paper negative photography

I created a series of work years ago using a “paper negative” method that always has intrigued me. I’ll share my experiences later on but have a guest post today from an artist who uses this process often. There are a few different ways of doing Paper Negative prints but the main concept is to create a negative out of paper instead of film. This is printed through a traditional printing method so the texture and grain of the paper shines through in the image. I love to hear about everyone’s alternative photographic process, if you have any different ways of printing or capturing images leave a comment below!

Article written by guest blogger Andrew Sanderson.

The technique of paper negative is an image making method that uses photographic paper in the camera instead of film. It can produce results that are quite close to those of film, but its true value lies in the expressive and artistic results it is capable of producing. The best results come from using negatives bigger than medium format as the texture is too rough from smaller negatives. As a beginner I would suggest using a simple folding 6×9 camera and contact printing the negatives. Scanning will give you an image, but will not pick up the texture of the paper base in the way that a contact print will.

My first paper negatives were shot on this format. (see stone steps image)
Later I bought myself a 5×7 inch wooden camera and used it mainly for landscapes. The early results were often poor because I was treating it like film and I was getting a number of underexposed shots.
I began to add pencil to the back of these negatives to add density and increase contrast and I was occasionally getting interesting images this way. If I draw over the image with a pencil this adds density, which prints lighter. This way I can lighten areas in the image to improve highlights or lift shadows. The pencil is added on the back as this gives the intended effect without the pencil marks looking too obvious. There was definitely something in the technique that was special and this caught my imagination.

Photographic paper, being blue sensitive, alters the representation of colours as tones, and paper texture is apparent even on contact prints. Also, when overexposed, the highlights of an image are compressed, giving a unique look. It can be a very expressive technique. Be prepared for many failures though, the contrast is often too high and this doesn’t suit all shooting situations. The choice of paper is down to the individual, I have chosen my favourites because of the tonal representation they present or the texture they provide when printed through. Personally I like Ilford MGIV FB and a discontinued paper called Kentmere Art Document which had a unique surface.

I have used this technique now for many years and have tried many types of paper, some obviously work much better than others. I have also found a way of making paper negatives from film originals and digital capture. (see pathway Image)

light down cellar steps
private road
storthes wood
two cows

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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