I’d like to start this overview by making one big point. Something which will serve you well should you maintain the discipline. Something that while tedious and seemingly excessive will prove essential to your progress, learning and ultimately to your ability to thrive within alternative processes, and honestly something you should be doing anyway with your photography. BE METICULOUS IN KEEPING RECORDS!!
I use this notebook to capture every detail of a process with respect to a specific print. Once I work through the process and get a print dialed in, I will record the details here. It allows me to go back and with relative precision, remake a print without much trouble. It also allows me to have a starting point should I have a negative that’s similar and an end in mind that’s similar. I cannot recommend this enough.
As I work through at process with a print I will use a spiral notebook to keep a living record of my progress. Ultimately as I refine an approach within a process for a print, I’ll record what resulted in my ideal outcome in the notebook above. I use a similar approach for keeping records as I shoot. I like to have a record of how I created a shot and then I note my development data in this same notebook thereby providing the details behind the negative. This is common practice for photographers. I’m simply suggesting that you not let that discipline slip when you start working with alternative processes.
So, let’s start at the top and walk through the process of making a Van Dyke or Kallitype print. In general to major steps are as follows, assuming you’ve already a photography your interested in working with. First things first will be your negative. Now if you’re working with large format and have a negative of reasonable size for the subject matter you’ve photographed your in luck. It doesn’t matter whether it’s glass or film negative. The next step will be preparing your paper and then making a contact print. For this either the great outdoors or a UV light source will work. Next you’ll process your print. You see, it’s really not that complicated. Misplaced sarcasm? Possibly but I assure you none the less it’s really not in fact all that hard. So let’s take a step by step walk through the processes looking at the unique elements of both Van Dyke and Kallitype.
In general, you need to have a negative from which you will make your print. This can be a film negative or a glass negative, but what’s become more common now is a digital negative. I cannot really think of a downside to a digital negative for most applications involving contact printing. You can work from digital files originating on a digital camera or from scanned negatives. The beauty of working from a digital negative is you can size it to meet your needs. You have extreme flexibility. There is one hitch though. You must make a quality and appropriate negative, rather, a negative optimized for the process you’re involved in. So a negative optimized for Van Dyke will in fact be quite different from one optimized for Kallitype or Platinum. This largely takes place in photoshop. Most simply there are unique curves for each process that you apply to your negative. There are certainly downloadable curves from places like alternative photography and others, however, it’s really a good idea for you to learn how to create your own. Beyond applying the curves you’re going to invert and reverse (horizontally) your negative to set it up for contact printing.
If you want a pretty comprehensive walk through the process for making a digital negative, creating the curve, I cannot recommend enough the series of videos Will Salley has made. He also has a nice set of videos on albumen printing as well. He’s such an incredibly likable and seemingly nice guy as well. He’s not made a video in a couple years and that’s a shame. However, whiles it’s 6 parts, I do highly recommend you taking the time to watch his series on digital negatives.
Now, assuming you’ve got your digital negative good to go and you have a quality printer, you’ll need to get your hands on some Pictorico transparency film.
You can get this at B&H, Adorama, Bostick …etc. Now, I’ve used both Premium and Ultra Premium and I struggle to discern a difference. You can decide for yourself. It’s available in many sizes and it’s not that expensive.
One additional key point. You need to make sure that you set your printers settings to accommodate the transparency film. This will be different for each printer, but in general in photoshop you need make sure you have your settings correct.
There are a multitude of papers to choose from. A little research on the web will yield many opinions regarding paper which is optimal for any respective process. What I can tell you is it just takes a little experimentation. Now please keep in mind your selection of paper WILL have a marked impact on your final result. The exact same process followed with different papers will result in noticeably different outcomes. It comes down to your vision and preference.
I have had great, consistent success with both Arches Hot Pressed 140 lb and Bergger COT 320. Arches is readily available on Amazon or through Dick Blick. You can get Bergger through B&H or Bostic &Sullivan .
Both of these papers work quite well. I find the COT 320 to be just a bit more on the exquisite side in terms of results. I get wonderful results form Arches, but the COTS 320 is capable of producing special results.
One other element of paper choice that you should keep in mind is that depending on the paper, you may need to provide some assistance when your sensitizing it. If you don’t know it yet, Van Dyke and Kallitype printing involve hand coating paper with a light sensitive emulsion. As you’d expect, much of this is absorbed into the paper. Some paper absorbs more readily than others. The amount of absorption will affect your results For those that are not as prone to absorbing you need to add Tween 20 to your sensitizing chemistry. Tween 20 helps the chemicals absorb into paper. For Arches this has not really been necessary but for COT 320 it’s essential.
As noted above, once you’ve got your negative ready and you have the appropriate paper your next step will be to sensitize your paper by applying a coating of light sensitive chemistry. This is accomplished most easily with a brush. A synthetic brush. You will need a small bowl or glass to mix your solution and the brush to apply it.
I keep my brushes and bowls separate and clearly labeled. Note my “do not use” inscription on each as well! Safety first! While you do not need to go out and purchase an expensive artists brush, you should not buy junk either. I reasonably decent brush will work fine. The other option for application is a glass coating rod, also know as a puddle pusher. I cannot say much about them as I’ve not used them. You can find a good selection at Bostick & Sullivan. They also have a selection of good reasonably priced brushes.
So, when it’s go time, you’ll basically have your chemistry, paper, brush & bowl in front of you.
Let’s take a quick look at what we’re dealing with in terms of the sensitizing solutions for Van Dyke and Kallitype. In both cases you’re making a solution from a couple different chemicals.
- 10% Silver Nitrate
- 20% Ferric Oxalate
- Ammonium Dichromate (Optional)
The solution is made through equal parts of each. This is where you’ll add a couple drops of Tween 20 as well should your paper require it. For an 8×10 piece of paper, I use 29 drops of each, plus a couple drops of Tween 20. You can also incorporate a drop or less of Ammonium Dichromate to boost contrast. I suggest that you start with the base mixture and then adjust if necessary. I little goes A LONG WAY, so start with a drop, or less.
- Ferric Ammonium Citrate
- Tartaric Acid
- 10% Silver Nitrate
The sensitizing solution is pretty easy to make from these elements however, and in particular if you’re starting new, you should consider getting the Van Dyke Solution from Bostick & Sullivan. It’s really quite excellent and not expensive. If you should fall in love with the process it’s then quite easy to start to mix your own and even experiment around a bit.
If you buy from Bostick you’ll get plastic eyedroppers with just about every liquid you purchase. This is a good thing. It’s pointed out in many places that using plastic, machine made, eyedroppers is preferred to glass droppers due primarily to the variability your likely to encounter with the glass variety. A drop from one glass dropper does not always equal a drop from another. The plastic variety are just way more consistent.
So, you make up your solution by dripping drops into your small bowl. For Kallitype it’s 29 and 29, and for Van Dyke it’s 39 drops for my 8 x 10 and 9 x 12 papers; my coverage area is just about the same given the negatives I use.
You need to check the required coverage area on the piece of paper by laying your negative on top of it. You need to make sure you effectively cover the entire area of the negative. Some people like to make light pencil marks on the paper to indicate the negative area but I’m just not a fan of that. I tend to eyeball it with out much drama.
Note that you’re working under reasonable to low light conditions avoiding any major UV source. You will pour out either solution in one fell swoop, right in the center of the paper and then begin gently brushing it out. You want to make even brush strokes in the horizontal and the vertical, left to right and right to left, up and down and down and up. You should not need to brush for more than 20-30 seconds max. Try to get a nice even distribution of the solution across your paper. Do not press hard or you’ll disturb the now damp fibers of your paper.
For Kallitype it’s recommended to give the paper a sit-rest. Meaning, stop brushing and let it sit there for about a minute. Then move it to a dark box, closet, or any other dark area to dry flat. For Van Dykes I go ahead and move them once I’ve stopped brushing. Key here is to place them somewhere well away from any kind of UV light source. For the record, I also take a quick sec to scan the paper to make sure I have a nice smooth, even and completely applied solution. Drying time tends to be about and hour. I always just set my timer for an hour. Oh, and don’t get anxious. Just let them air dry.
Contact printing is pretty straight forward. You’ll need your dry sensitized paper, your negative and a contact printing frame such as this.
These are pretty neat devices and not as simple as they may appear. The contact printing frame performs a number of important functions through a couple unique attributes and while it may look like a regular old picture frame, it is not. A contact printing frame provides compression. When you place your negative and paper in it and then lock it down via the spring locks on its back (see below) you’ve secured the mating of the two. Having them slide around while you expose them would be bad! The underside of the spring/hinged back is covered with felt.
However, the reality of just about all contact printing regardless as to the process your using is that you need to inspect the progress of the exposure. In just about every process what you’re looking for in the print as it exposes is different. Inspection is key. However, as I’ve already said having your negative move even the slightest would ruin the print. Well, contact printing frames enable you to open either end of the frame to inspect your prints progress while keeping the other side tightly compressed. You do not risk anything moving.
I call this genius! You’ll find a lot of work arounds for this on the web and in many videos. People try to rig up contact printing devices from just about anything. You can get a real contact printing frame from Bostick & Sullivan or you can just lurk around eBay and you’ll find what you want. I got this one off eBay for $35. It’s in perfect working order. You’ll just need to be patient until one that meets your size requirements pops up.
One note on size. You will need to size your printing frame based upon your paper, not your negative. There are tons of say 5×7 contact printing frames available on eBay and I shoot 5×7. However, it’s not good practice to print out a 5×7 negative on a 5×7 piece of paper in a 5×7 contact print frame. There may be exceptions to this, but in general you’ll always be printing on a bit larger paper. Just think it through before you buy and think about your paper sizes.
Exposing the print is all a matter of time and light. You have the option to expose outside, which I definitely recommend and prefer.
You can also expose under an artificial UV lights source. There are very elaborate and expensive UV light boxes you can buy, and some rather complicated ones you can build, but I’ve found a reasonably priced grow light to work just wonderfully. I picked this one up off Amazon for $120! It came with a mercury (MPS) and metal halide (MH) build, and it’s the MH that you want. It also came with a wonderful ratcheted suspension system that allow you to raise and lower it as required. I keep mine parked up near the ceiling and lower it when I need to use it. Quick note on bulbs. They’re all not equal. What I mean is that all MH bulbs are not equal. You need to check their rating with respect to the color temp.
I keep the ballast on the lower tray of my work table. For the periods of use I require I’ve never had any issue with it even heating up. This system has worked like a champ for me without a single issue.
As with all artificial illumination, you will want to give these lamps a few minutes to warm up. You’ll actually be able to see the difference as it warms up. As I said above, I definitely recommend and prefer exposing outdoors but many times it’s just not an option due to time of day and my schedule. However, If I’m making a final print I will tend to wait until I can expose outdoors most of the time. The depth and quality of tonal range you get outdoors is in many instances just far superior in comparison to artificial light.
I am going to cover processing for each respective process in the final two parts of this. I hope that the information provided here is of use and I’m open to any questions or comments.
As usual I want to note that I have no affiliations or sponsorship ties to any of the vendors or products referenced in this post.