HL's Photographic Processes Guide

Ever since the origins of photography, individuals have utilized a variety of technical methods and processes to reproduce the image of a scene and create a photograph. Considering the wide range of photographic processes with each yielding distinctive results, the actual process that is employed is an integral part of the photographer’s final result. Given the many types of photographic processes, navigating them can be challenging. In order to provide some insight into a truly influential and important medium, here is an introduction glossary of processes that includes the most common types found in HL Photo Gallery’s collection.

Archival Pigment Photograph

Archival pigment photographs are made by inkjet printing machines and provide an alternative to dark room processes. This advanced method of creating museum-quality art prints uses high-end ink jet printers and archival watercolor papers and inks. An advantage to archival pigment printing is that it can be reproduced in any size and is an exact match of a traditional piece. Another advantage is that corrections to the photographs such as color distortions or scratch removal can be made much more easily. These reproduction photographs were originally developed in 1984 as a digital method of fine art printing and Annie Leibovitz was among the best-known photographers to first use this process.

C-type Color Photograph

Also known as chromogenic color photographs, c-type color photographs’ paper has at least three emulsion layers each of which is sensitized to a different additive color (either red, blue or green) and so records different information about the color make-up of the image. During printing, chemicals are added which form dyes of the appropriate color in the emulsion layers after the silver is bleached away leaving a full-color positive image. They can yield more true-to-life color results. Kodak originally developed it in 1942 and c-type photographs are the most common type of color photograph produced today. Presently, Kodak produces Endura paper and Fuji makes Crystal Archive paper. These are the two most commonly used papers by fine art photographers.

Cibachrome Photograph

Cibachrome photographs’ paper has at least three emulsion layers each of which is sensitized to a different additive color (either red, blue, or green), and also contains the full density of the subtractive color (magenta, cyan, and yellow) dye. During development, the silver and the unnecessary dyes are selectively bleached away, leaving a final positive color print. This process is noted for its stability, image clarity, and color saturation. Interest in the process dates to the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until the introduction of cibachrome materials in 1963 that the process became widely available.

Cyanotype Photograph

Cyantotypes are distinguished by their of bright blue color. Being one of the first photographic processes developed, the cyanotype process for making prints was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842 and came from his discovery of the light sensitivity of iron salts. A sheet of paper is brushed with iron salt solutions and dried in the dark. The object to be reproduced - a plant specimen, a drawing or a negative - was then placed on the sheet in direct sunlight. After about 15 minutes a white impression of the subject formed on a blue background. The paper was then washed in water where oxidation produced the brilliant blue (cyan) that gave the process its name. Today, cyanotypes continue to provide an interesting alternative to more common contemporary processes as evidenced by the work of John Dugdale.

Fresson Photograph

The Fresson method of color printing produces an image that is characteristically diffused and subtle, reminiscent of the "pointillism" style of Impressionist painting. Due to its almost glazed look unique to photographic processes, Fresson photographs can perhaps be called the painterliest process. Theodore-Henri Fresson invented the process at the turn of the century in France. Today, Fresson’s relatives who guard the secret to the exact process run the Atelier Fresson just outside of Paris although very few are produced. Considering that the process requires around six hours per print limiting the amount of prints produced, the Fressons carefully selected photographers, such as Bernard Faucon, for whom they would print. The images are extremely stable, consisting of only gelatin and oil pigments on pure rag paper. The Fresson print is considered to be the most archival of any color procedure in use today.

Platinum/Palladium Photograph

These combine platinum and palladium solutions in order to conserve the amount of the more expensive platinum used to make the print. They are valued for their great range of subtle tonal variations, usually silvery grays, and their permanence. Originally invented in the 1870s by William Willis using only platinum, many fine art photographers of the late 19th century and early 20th century preferred the process to silver gelatin photographs given the range of tonal intensity, but the price of platinum rose dramatically in the 1920s causing the use of the process to decline. Recently, the process has enjoyed a revival among contemporary photographers.

Silver Gelatin Photograph

Silver gelatin photographs are the most usual means of making black and white prints from negatives and dominated the 20th century. They were developed in the 1870s and by 1895 had generally replaced other types because they were more stable, did not turn yellow, and were simpler to produce. These are papers coated with a layer of gelatin which contains light sensitive silver salts and are suspended on a paper’s surface as opposed to being embedded in its fibers. Silver gelatin photos are developed-out in which the paper registers a latent image that becomes visible only when developed in a chemical bath. Because of the variety of papers on the market, the tones can range from a neutral black to a bluish black or a brownish black, but usually the tone of a silver gelatin print is the neutral black with a high gloss that many people have come to associate with photography.