In-camera cyanotype negative prints

Balazs Sprenc has managed to make cyanotype – negative prints – in-camera by placing the paper directly into a Graflex Speed Graphic (4×5″) and a Russian wooden FKD (5×7″) camera.

Writer and photography / Balazs Sprenc

In camera cyanotype
Picure #1: Apocalypse Now (Graflex Speed Graphic, Kodak Ektar 127mm, 6 hours exposure, 9×12 cm cyanotype negative, inverted)

Traditionally cyanotype prints supposed to be used to make positive prints from negatives. Once I found some pictures browsing the internet where cyanotype papers were used as paper negatives. They were exposed in the camera for hours, then the pictures were scanned and inverted (I believe that those cyanotypes were not washed, only exposed and scanned). I really liked the results and decided to give it a try too. I was also curious what happens after washing the in-camera cyanotypes. The first results were disappointing, although the pictures were exposed for 2-3 hours in bright sunlight, everything disappeared after washing the print.

After that I was experimenting with longer exposure times (6-10 hours) and chose the brightest natural subject available: the sun.

In camera cyanotype taken with russian wood camera
Picture #2: The story of Icarus (FKD, Industar-51, 12 hours exposure, 13×18 cm cyanotype negative, inverted)

The second picture was taken with a Russian wooden camera. Starting at around 10 am the sun was shining so strong that the paper was burnt but fortunately the camera and the film holder survived the accident.


cyanotype paper inside the camera
Picture #3: Boat & pier (Graflex Speed Graphic, Kodak Aero Ektar 178mm, 6 hours exposure, 9×12 cm cyanotype negative, inverted)

I also tried to take pictures of less bright subjects with much less success. In most of the cases I could see a picture before washing the cyanotype negative but it disappeared after the washing process or could hardly be recognized (picture #3-4).


Cyanotype in the camera
Picture #4: Roofs & chimneys (Graflex Speed Graphic, Kodak Aero Ektar 178mm, 10 hours exposure, 9×12 cm cyanotype negative, inverted)

Tips & tricks for making in-camera cyanotypes

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert of making in-camera cyanotype negative prints but I learned a few things during my experiments:

  • try it only in very bright light conditions,
  • use extremely long exposure times,
  • use the widest aperture setting of your lens,
  • look for high contrast subjects,
  • scan your exposed cyanotype negative before washing because you might get only a blank picture after the washing process,
  • try different papers,
  • be very careful if you compose the sun’s path into your picture, it can burn your paper and you can easily damage your film holder (picture #5-6) or even your camera.

Summary of in-camera cyanotypes

In-camera cyanotype negative prints will most probably never become popular because:

  • you need extremely long exposure times,
  • results are quite unpredictable,
  • negatives do not contain too many details,
  • you can not make positive prints from cyanotype negatives (unless you scan and invert them using a computer).
Failed cyanotype in camera
Picture #5: An unsuccessful attempt with burnt paper and film holder.
in-camera cyanotype failed
Picture #6: An unsuccessful attempt with burnt paper and film holder.

This article was written by Balazs Sprenc, a Hungarian artist who likes working with cyanotypes, argentotypes, lumen prints and loves the smell of polaroid chemicals. See Balazs Sprenc website for more info.

5 thoughts on “In-camera cyanotype negative prints”

  1. I have some old glass “negatives” that my grandmother saved. My great grandfather’s brother was William Fredrik Folmer. He is the man who invented the Graflex lens camera. I would like to have these “developed” ??? Is there anyone who still does this ???

  2. Very interesting. I found this article after googling Cyanotype paper negatives. I am going to try this with a Billora Bella 44 127 format camera. I’ll let you know how I get on.

  3. Hello, I have just read your little article.
    I have made some similar experiments, and I would like to share the experience I have made.
    Generally spoken the process works best the more UV light you can make available for your sensitized surface. This means as more light gets reflected from the objects to be photographed. Most objects, as you can find out by this method, absorb the arriving UV part of the spectrum and consequently don’t give very nice pictures. This is altered drastically if for example they are covered with snow or pained with white colors because both just reflect the incoming light and appear white in the UV part of the spectrum as well.
    Pinhole camera doesn’t work unless you intend to take pictures of the path of the sun directly (which can be done without the danger of damage by buning). Because for too long exposure times, (this is true for cameras with lens too at exposure times exceeding more than 4h at bright sunlight) the paper will just get stained by diffuse reflection and because the sensitized cyanotype paper gets tainted by time alone in the presence of paper ingredience, humidity and oxygen which all only hardly can be eliminated.
    In any case before washing with water, rinse the cyanotype with diluted mineral acids like HNO3 or HCl (see Mike Ware suggestions for the cyanotype process). This will prevent you image “floating away”.


  4. I plan to do this experiment/idea and found your work useful. But i’ll try another approach. (If i have some spare time.)

    Negativ: Very thin paper, like japanese type paper or so.
    Camera: Large pinhole, with several days or weeks exposure time.
    Process: After washing the negativ, rub the backside of the paper with beewax, so the paper become transparent in some degree. (I tried this with drawing paper which is far more thick and it works up to some transparency. Light shines trough.)
    Positiv: Contact print in bright sunlight. I did this with film negatives and it takes up to 10 min., so i guess it takes maybe the doubled time with “japanese-type paper neg.)


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