Morning Glories: Lumen Print Making

Morning Glories, a series of lumen prints

Lumen print making is one of the most fascinating camera-less photographic processes. Lumen prints begin with silver gelatin photographic papers, the traditional photographic paper used in the making of  black and white prints since the late 1870’s. Silver gelatin photographic papers are conventionally used in a darkroom under safe light conditions. Lumen prints are made by taking sheets of unexposed black-and-white or color photographic paper and placing objects or negatives on top of the paper in the same manner as making a camera-less photogram. Instead of using an enlarger, the lumen print making process takes silver gelatin paper out of the darkroom and into the bright sunlight to produce camera-less photographic images. Being able to move from the darkroom and into the bright sunlight is the most exciting aspect of lumen print making.

To make a lumen print you will need the following materials:

• Any black and white or color photographic paper
• Objects and materials to place on top of the silver gelatin papers (translucent and organic materials add depth and visual interest to a lumen print)
• Contact print frame, contact proofer, picture frame or sheets of plexiglass
• Bright sunlight or strong UV source light
• Film changing bag or large thick black plastic bags to protect exposed prints from further exposure to sunlight
• Scissors, tape, and clear plastic wrap to hold objects onto the paper

Lumen Print Set-ups: silver gelatin paper exposed to full sunlight.


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Lumen Print Making Steps:

1. Prior to taking silver gelatin paper into the sunlight, assemble lumen print materials.
2. In a room with subdued lighting, place photogram materials on top of photographic paper and into a contact frame.
3. Place contact frame in the bright sunlight (time varies from 30 minutes to hours depending on light conditions and paper).
4. When exposure is complete, place paper to light tight bag until ready to scan or fix.
5. Scan your lumen print prior to fixing your lumen print as the colors will shift in the fixing process.
6. Fix your lumen print in photographic paper fixer for 2-4 minutes.
7. Rinse and wash paper for archival requirements.
8. Optional: tone or colorize your lumen print using any silver gelatin print toner or print coloring agents.

Out-of-Date Silver Gelatin Papers.


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Photographic papers are divided into two types: developing out papers and printing out papers. With printing out papers (POP) a photographer places a negative over a sheet of photographic paper and exposed the negative and print to sunlight. The photographer monitors the slow conversion of the silver halide to metallic silver. Once the image reaches the desired density and tone, the paper is fixed to halt further development. No developer is needed with printing out papers. Printing out papers were used extensively in the 19th century and prior to the widespread use of silver gelatin papers.[1]

With developing out papers, such as silver gelatin papers, upon exposure, photosensitive materials capture a latent, invisible image which must be developed-out in a chemical bath to be viewed. These papers require a very short exposure time and require the addition of a developing agent such as Kodak’s Dektol print developer to bring forth the latent image in the developing solution. Lumen prints, a rarely used printing process, relies upon the principle that any photographic paper, if exposed to enough sunlight, will produce an image without a developer. Once fixed, the image is permanent. The lumen printmaking process uses developing out papers as printing out papers to achieve wholly unpredictable results.

Lumen prints work well with old or fogged silver gelatin papers. All of the prints in the Morning Glories Series were created with very old silver gelatin papers: a package of Kodak F-2 Kodabromide with an expiration date of Dec 1, 1947, a package of Oriental Seagull G2 bromide paper, and a package of Ilford Ilfobrom Velvet Lustre, both from the 1980’s. Exposure times in most cases was fell into the one-two hour range in full sunlight.  Each silver gelatin paper used with the Morning Glories Series responded very differently to the same materials and conditions, producing reds, blues and yellows color shades, and again with black and white printing papers. If left unfixed, the ephemeral colors of lumen prints will continue to darken; once fixed, the colors of the lumen print will change significantly, often ripening to rich browns and golden yellows. The results with lumen prints vary with environmental conditions, material selection, exposure times and paper choices. The simplicity of the lumen print making process opens us to the core of photographic process. Each lumen print is a unique photographic event.

©David Arnold



[1]Mark Osterman, “Printing out vs. Developing Out Papers,” Notes on photographs, George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography, Rochester, NY.


5 thoughts on “Morning Glories: Lumen Print Making

  1. David,
    An exceptional article, thanks for sharing this with your readers. I have a few boxes of out of date paper that were donated and have been looking forward to giving this a go this spring.

    Brian Krecik

  2. Beautiful images.
    You are one of the few people who explains that the paper has to go back in a light safe box- thank you! I was searching and searching for this info.

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