Alternative Posts

Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes – Lumen Prints

Lumen prints are made by taking sheets of unexposed black-and-white photo paper and placing objects or negatives on top as if you were going to make a photogram, but instead of using an enlarger you take the paper out into the sun. The results will vary due to exposure times, density of photogram or negative, quality of light and, most importantly, the type of paper. Each paper will have a different color, depending on whether it was old or new, fiber or resin, and the manufacturer. According to an article by Jerry Burchfield (on, exposures can vary from half an hour to days and sometimes even months.

© Barbara Dombach. Barbara does selective fixing so she can create vibrant colors and tones. She uses spoons, turkey basters, sponges and her hands (with gloves).

Materials needed
– Black and white photo paper, preferably out-of-date paper (or film)
– photogram materials or plants
– negatives
– contact print frame or two pieces of glass and clips
– the sun

Darkroom set up:
– optional: tray for running water if you are toning
– optional: tray with toners – favorites seem to be gold or platinum, but any normal black-and-white toners will work
– tray for fix
– tray for wash.

The process
1. Decide on a composition before you take the paper outside.
2. Place the paper along with your choice of photogram material or a negative into a contact frame.
3. Take it outside to expose in sunlight. The exposure time depends on you – some people expose for 30 minutes, others as long as a few hours and still others for several weeks. It all depends on the strength of the sun, time of year, location, humidity and how you want your image to look.
4. After your exposure, you do not develop!
5. Bring your paper back into the darkroom.
6. You can either fix the print using normal paper fix; if you are toning, place your print in water first so you can tone evenly, then go into the tray of your choice of toner; or use a brush to get different tones with the toners.
7. Wash your print to archival specifications. RC paper = 5 minutes; fiber paper = 30–60 minutes.

© Ky Lewis. Ky uses film instead of paper to make lumen prints. Ky says that the advantages are that the color and saturation is better with film than with paper. The film is then scanned so that prints can be made.


I really am not a big web-surfer and spend as little time as possible on a computer. I would much rather be photographing or in my darkroom. However, sometimes I get sucked in. Freestyle is not your normal photography store. Articles in their catalogs are always interesting ( Jerry Burchfield, for one). The same goes for Malin’s alternative photography website where I found an article by Fabio Giorgi. Girogi wanted to figure out a way to make duplicates of his lumen prints besides scanning, and decided to try making lumen prints on film. Brilliant when you think of it. Once again, we’re taking old techniques a step further than our ancestors.

© Alan Green. Camelia Flower Petals, 2008 (top row: actual petals; middle row: an anthotype made from blueberry juice and alcohol; bottom row: an anthotype made from blueberry juice, alcohol and bicarbonate of soda).

The process
1. Girogi cut a mask out of black cardboard.
2. Using Kodacolor 200 film, he placed the cardboard on top so he knew how big his space would be.
3. He placed plants on top and took it out into the sun for 25 minutes.
4. He fixed it in black-and-white fixer diluted 1:2 (like paper fixer).
5. He cut strips and sent them off to a commercial lab for printing.

There is no reason not to try this with other films, or to use the lumen prints as paper negatives with other processes, or scan them in and make digital negatives. In other words, keep going until you have to stop.

Anne Arden Mcdonald. “Bouyancy, 2011.” A contact print of bags of water and raw eggs, Anne uses chemicals, different light sources and resists to make her series of giant images meant to represent planets and atoms.

© Martha Madigan. “Aestas.” Martha utilizes printing out paper and makes multiple exposure photograms by first placing her daughter onto the paper, then placing plants on top of the image once her daughter gets up, and exposes the paper to the sun once again. She ends up with two or more layers of images that mimics growth and human nature and it’s relationship to the earth.

Excerpt from Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes by Jill Enfield © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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