View Full Version : adventures in calotypes

02-08-2015, 11:48 PM
I've been learning about calotypes. I think of them as a natural next step in paper negatives, taking many of the qualities that I love about paper negatives to a new level. A place to learn about them is The Calotype Society (https://www.flickr.com/groups/1384661@N22/discuss/) at Flickr, both by reading the discussions and especially by following the links to sources that are mentioned there.

Lately I have started making small calotypes on a new kind of paper, in order to more easily learn without wasting too much silver. I'm excited because this new paper seems to work well. On a whim, I thought I'd write down all the steps from preparing a calotype to finished salt print. There are a lot of steps!

In practice, these are not as onerous as it seems because you would normally prepare batches of iodized paper for calotypes and batches of salted paper for the prints ahead of time.

Calotype ( this is Greenlaw's process calotype ):

- obtain paper and cut to size
- soak in iodizing solution for an hour
- dry overnight
- sensitize in silver nitrate solution for 5 minutes
- wash twice, 5 minutes each
- dry overnight between blotter paper
- expose the calotype ( 5 or 10 or 20 minutes or more! ), must be done on day after sensitizing.
- prepare gallic acid in warm water, let cool.
- develop calotype in gallic acid w/ aceto-nitrate of silver, 10 or 20 minutes ( or more )
- wash twice, 5 minutes each
- fix in hypo twice, 10 minutes each
- brief wash in water
- sodium sulfite bath for 3 minutes
- wash for a couple hours in many changes of water
- dry between blotters for 2-3 days, changing blotters several times

Salt print:

- obtain paper and cut to size
- float on salting solution 3 minutes
- dry overnight
- coat paper with silver nitrate solution
- dry at least 3 hours
- make contact print ( up to several hours )
- wash in dilute salt water, 3 minutes
- wash twice in water, 10 minutes each
- tone in one or more toners ( up to 20 or 30 minutes in each )
- brief wash
- fix in hypo twice, 3 minutes each
- brief wash in water
- sodium sufite bath for 3 minutes
- wash for a couple hours in many changes of water
- dry flat on clean glass overnight
- if needed, flatten under a stack of books for a week or more.

Enjoy your print!

A more practical account of the needed time assumes you've already iodized the calotype or salted the printing paper. This is the time you must plan for when making a calotype or print:

To make the negative it takes about 15 minutes to sensitize the paper the night before, then it takes about an hour to develop it the next day after exposure. Obviously you can do other things ( sleep! ) when it is drying or washing.

A salt print involves about 10 minutes to prepare the paper in the morning, then it takes me about an hour and 15 minutes to process it after it is exposed. Then washing and drying.

I've only made two calotypes so far with my new paper ( canson vidalon vellum ), here is the very first try, and the salt print I made from it:

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/16/62/36851662.807497d2.500.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/36851662)
Abandoned house calotype (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/36851662) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/16/64/36851664.fd7bcc0a.500.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/36851664)
Abandoned house salt print (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/36851664) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

Hopefully to improve over time and also make nice big calotypes for contact printing.

02-09-2015, 10:33 AM
Very nice results, Ned. I do like the color.


Tom Persinger
02-09-2015, 01:01 PM
very nice calotypes Ned! great results... maybe I missed it in the post, but can you share which paper you're using?

02-09-2015, 01:14 PM
This was Canson Vidalon Vellum 90gsm.

After just two tries with it, it does not appear to need acidifying, and no fog or stains so far.
It does curl like crazy, so it must be immersed rather than floated in all solutions.

It is so translucent that the calotype reminds me more of a sheet of film than a paper negative.

I am going to keep working with this paper.

02-09-2015, 04:07 PM
Very cool, Ned. I have thought about this, but I think if and when I decide to make negatives from scratch, I am going to make silver gelatin dry plates on glass. While the calotype process is fun, and creates the links with Talbot and Herschel, it seems like a lot of work for what you get. But then, to most people, everything that we do here seems like a lot of work. . . . . .

These are very nice results. I like the idea of going big. How big are you planning?

02-09-2015, 07:35 PM
Earl, yes I agree with what you wrote, and it depends very much on what you want. If you are after a result more like film and less like a paper negative, this process is a lot of work for what you get. It is also finicky and prone to a lot of little details that can go wrong. I like the texture and the process itself and working with paper negatives. And, as you say, there is a connection to history too. If you make dry plates, you still get the real satisfaction of having made a photograph from negative to positive entirely with homemade materials! There is definitely something special about holding a print that you have made entirely from scratch.

By the way, there is an interesting "middle ground" between paper calotypes and dry plate. Just like albumen printers brought the image up out of the paper for crisper detail compared to a salt print, Baldus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89douard_Baldus) used gelatin in his calotype process and got the image up into the gelatin. His prints have amazing detail for a paper process. Some google searching will find examples of his work. He made glass negatives too, so he took that step from paper to glass!

I have two foamcore cameras for larger calotypes. One is a fixed focus camera and the other is a sliding box camera like one that Joe made. Both can take paper up to 8.5 x 11 inches, my favorite being 7x11 inches. So I'm aiming at making 7x11 calotypes. I've made calotypes in both of these cameras, but had a lot of problems with fogging and staining, and I think this new paper is going to be the key to success! I'm going to keep playing with the small size a while longer: I need to learn how to develop these calotypes better, with a little more contrast. The change in materials means I need more experience to learn what a good one looks like under the safelight.

02-16-2015, 01:44 AM
Here's my latest, made 2 days ago. ( They take two days to dry between blotters, under a stack of books. )
I think I'm getting closer to a negative that will make a good salt print. Will print this soon, and maybe I'll post more of my attempts in this thread.

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/69/16/37046916.c3531443.500.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/37046916)
Egret Pond (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/37046916) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

This image was made by putting the calotype in a clear printfile sleeve, then on a sheet of glass with a light under it, and taking a digi-snap. So it is similar to what the paper negative looks like held up to a window.

For comparison, you can see one of Greenlaw's actual calotypes in the following link, he was a real master.

L'Oeil de la Photographie (http://www.loeildelaphotographie.com/2014/01/14/exhibition/23952/unveiling-india-the-early-lensmen-1850-1910)
( click on the gold-colored Vittala Temple thumbnail to see the calotype )

02-23-2015, 03:55 PM
Salt print of that last calotype was not as successful as it could have been. I should have given it more sun. But this gives an idea of what it looks like. I like the way the trees in the background look.


The pond was covered with bluegreen algae which is why the reflections are so muted. I'll go back again in a couple months when it has died off.

03-03-2015, 07:45 PM
This is the Bennett Valley Grange, the oldest still-active Grange in the United States. The California State Grange convention later this year has an exhibition, and I'm hoping to make a calotype and salt print of this Grange hall to enter. I went Sunday to see what the angles look like and make practice run. I think the density and contrast in this calotype might make a good salt print... starting to get some better control!

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/95/50/37319550.8850d0d2.500.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/37319550)
Bennett Valley Grange Calotype (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/37319550) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity
The building is painted white, and I might try for a day with softer light to make a big calotype.

03-04-2015, 07:58 PM
Wow! Ned,
I really like your images and at the same time am sort of upset that you've perked my interest(Can't go off in another direction! no matter how tempting you make it look)LOL! Seriously,beautiful job,keep up the good work.

03-04-2015, 11:24 PM
Hi Don,

I know exactly what you mean! Earl was talking about dry plate, and over at APUG there is all that discussion about emulsion making. I have all the ingredients here already... but I don't need yet another direction to go in right now!

I'm really pleased that I'm finally getting results... making calotypes and salt prints is something I've been wanting to do for a while, and this year I got at it again with this new paper. The new paper makes all the difference. The paper I was using before had lots of problems with fogging and staining.

03-10-2015, 12:58 AM
Here's the salt print from that last calotype. Bigger ones coming soon... I'm stuck because I don't have the right size bottle to make more sensitizer. More bottles and more chemicals are on their way from B&S.

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/95/52/37319552.ab803730.500.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/37319552)
Bennett Valley Grange Salted Print (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/37319552) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

06-08-2015, 10:25 PM
It took me a long time to finally get to a task that ended up taking 15 minutes, but yesterday I mixed up some more sensitizer for calotypes ( DH2O, acetic acid and silver nitrate ). I filtered my old batch then added the new, so now I have enough to be able to immerse a larger calotype. Now I've got all the ingredients and supplies to try a 7x11 inch calotype using Canson Vidalon Vellum.... hopefully in the next couple weeks!

06-28-2015, 07:33 PM
The adventure continues! Here is my first try at a "full size" calotype and salt print using this kind of paper. This calotype is 8 x 11 inches. I ran into one unexpected problem, but all in all it went better than I could have hoped for.

The canson vidalon vellum paper works wonderfully for this calotype process, but it is tricky to handle and needs to be immersed at each step instead of floated, and must be dried carefully between blotters at each stage to avoid wrinkles. I used larger volumes of each solution to make it easier to immerse the paper quickly, and that worked very well.

Here is the calotype and the salt print I made from it:

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/47/32/38714732.88a54d41.640.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38714732)
Burbank Oak Calotype (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38714732) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/23/00/38732300.a65d334b.640.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38732300)
Burbank Oak Salt Print (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38732300) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

The problem I ran into is that the paper got wavy and buckled in my paper holder. That is the main reason the photograph is soft. The lens was also wide open, which also causes a little softness but not this much. It's also why the edges are not straight and there is a little bleed-through of light around the edges. I think all this means is that I need to change the blotter again between sensitizing and exposing the calotype, not a serious problem.

All in all a success!

It's also taking some practice to learn how to salt print these. They print very much faster than I'm used to with normal commercial paper negatives. A member of the calotype society at flicker suggested using a paper diffusor and that works great and brings the printing process under control, and makes it very much like the paper negative printing I'm used to. I find making salt prints very fun. This print was toned with gold borax.

Calotypes are really slow. To give you an idea, this exposure was 14 minutes at f/11. A pre-flashed commercial paper negative ( Adorama house brand VCRC ) would have taken 2/3 of a second at f/11.

07-06-2015, 08:44 PM
And here is my effort from the holiday weekend here in the U.S. I made the calotype Friday morning and printed it Sunday afternoon.

For the calotype, a change of blotters while it was drying solved the problem with the paper buckling in the holder.

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/64/04/38816404.86311f02.640.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38816404)
Oak calotype (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38816404) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/64/06/38816406.bcd863d9.640.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38816406)
Oak Salt Print (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/38816406) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

Camera is a simple homemade foamcore box with one element of a 1914 B&L RR lens from an otherwise hopeless old Kodak 3A.

Calotype exposure was 25 minutes at f/22 on a sunny morning.

The salt print was first toned in gold borax toner for 35 minutes, then I added 2ml of 2% NH4SCN solution for an additional 30 minutes. This shifts the tone toward burgundy, but it is subtle compared to using a second bath of gold thiocyanate toner ( which would also take it far more neutral ). I discovered this last year when I was trying out many toning combinations for the print exchange here at f295, and it has become one of my favorites.

I retouched the pinhole on the calotype with a soft pencil before printing. An advantage of paper negatives! If you look very very closely, you can just barely see where it was, but it is not noticeable.

Barry Kirsten
07-07-2015, 03:37 AM
Nice work, Ned. Thanks for sharing your processes and experiences. I'd love to get in to alt processes some day myself, and info like this would be very handy.

07-07-2015, 11:43 AM
Really impressive Ned.
Nice image and following your work through/problem solving is enlightening and well done,thanks for sharing.
I'm trying to resist dabbling in Calotype techniques but you aren't making it very easy,hope I can hold out till you get going with your next process techniques in carbon and gum.
Thanks again for sharing(I think,LOL!).

07-14-2015, 12:17 PM
Nice work, Ned. I like the look of the negatives a lot. They are very beautiful on their own!

01-20-2016, 01:30 AM
Many of the early calotypists displayed the calotypes themselves at exhibitions. These would be lovely in a backlit frame of some kind.

I've had a few "challenges" since I made these, ( one of them involved my darkslide pushing the calotype out of the holder and having it nearly fly away at the beach when I pulled the holder out of the camera... I got to see an undeveloped calotype in the sunshine for the first time :) ) I'm in the midst of playing with oil prints these days, but I hope to make a lot more calotypes this year.

As this continues, I think I'll take the thread over to Jon's Gogebic Photography Forum (http://www.gophotog.org/forum/index.php)

Barry Kirsten
01-20-2016, 03:05 PM
Glad to hear this, Ned. I joined Jon's forum recently and I'd love more f295 members to do so, too. I think the more of us that stick together, the better. For anyone interested, I think Jon said he'd allow open application from f295 members until the end of January.

01-21-2016, 02:31 PM
Gosh Ned, I hope you will keep posting here as well as the other site as I just hate to see f295 dry up altogether(hate giving up I guess),but that's just me...

01-22-2016, 10:09 PM
Don, I'll keep posting here as long as it's here!

02-05-2016, 06:46 PM
Sometimes simple little things happen that are a big deal. I got a 7x11 Eastman No.2 camera, mainly to make calotypes. The first time I tried to use a calotype in it, the paper got caught when I put the darkslide back in, and it was pushed all the way out of the holder. I think this has really been worrying me in the back of my mind. Today I made another attempt, and this morning when I loaded the calotype into the holder I could see exactly what happened! There is a little lip for the film to go under on the end of the holder where the light seal is, where the darkslide goes in and out. As long as the paper is under that lip, there is no way it could be snagged by the darkslide. If the paper can slide down toward the other end, it can come out from under this lip, and that's what happened. Even though the holders are nominally 7x11 inches, the paper actually has to be very slightly less than 7" wide to slide in, and it would need to be slightly more than 11" long in order not to be able to slide down. A small piece of tape solved the problem and I made a calotype today with no trouble at all. Whew!! :) I was surprised at the big sense of relief I felt when it turned out to be something simple and easy to deal with.

The calotype is developed and washing right now, and I think it looks pretty good.

So there will be another calotype to show here in a couple days, and if I'm feeling ambitious, a salt print to go with it.

02-06-2016, 02:35 PM
Glad you worked out the problem and can't wait to see your results,keep up the good work....
I've hit a little snag with my carbon over water color print but will get back on it soon.Kinda' think I've stirred up some bad"MOJO" at the start of the year and would like for it to pass before continuing my tests.I really don't believe in that sort of thing buuut since Jan 1 we've replaced the ice maker in our fridge,the detergent dispenser in the dish washer and are awaiting the return of the repairman working on the clothes dryer,further yesterday received computer back from repair and also got car back having oil leak fixed annnd the hot water heater is making funny noises so I'm afraid to touch any of my photo stuff just in case LOL!

02-06-2016, 08:12 PM
Ha! Sometimes when things are going like that it's probably best to stay away from dangerous chemicals and UV lamps. I like to print sometimes after dinner, but I have a rule that if I'm tired I don't try any darkroom work. I cut a piece of rubylith today for salt printing this calotype, hopefully tomorrow!

02-07-2016, 12:43 AM
Here's the calotype I made yesterday morning. These "fairy rings" of redwood trees spring up on the remains of old trees, the baby trees tap into the roots of the "mother" tree. At one time there was probably a prehistoric giant standing on the same ground. Hope to make a salt print from this soon.

This is my first successful calotype from this camera.

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/05/98/41080598.3023628f.800.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41080598)
Isle of Redwoods (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41080598) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

02-07-2016, 12:47 PM
WOW!,Haven't made any calotype's but can't imagine any prettier image than that one and expect the print is going to be great as well.

02-07-2016, 12:50 PM
Ned, that's a nice image, hope to see the print soon.

Regarding loading paper into film holders, I'm reminded that, even with commercially made materials like Harman Direct Positive, you have to ensure the end of the paper opposite the dark slide goes all the way under the rear lip of the film slot, else the paper could interfere with the slide's reinsertion, due to the paper's natural curl.

But this is another one of those things that I enjoy about working with physical media, these little learnings of the craft that make interacting with the materials so satisfying.


02-08-2016, 01:00 AM
Thanks Joe and Don.

That's right about the film holder. I've never had nice film holders before these and when I first started I discovered how important it is to have the paper seated properly at the end opposite the dark slide too. The paper I use for these calotypes shrinks a little when it dries; I think that's why it didn't reach both ends.

I agree about working with physical materials, it's satisfying to learn all the ins and outs. This is most certainly a very "hands on" process.

I made the salt print today, and you can really tell it was thick fog! Will post it in the next couple days.

One thing about these Greenlaw process calotypes, most of the imperfections are light spots or even pinholes. You can see a bigger than usual patch in the middle of the upper part of the trees, and a partial pinhole up there too. I was able to touch it up with a pencil on the back. If the imperfections were black spots or dark areas that wouldn't be possible, but those haven't been a problem for me yet. I've read that black spots will appear if the sensitizer gets too weak and needs to be replenished, but I guess so far I'm replenishing it often enough.

02-08-2016, 03:39 PM
http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/61/54/41096154.278a8da5.800.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41096154)
Redwoods in Fog (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41096154) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

02-09-2016, 10:53 AM
Amazing Ned,
I keep flipping back and forth between the print and the negative,like them both.Maybe they should be displayed together in one frame( don't believe I've seen negatives that pretty before).Really nice work Ned,keep 'em coming.

02-25-2016, 10:18 PM
A seaside calotype from Monday:

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/08/28/41220828.5b938ed2.800.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41220828)
Duncan's Landing (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41220828) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

This was made with a 7x11 Eastman No. 2 camera.

My homemade camera for this size uses "viewing lines" and modified dollar store picture frames as the holder. Using this view camera and real film holders makes me feel spoiled, but it sure is fun. Not quite the same "I did it all myself" satisfaction, but there's plenty of that in this process :)

This exposure was 12 minutes at f/32 and it was a just a little underexposed. One nice thing about calotypes is that there is a huge amount of leeway in developing. I added just a bit more silver nitrate and the negative got the kind of density it needs for a salt print.

Print to follow.

02-28-2016, 11:30 PM
And the salt print:

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/45/22/41254522.f7519cb1.800.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41254522)
Duncan's Landing Salt (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/41254522) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

03-01-2016, 01:17 PM
Great job Ned!
Those negatives and prints have a very entrancing look about them. Fighting as hard as I can to resist this technique but am being overcome with the beautiful images of yours.
Keep up the good work and sharing your results.

03-01-2016, 08:58 PM
Thanks Don, I'm really having fun with them.

09-18-2016, 09:13 PM
Another seaside calotype, and the salt print from it.
The salt print color is more peachy-pink, and soft.... this image does not show the color... but I'm homing in on the toning for what is becoming a series.

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/26/02/43062602.c4355c2b.800.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/43062602)
Carlevaro Beach (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/43062602) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

http://cdn.ipernity.com/200/26/04/43062604.b26f812c.800.jpg (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/43062604)
Carlevaro Beach Salt Print (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/295785/43062604) par Ned (http://www.ipernity.com/home/295785), on ipernity

I made 3 new calotypes last month, and yesterday I made this first print from them. Just finished the 2nd print but it has some blotches so I'll probably wait until I print it again to share...

Hope everyone is well!

10-07-2016, 12:08 PM
Very cool, Ned. It's fun to see a new post on f295!

Sam Hotton
10-11-2016, 12:58 AM
Good morning Ned,
Such a beautiful shot of the Redwoods in the fog. Wonderful atmosphere and depth.
Love it,
Sam H

10-11-2016, 07:07 PM
Thanks Earl and Sam. More to come. I'm having trouble with my last batch of Lana Aquarelle, so I'm in the middle of testing new papers and sizing... might take some time to find a combination I'm happy with but then it will be back to printing!