In this tutorial, I will be introducing an unconventional way of printing known as “lumen printing”. “Lumen” is understood as the projection of light radiating from one ominous source, i.e. sunlight, or UV light. This is particularly pertinent to this method of printing as it utilizes available light (daylight) as opposed to controlled light (enlarger exposure light, or the rapid on/off light when creating photograms) in order to print an image.
Lumen Printing is also an alternative to printing contact prints or photograms, again requiring minimum time, equipment and money. This is a black and white photographic process, although with that in mind, you will be surprised by the results (and colour) of your creations. That is the beauty of photography.
Before getting started, you may like to read our guide to setting up a darkroom, as it has several useful tips that also apply to this tutorial.
Recommended Gear and Materials
The required equipment is as follows:
First you will need only two chemistry trays; unlike conventional black and white printing, you will only need a pre-mixed solution of fix chemistry, and a rinse tray of plain water. You will need black and white photographic paper and cello-tape or a Perspex board. Make sure that you are close to available light, i.e. a big window (or even have access to outdoors).
Locating Image Subjects
Like regular photogram printing, you will need to gather any three dimensional or two dimensional objects, i.e. paper cut-outs, wrappers, toys, your own fingers/hands/feet, statuettes, processed negatives, memorabilia of sorts, anything you can think of or that you would like to see translated onto a photographic image. Depending on the conditions of where you will be placing the images for exposure, the use of cello-tape or a Perspex board may be needed in order to prevent the subjects from shifting position on the paper.
Photo Setup and Composition
Remember that the only light that can be on while dealing with unexposed black and white photographic paper, is that of the safelight – nothing else. If the paper is exposed, it will get fogged, either leading to a greyish tint, or just turning black once placed in the developer. Therefore, it is best to set up and establish your image in a darkroom prior to exposing it to outside light.
Place the paper shiny side up in a dry area of your darkroom on a dry surface, continue to place the object(s) on the paper. This is where your creativity comes into play. Once the objects are placed on the paper as you would like, if need be, tape down particular objects that may need to be stabilised to the surface of the paper. If you do not want to use cello-tape, and you are only using 2D objects, place a decent sized Perspex board on top of the image to flatten and keep the subjects from shifting on the paper.
Place the arranged image on a flat and dry surface that is exposed to sunlight, either by a window or outdoors. You can leave the images exposed in sunlight for as long as you would like. The longer they are exposed, the more intensely the image is burned into the paper. This can range between minutes and hours. It is entirely up to you.
Once the time of exposure has been determined, take the image back to your dark room, carefully remove the objects from the paper, and place the image face down in the fixer.
Agitate (rock back and forth) for approximately two minutes, flipping face up in between. You will see your image changing from a blue-ish tint to a mottled brown/pink/orange colour.
With the fixer tongs, pinch the corner of the image and hold the image above the fixer tray to drain any left over fixer from the print as much as possible. Place the image into the wash bath tray for that final rinse. Agitate for approximately 2-3 minutes or until you feel the image is rinsed of fixer.
With this method of photographic printing, you will see how the light penetrates and creeps through the objects on the paper. This is a method that I use regularly, as I am able to create a lot of images at once, in a short amount of time. There is not much fiddling and changing that needs to be made when creating lumen prints as there would be when dealing with an enlarger. It’s a great way to explore alternative image processing in an easy effective way.
Common Problems and Obstacles
Remember that whenever handling unexposed black and white photographic paper, to always make sure your hands are clean and dry, as well as physically being in a clean and dry area of the darkroom. Also, make sure you are not close to any light source, as you may sacrifice your sheet of black and white photographic paper, or even your entire box of paper to over-exposure or fogging.
Depending on weather conditions, I would suggest assessing the atmosphere and environment prior to placing your set up lumen print image outdoors. This way, you can determine whether or not you will need other materials to aid in fastening the objects to the paper to avoid them from shifting or just simply leaving them to be exposed indoors near a window instead. Experiment, and always try to have fun with it!