William Burnett Photography | Burnett's Printing Process of 1857 (Uranotype)

Burnett's Printing Process of 1857 (Uranotype)

February 21, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Burnett's Printing Process of 1857 (Uranotype)

If Charles Burnett had had his way, perhaps the popular Google//NIK Efex software package Silver Efex Pro would instead be called Uranium Efex Pro. During a period of 1855 - 1857, Charles Burnett experimented and then perfected the process of using Uranium to produce photographic images. The process was known as Burnett's Printing Process. 

The reason I bring up this topic is two fold. One, my last name is Burnett. OK, that was the only original reason I brought up the topic. However,  I think that the printed results of the process are worth being remembered. In the current digital age we can recreate the look of this ancient photographic process without the lingering radioactive side effect.

The resulting prints of the Burnett Printing Process very closely resemble the results that are obtained in cyanotype (blue print) printing process. The principle visible difference between the two processes is that the Burnett Printing Process would yield red/orange or brown tinted prints. 

How to digitally duplicate the look of the Burnett Printing Process (no radioactivity needed).

Step One: Take a photo.

Butte StoreButte Store10/365

Butte Store, California

When selecting a photo for use with the Burnett Printing Process keep in mind that you are attempting to replicate the look of an 1857 printing technique. The cameras of the period had slow shutter speeds compared to modern cameras. This means you need to pick relatively stable subjects and that your subjects need to be will lit.  Once you take your photo, transfer it to your favorite editing software and make a copy of the image. You should always work from copies.

Step Two: Convert your image to black and white.

I tend to adjust the brightness and reduce the contrast of the image when converting the image to black and white. Most cameras in the middle part of the 19th century produced lower contrast images than the cameras of our day and age.

Step Three: Apply a color overlay.

I use Aperture to apply a Color Monochrome layer over the entire image. This can also be accomplished in Photoshop by adding a semi-transparent fill layer and selecting the appropriate fill color and then adjusting brightness and contrast levels to your likening. I searched Google for Uranotype and then kept the browser open next to my editing window. I then matched the color of my color overlay to approximate the brownish/orange tint of the Burnett Printing Process. This process is a subjective one as the process would yield various results depending on chemical concentrations and developing inconsistencies.

Decide to stop here or continue to make changes.  At this point you can print or share your image or you can continue on to step four to add even a bit more realism to your simulation of the Burnett Printing Process.

Step Four: Add film grain and adjust contrast.

I use Google/NIK Color Efex Pro to add a medium-course film grain. Film grain can be added in Photoshop as well or using almost any other post processing program. I decided to forgo adjusting contrast in Color Efex Pro and decided to make my final brightness and contrast adjustments in Aperture.

Step Six: Share you final image on your blog, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or print the image.

Butte Store, California (Burnett's Process)Butte Store, California (Burnett's Process)52/365

Butte Store, California (Burnett's Process)

-- Enjoy

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