They’re worth the price you pay for them from the savings in coating time, reduced re-prints, and hair not pulled out in frustration.

Especially when getting into platinum/palladium printing, most novice printers are extremely cost-conscious. After all, a basic pt/pd kit to make roughly 30 8×10 prints costs in the range of $200 today. And that’s just for the chemistry. However, you’ll quickly learn that there is such a thing as false economy. While printing at smaller sizes, it’s fine to try and economize on your coating solution to see if you can still coat the entire image area. If you under-coat, it’s painelss enough to toss a bad print and start over. All that goes out the window when you start printing bigger than 8×10. Better to be generous with the chemicals until you KNOW your requirements for your paper and your image size, otherwise you’ll be throwing away blotchy, uneven print after blotchy uneven print until you get one. A couple extra drops of palladium or platinum “wasted” will cost you far less than an entire 14×17’s worth that turned out poorly. I was printing some 14×17 prints this week and I realized at the current prices for materials, I was somewhere in the region of $30-40 per print, my cost. You don’t want to mess that up.

When I coat prints that big, I usually mask the edges of the coating area for several reasons. One: I’m using a 3″ or bigger coating brush. Watercolor wash brushes that big are not precision instruments capable of stopping on a dime and not slopping chemistry around. Two: I like nice clean white borders on my paper unless I’m aiming for that ragged, handmade look. Three: the masking tape helps keep the paper in place while coating so it is easier to brush on an even coat of emulsion. One of the challenges of masking is preventing the paper from adhering to the masking tape and tearing when you lift it off. To that end, I’ve found that the 3M “delicate surface” blue painters tape works best. It’s still not a 100% solution, because even when I’m being what I think is careful, I will have the odd occasion where the tape sticks to the paper a little too much and a layer of the paper surface comes up with the tape. I prefer masking with tape during coating to using rubylith to mask while exposing because the rubylith mask just prevents the emulsion from being exposed. You still have to clear the unexposed chemistry out of the paper and if your paper is particularly binding and/or your clearing bath is insufficient, you’ll end up with a rather embarassing looking stain on the paper around your image area. The 3M tape is cheap enough, don’t skimp and try to go cheap. Throw away your tape and pull new strips with each print – again false economy if you try to re-use it, as you run the possibility of contaminating your new print with old chemistry. At potentially upwards of $40 per print, is it worth it trying to save money on $0.10 worth of tape?

Still Life in 14×17, number two

Still Life, Lanterns
Still Life, Lanterns

One of my 14×17 still life shots. Printed in palladium. Making a palladium print (or any hand-coated emulsion) this large presents unique challenges – trying to coat something this big is a lot harder to get even because it’s such a large surface. You have to work with a much bigger brush, and make sure you keep the emulsion moving around quickly. Don’t be afraid of getting sloppy outside your margins – it’s more important to be evenly coated than it is to be precise and tidy. I printed this on Bergger COT320, a 320 gsm uncoated paper designed specifically for alternative process photo printing. It’s a beautiful, heavy-weight paper with great wet strength and a bright white base – it gives you easily another full stop of contrast range over a more warm white/eggshell paper.

A Non-Silver Manual now available for free

I just needed to put in a good plug for this book. It’s what I learned gum printing from, and contains some very useful information on other alt processes. The book is “A Non-Silver Manual: Cyanotype, Vandyke Brown, Palladium & Gum Bichromate with instructions for making light-resists including pinhole photography”. It was available for sale for many years in a soft-cover spiral bound edition directly from the author, Sarah Van Keuren. Mrs. Van Keuren has decided that she no longer wants to maintain the book and deal with the printing and shipping, so she is making it available chapter by chapter for free to download on If you want a hard copy, you can contact the publisher of and see about remaining stock.