How to make a starry lumen print – a step-by-step process with printing tips

Natasha Sanchez works with Lumen prints and shows us how to make a dreamlike lumen print creation.

A lumen print is essentially a solar photogram – a camera-less process involving black and white photographic paper, a subject matter that usually (but not always) consists of an organic material, and of course, the most important element – The Sun. In truth, a UV source is what is needed, but I find the natural factors involving The Sun create dynamic images.

Materials needed

  • Black & White Photo Paper – RC or Fiber based. Its best to experiment with fiber based papers to find the one best suited for your image, as different emulsions create different color combinations
  • An easel or board to set the paper on
  • Glass to cover the subject. **Fun Fact: If you use a piece of glass smaller than the paper size, you get a nice “frame” effect.**
Lumen printing by Natasha Sanchez

I taped down the paper because it came off of a roll so it’s really curly. The paper is slightly larger than 5×7, so I arranged my subjects knowing that I will cut the paper to that size.

1Arrange Your Subject on the paper. I used an azalea picked from my neighborhood. I then trimmed the leaves and stems, carefully placing them to help frame the flower. The metallic stars were simply scattered around the azalea. Sometimes I take the time to arrange the stars in a particular composition, depending on my subject and desired effect. This is an RC Paper.

Lumen priting in the sun2Cover with glass and place outside. Again, composition is important here. Watch how ‘the petals fall’ as you place the glass over the subject. Sometimes they curl down and that will show up in the print.

Lumen flower print3Monitor. I tend to watch over the print as its printing. Sometimes, if I’m very very careful, I will peel back a petal or leaf to see how well exposed it is. I also check for condensation, which gives me an idea of how the water content from the subject will spread onto the paper. This step isn’t necessary, but if you use the same paper at the same times of day, in the same season, it becomes easier to gauge exposure times. I also check to see if anything has wilted (strong southern sun), which may also affect the print. Here you can see how the water content has spread by noticing the darker portions of the paper. It also has to do with how the paper is taped down and the direction of the sun.

Lumen print before fixer.

Lumen print before fixer.

4Fix & Wash. Now that the print has been developed by The Sun, its time to bring it inside and remove the subject from the paper. The print is placed into a fixer bath, which bleaches the print, then washed. I use the standard fixing/washing times for RC or fiber based paper, depending on which I’m using.


Lumen print in fixer bath.

Lumen print in fixer bath.

Finished Lumen print5Finished Print Voila! This print I exposed for approx 3 hours in the middle of the day. Because the petals were layered, and the leaves were fresh, (less dense), I wanted to achieve as much detail as possible.

Lumen Printing Tips

While the lumen print process is pretty straightforward – arrange your subject on paper, under glass, and place in the sun — things aren’t always what they seem. (Much like the print this process creates!) It is actually an involved process. Below are some printing tips.

Think of The Sun as your enlarger

Lumen-Pic-7Is it a “condenser head” (bright cloudless sunny day) or is it a “diffused head” (cloudy, patches of sun) – You will get more detail and contrast with a bright sunny day. A cloudy day requires more time, but gives your subject a nice, soft, quality. Determine what you print with these thoughts in mind.

Timing – time of day, year, strength of sun – your exposure times will vary depending on these solar factors.

I print anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours. Here in New Orleans, Louisiana the sun is super strong in the summer. If I make a lumen print in the summertime, I make sure to do it in the morning hours. Or, if only the late afternoon hours are available to me, I use subjects and papers that take less time. **Fun Fact: To get the most out of my morning exposure, sometimes I set the print out the night before so that it will start printing as soon as the sun comes up.**

Density/water content of objects – plants and flowers have a water content that spills out onto the paper giving the print more texture and richness

Some flowers are easier to print than others. Flowers with “thin” petals may not be able to stand too much sun, while flowers with “thicker” petals may require more sunlight to gain more detail in the print. Leaves tend to be Very Dense, however, and fresher is better. Be aware of how dense the leaf is in comparison to your flower (if you are using flowers). A super dense leaf may not expose all the way and the resulting bright spot can sometimes be distracting.

Composition – Yes, composition plays a big part in the making of a lumen print.

Trimming leaves, stems, and petals will help you set up the arrangement, giving you more control on the layout. The placement on the paper is important too. All the compositional rules, guidelines, apply in lumen printing.

Experiment

This process began as an experiment, and there’s no reason to stop!



2 Comments

  1. Brian Fleming
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    I really like what you are doing. Where can I find the paper to make the prints?

    Thank you?

  2. Michael Marnin Jacobs
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for the simple and very straightforward instructions. My young son was required to learn a new skill over the summer holidays so I thought that as I have a mountain of outdated photopaper in my darkroom I’d show him this method.

    We live in Finnish Lapland and the summer has been hot and the days very long (24h on the summer solstice, 17h at the moment). I would say perfect for making Lumen prints. Sadly the rains have come and so we have to wait a bit to continue with this project.

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