David Arnold, Morning Glories
Lumen prints date back to the first days of photographic cameras when William Henry Fox Talbot experimented with a mysterious camera-less process called “photogenic drawing.” In this process Talbot made photographic paper out of writing paper by prepping it in sodium chloride and coating one side with silver nitrate, a chemical sensitive to UV light. These early experiments led later to his calotypes, and further photographic innovations. Nowadays, people still enjoy making lumens due to their one-time-only results and the unexpected dreamy colours it produces.
A lumen (light) print is very similar to other cameraless processes like cyanotypes, photograms, or the chemograms. Similarly, to Talbot’s early experiments, it involves exposing a negative over a light-sensitive material under the sun.
Lumen print by Sarah Croft https://www.instagram.com/sarah_crofts_studio/
B/W Photographic paper (it can be expired too!)
Flat objects (leaves, feathers, stencils, lace, fibers, digital negatives)
Two containers for the washing bath and the fixing bath
A B/W fixer (optional) https://www.ilfordphoto.com/rapid-fixer-product
A contact frame (or make up one with glass and a piece of cardboard)
Calla lily leaves lumen print by Julia Sumangil https://www.instagram.com/p/ClCo7brvRJY/
In a darkroom or a dim lit room, similar to the lighting conditions used for preparing cyanotypes, place the object you want to expose over the photographic paper. Just like in cyanotypes, areas that are covered will not get exposed and will remain white.
Once your composition is ready, secure it in the contact frame and place it under sunlight. Exposure time takes at least one hour. The longer the exposure, the darker the exposed areas will turn. This gives room to experimentation. (Something cool about lumen prints is that the high photosensitivity of the paper allows for an almost x-ray effect when using objects that have folds or layers, like flowers, for example.)
After exposing the print, take it to the room where it was prepared. Carefully, take away the objects from the photographic paper by giving it a quick wash with water.
If the picture is not intended to be a permanent object, it can be scanned and preserved digitally.
If the intention is to keep the print as it is, then it is necessary to put it in a fixing bath, (either hypo fixer or rapid fixer should work), for 30 seconds to two minutes. Then rinse for 10 minutes under running water or leave in a tray with water for 20 minutes.
Finally, leave it out to dry overnight and then it will be ready to scan!
As you can see in the references we have shared, the range of tones of the exposed and even of unexposed material will vary depending on the opaqueness of the object used as negative, the exposure time length, the intensity of the light, and the paper itself. Some artists also combine this technique with others like double exposure, chemograms (chemilumens), and cyanotypes (cyanolumens). The possibilities are endless!
Lumen print, by Cecilia Mignon https://www.instagram.com/p/ClP-17wODZQ/
If you need some extra inspiration, we liked this lumen project that took place during the COVID-19 lockdown among 12 artists from 8 different countries (: https://www.35mmc.com/24/05/2020/lockdown-lumen-artists-around-the-world-printing-with-sunlight/
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Author: Ana Sofia Camarga Images courtesy of the artists