Lumen print by Don Urban Photography

Lumen print by Don Urban Photography

Lumen print by Don Urban Photography

Lumen print by Don Urban Photography

I have fallen in love with an ancient technique for creating images: Lumen Printing.

These are the first batch of lumen prints I made the other week.


Lumen prints were the first photographs ever created. Henry Fox Talbot was the first to create images using this technique to create negatives. It is essentially a solar photogram.

Artist Anna Atkins produced a book titled British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843. The images were all photograms of botanical specimens, mostly seaweeds using a similar technique called Cyanotypes. 

A Lumen print is made by placing something opaque or translucent (generally flowers, plants but anything can be used) on light sensitive paper and then exposing it to light. The object blocks out part of the light, and makes a pattern or picture while the exposed paper turns dark.

The artist Man Ray used this techique, but in the darkroom, to create his ‘Rayographs’.

Of course using a darkroom you can have more control, but there is something so wonderfully raw about just using the sun.


You will need:

1. Expired black and white photo paper. For these I used Ilford Ilfospeed Photographic Paper. For my next batch of lumen prints I will use FOMA FOMASPEED Variant 311 Multigrade Glossy RC photo paper. 

I purchased these on eBay very cheaply. Others purchase vintage papers from the 20’s and 30’s. Certainly not as cheap as my eBay finds.

This batch were done on 10 x 8 inch paper. Smaller is better for the first lot, until you get the hang of it.

2. Plants or other objects to make the image. Items that have a strong outline like flowers and leaves seem to work well. You could cut out shapes from paper, use flat household objects or pieces of fruit and vegetables.

3. A support for the paper and materials. I use an old picture frame with glass I found in the street. I popped off the back and use that to lay my paper and materials on. The glass holds the flowers and plants down.

4. Hypo Fixer and a tray larger than your print.


Decide what you want your finished photo to look like. Think about how photograms work — if your object is opaque, then your image will look like a solid shape. If it’s a little transparent, the image will have texture and detail. Some of the best I have seen on the ‘interwebs’ are a combination of both of these- areas of solid shapes with some lighter, mid-tone sections.


In a very dark room (you want it to be very dark), remove your photopaper from the plastic envelope it comes in and close it back up again. Older, expired paper is not a sensitive to the light, so you don’t have to use a proper darkroom.

Lay your paper down, face up and place flowers or any other object onto the paper.

(I work in semi darkness here, yes, the paper will start exposing, but really not that much)


Some people just position the flowers or subject onto the paper. I like to sandwich the subject between glass so it does not move if it gets windy. Either way will work. It also makes for crisper images as the (in my case flowers) pushed up against the photo paper.


Place out in the sun. These images were on a dull winters day for a few hours. Usually you will need 30 minutes to an hour. Longer on grey days or heavy overcast days. This is the fun experimenting part!


Wash with Fixer. I use Ilford Rapid Fixer. Without fixer, the image will fade over time. (I put one of my prints on my work bench and dumped a book over one corner by accident. It left an imprint the shape of the book.)

Mix fixer according to bottle and place photo in the tray of fixer for two minutes.

Rinse with water to remove fixer.


You will discover quickly your images are very dull with very little colour. Some people like these muted tones. But I think leaving the prints like that is half the story and manipulating them on the computer takes lumen prints into the 21st Century.

Scan and manipulate with a photo editor of your choice.

I scanned these at the highest resolution because I am thinking about having them printed.

Usually when you scan, you will get bits of dust and marks on the glass. You may need to edit these out.

In this case, I used Adobe Camera Raw because I love the power and simplicity of the program.

Playing around with colours and contrast can take your images to the next level.

I was pretty happy with my first batch of images. On eBay I found some big 16 x 11 sheets of photo paper- so that will be the next round!


I hope this has given you some idea of how easy it is to make a lumen prints.

It is such an easy fun process, open to so much experimentation. Long or short exposures, multiple short exposures, mix of plants and man-made objects and Photoshop manipulation.

Have you made lumen prints? Let me know in the comments!

Best wishes until next time, Don



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