Old meets new: Cyanotypes from iPhone images

Street fashion
One of my first cyanotypes
Passing by
A prisoner in my own building
Thrift store with pride
It was the light
Punk rock hot dog
An off business moment

Everyone has an iPhone these days, or some other form of smart phone. With this exciting and dynamic technology we are all equipped with tiny cameras in the palm of our hands that can do some amazing things. We all use the camera and multiple apps to snap hundreds of images daily, processing them to take on the characteristics of historic processes rarely spoken of anymore, and then post them to a plethora of social networking sites. But what happens to all of these images, and the nature of photography if we don't print them? Can photography still be an organic process in the digital age of iPhones? Yes, it can.

We are all collecting hundreds and thousands of images created with our smart phones daily in a digital shoebox, virtually, sitting on our phones or on a web site somewhere never being printed. We can do some amazing things with these cameras. It's only a matter of what we choose to do with it, how far can we push the nature of photography and the exciting technology of an iPhone camera to raise these images to a new physical level.

Learning one of the oldest, and probably the easiest of the photographic processes, cyanotype, I began to explore the process of using the old to redefine the new. By using an historical process to print my images created with an iPhone my intention was to challenge people's perception of just what photography has become, and what it still is. I wanted to explore what would happen when digital images from a newer generation of photography were combined with the process of an older generation of photography.

The beauty of the cyanotype process is that anyone can do it. All of the chemicals used are fairly safe and can be easily washed down your kitchen sink. No harsh chemicals are needed to develop your prints or fancy equipment. All you will need is your favorite images, a desktop inkjet printer, a clear sunny day, a basin of water, and the two-part cyanotype mixture kit that can be purchased online.

Creating the negative

1. Choose your favorite image

2. In Photoshop or another photo editing software enlarge your image to 5x5 if you're working in the square format, or 5x7 if you aren't. You can enlarge to whatever size you prefer. I found 5x5 works best.

3. Convert your image to black-and-white. (This process won't work with a color image.)

4. Apply this custom curve ( for me this produces the best tones for creating a digital negative for producing cyanotypes.

5. Invert your image in PhotoShop to create a negative. The negative when printed will produce a positive image.

6. Print your image on Pictorico OHP transparency film. You can use any transparency material you choose, I found Pictorico works the best.

Coating the paper

1. Purchase some watercolor paper, or other material that will hold up well to soaking in water. I suggest Canson foundation series 90lb aquarelle watercolor paper. Its inexpensive and works well.

2. Buy premixed cyanotype mixture from Photographers formulary here: (NOTE: All chemicals used for this process are safe and can be rinsed down the drain.)

3. Mix per directions and coat paper using a brush or sponge.

4. If you like sloppy borders brush freely with loose strokes near the edges. If you like clean edges mask area with tape. Multiple coats can be applied.

5. Let dry preferably overnight or use a hair dryer if you can't wait.

6. NOTE: The cyanotype emulsion is light sensitive do not apply or leave out exposed to open sunlight or other UV light sources like fluorescent light.


1. Put your negative on top of your paper and place into a contact print frame. You can also sandwich the negative and paper between a sheet of glass and a stiff board using clamps.

2. Depending on the density of your negative, whether it's a cloudy or sunny day, exposure time will vary. I have found that on a clear, bright sunny day my exposure times range from 3-7 minutes.


1. Rinse in water until all yellow is gone and you have a print that is a vibrant cyan color. Tip: Adding white vinegar to your developing bath water will help to develop the print quicker, and brighten the blue color.

2. After developing rinse your print for 5-10 minutes.

3. Remove from rinse bath and air dry.

4. Congratulations you've now created a cyanotype from your iPhone.

5. If you want to increase the contrast of the print and darken the color to a beautiful Prussian blue? Bathe print in hydrogen peroxide for a few seconds until color changes.

6. Toning your prints is as easy as soaking the print in a 5-minute coffee or tea bath.

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8 responses

  • Mary Ann Reilly

    Mary Ann Reilly said (14 Mar 2012):

    I scooped this post for a page I curate about photographic stories. Thought it was well done. Thanks. Here is a link to my scoop it page.

  • Carol Holmes

    Carol Holmes said (18 Apr 2012):

    I love all processes of photography, and this one is no exception. I have played with cyanotypes before, and will certainly will be doing this again. An awesome post! By the way, love the image with the American flag! Way cool!

  • Marco Martinez

    Marco Martinez gave props (29 Jun 2012):

    This sounds like a fun project. Having never worked in a darkroom, this is as close an experience as I will have. Thanks for sharing.

  • Colleen Kaufmann

    Colleen Kaufmann said (29 Nov 2012):

    white vinegar also works to intensify the color :) its just stinkier lol

  • Katherine Nak

    Katherine Nak   said (17 Jul 2013):

    OH! What fun! This story is so very inspiring! Thank you!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (18 Dec 2016):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (18 Dec 2016):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

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