Nature,  Outdoor,  Techniques

Experimenting with Sun Prints

For this post I decided to have a go at Sun Prints with the kids.  The proper name for these is Cyanotypes, and it is a technique first developed in the early days of photography by Sir John Herschel in 1842.  In fact they are the original ‘blue-prints’. They’re really simple to do if you buy the prepared paper, and the effect is almost ‘magical’ for children.  They are particularly effective using leaves, flowers, plants, feathers etc., but you can use cut out shapes, or any flat household objects which will leave a distinctive silhouette.  I love the resulting ethereal, almost ghostly quality that you get with them.  It’s a lovely way to spend a sunny day – taking a nature walk to collect suitable material (remembering that it needs to be fairly flat) and then coming home and creating sun print pictures from your finds.  It also a great way of combining science and art, and of introducing children to the basic concepts of photography.

The paper itself is a pale blue when it comes out of the packet and has to be kept away from the light as much as possible until you are ready to ‘expose’ it.  Place the paper on a stiff board, and then lay your specimens onto the paper.  If you do this indoors away from bright sunlight the paper will not be exposed too quickly.  I found that if I then placed a piece of thick glass (the sort that you can use as a table protector) on top of the specimens and paper, that this would hold it all in place, and prevent the specimens from getting moved accidentally by any breeze or other movement.



Place the board, paper, specimen and glass ‘sandwich’ in a sunny place, taking care to avoid any shadow falling on the paper.  As the paper exposes it will turn almost white.  This takes place very quickly in bright sunlight (less than 2 minutes) but without sunlight can take as long as 40 minutes.

Bring the whole lot back indoors, remove the paper and rinse it in a shallow tray of clean water.  As you do so, the image magically appears before your eyes, and the paper turns blue again, leaving the image in white.  Hang it up to dry, or alternatively place it on paper towels, and blot away the worst of the wetness from the surface, before leaving it to dry.  The blue will gradually darken further until you have a beautiful shade of dark blue, with the image standing out in white.

With one or two sheets, we got a bit more creative, so for example for this image we used ‘mixed media’ – creating the undersea background using plant material, and the netting from a pack of oranges.  We then added some silver foil fish (painted with glass paints)  and glittery bubbles.


If you want to take the whole thing further, you can make your own photographic cyanotypes by printing out a black and white photographic negative onto acetate sheet, then placing them over the paper and leaving them in sunlight to expose them as a positive, but this is more suitable for older children, and the more simple, direct technique of placing objects themselves on the paper has plenty of creative potential.  You can also produce cyanotypes on fabric.