Feeling Blue

In Digital, Inspiration
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While I’m on summer break I like to try out new photography projects. Last year, I spent time learning about night sky photography. The year before that I was playing with long exposures. This year is no different and I’m working with Lightroom and Photoshop to create some digital cyanotypes. For me, the process started by reading a few tutorials and watching a video or two. I thought it looked like something that might make a good new project for my classroom, so I gave it a shot. I knew that I would need some objects and a something that would resemble a light table, so I started looking around the house for stuff that might help me build my set. I dug out a string of twinkle lights from our Christmas bin and took apart a framed photo so I could use the glass. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t something I had hanging on my wall…) I pulled off a sheet of parchment paper, grabbed an empty storage container and I was in business.

I collected a few shells from a trip to Galveston a few years ago and used them as my first test subjects. I tried to arrange them a little haphazardly to make it less structured, but I’m not sure I succeeded. It didn’t matter though, because it was just a test. As you can see from the picture above, I had the storage tub situated near a window to give a little ambient light and I had the twinkle lights below. I handheld my camera (though a tripod would probably have been a better idea) and took a few shots.

In retrospect, I should probably have changed my aperture to be a bit higher since the items that were raised up off the parchment surface were a little clearer than the flatter ones, but again – it was just a test shot, so it didn’t really matter.

I imported the image into Lightroom and played around with desaturating the colors and fiddling with the tones until I had something I thought felt right.

After that, I used Lightroom’s “Edit In” function to open the photo directly into Photoshop.

From there, I added an “Invert” adjustment layer and then a “Color Fill” layer where I chose a blue tone that I thought would be most like a cyanotype print. I changed the opacity of the color fill layer to 50% and it left with me a pretty good image. (Full disclosure, I tried different layer blend modes before resorting to just lowering the opacity, but none of them felt like what I was trying to accomplish.)

I liked the overall look and color, but I felt like it was missing something. Most cyanotypes that I’ve seen are products of an imperfect and sometimes messy process. I wanted to incorporate some of that imperfection into my creation. Luckily, I had just spent quite a bit of time going through all my files and folders (remember this post?) and remembered that I had an entire collection of textures and whatnot that I’d gotten through Design Cuts many years ago. I found a grunge texture and a messy frame overlay in the mix and added them in, adjusting the layer blend modes as I went. I liked the outcome much better.

Once I had proof of concept, I set out to try photographing other things. We had a bouquet of dying roses left from my daughter’s 8th grade continuation party, so I started with those. In the photo on the left, I hadn’t inverted the photo layer yet, but I really liked how it looked, so I decided to save it too.

I did the same with another rose from the bouquet. The only thing that I changed was rotating the texture 180 degrees so it didn’t look exactly the same as the first set.

I thought my lone roses looked pretty great and I was ready to expand my collection. I took a quick walk down the trail near our house to gather some other specimens. It took me about 20 minutes and I found lots of options that would be suitable to lay on my light table.

Here are a few of my favorite creations from my play session:

I think it’s a project that my students will enjoy and it incorporates a lot of the skills I already teach in my class, so overall I think it passes the test. Now that I have the setup all made, I think I’ll play around a little more with the concept – maybe even creating my own textures and frames to make each image even more uniquely my own.

Feeling blue in the best way~ Angie


  1. I love cyanotypes and you’ve digitally recreated the effect wonderfully! What a cool project. I’ve made them with solar paper and also using the real process in a class. I may need to try this one!

    • I was hoping to get solar paper for my class too, or maybe work with the science department to make our own light sensitive paper. 🙂

  2. Wow, what a cool project! I love cyanotypes, and these images look like the real deal. 👏🏻

  3. It’s interesting to follow your process. The results are fabulous.

  4. I have been hearing so much about cyanotypes recently as Tate is gearing up to print some on T-shirts. Your students will love learning about this too, I’m sure.

  5. These are beautiful! I bought the chemicals to do real ones but haven’t done it yet . Whenever I think of it there’s only rain in the forecast

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