Make photographs without a camera!
Sunprints are photographs made with sunlight and special paper that changes color when exposed to sunlight. Because the paper is light sensitive, objects placed on top of the paper will leave a magical shadow image on the paper when exposed to sunlight. No photo chemicals are needed to develop sunprints. Simply rinsing them with water completes the process!
Length of Activity: 45 - 50 minutes
- plastic tubs or darkroom trays
- sheets of sunprint paper (cut to any size)
- small objects
- paper towels
With your students, collect small objects that will make interesting shadows. Students can bring a few small objects from home (the size of their hand or smaller) or you can use objects from your classroom. Scissors, hole punches, stencils, small blocks, and keys all work well. Natural objects such as twigs and leaves make beautiful shadows too.
Before leaving your classroom to go outside, talk about which objects will make nice shadows.
Remind students that these are shadow prints. To make sure they understand the concept, ask them 'If you put a baseball card on your sunprint paper, what would you get? Would you see who's on the card?' Make sure they understand that a baseball card sunprint would only produce a white rectangle on the sunprint - just the outline of the object.
Instruct students to use their objects (brought from home or collected in or out of the classroom) to play with different compositions at their desk.
Once students have decided on a composition, they may go outside and sit down in the sun. They will need to spread out to avoid making shadows on each other's prints. Have the two or three trays of water set up outside and ready for rinsing prints.
Give each student one sheet of light-sensitive paper. It may be helpful to write their names on the back of the paper with pencil. Make sure the students keep the paper face (blue side) down held against their body or under their jacket and out of direct light until ready for use. Have the students quickly re-arrange their objects on top (blue side up) of the light-sensitive paper.
Once objects have been placed on the paper, do not move either the objects or the paper. Leave the compositions out in the sun for two to three minutes. The paper will turn almost white when exposed sufficiently. Depending on the available sunlight, the paper will be ready in as little as 30 seconds or may take up to a few minutes.
When the paper is almost white, instruct students to slide the sunprint paper out from underneath their objects and quickly submerge it in the tub of water. Gently swish the paper around for about 30 - 60 seconds. The picture will turn lighter when placed in the water.
Place the washed print on a flat surface or paper towel to dry. As it dries the picture will darken into a deep blue.
Dried prints can be made into cards or matted for display in a hallway or classroom. Encourage students to sign their prints or give them titles.
Sunprint paper is available from
Lawrence Hall of Science
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720
Cyanotype - a popular printing process for many early amateur photographers because it was simple. Objects are placed on paper that has been painted with a light-sensitive emulsion, and then exposed to light. It was also called a blueprint.
Light sensitive - paper or surface that has been treated with chemicals that darken when exposed to any 'white light.'
Photogram - a photographic image made without a camera by placing objects on a sheet of sensitized paper, then exposing it to light. Sometimes called shadow prints or sunprints.
Sunprint - an image made by placing objects on light-sensitive paper and exposing it to sunlight or floodlight. A sunprint is a blue and white photographic image that looks similar to the early cyanotype.