How to Make A Digital Photogram
In college (I won't mention how many years ago) I learned about a cameraless photography technique which produces an image called a Photogram. Artists like Man Ray and Pablo Picasso experimented with the technique, which is traditionally made by placing objects on photographic paper and then exposing the paper to light.
Photo by Anna Atkins and Anne Dixon, 1854, Cyanotype, Via The J. Paul Getty Museum Open Content Program
In the 1800s Anna Atkins, an English Botanist and Photographer, used this contact print method to make photographic impressions of plants. I've always admired these Photograms and wanted to create something similar, with a modern twist.
I came up with an updated version of the Photogram, which utilizes a flatbed scanner instead of photo sensitive paper. It was really easy and a lot of fun. These would make incredible home decor when printed on canvas or metal. The kids can totally help out with this project, too. My son loved helping me place the plants on the scanner bed and for days afterward has been asking if he can scan different objects.
Making Your Own Digital Photogram
Here's What You'll Need
- Flatbed scanner
- Plants or other subject matter
- Image editing software (optional)
- Construction paper
- Paper weight
Here's How to Do It
1. Gather your subject matter. I took my oldest son on a nature walk to find plants for our project. We threw rocks in the river, gathered different kinds of plants, and took pictures along the way.
2. Place your chosen materials on a flatbed scanner. I wanted a look that had more depth and color than the original photograms. To get that depth, I left the scanner lid open and turned the lights off in my studio while scanning.
If your materials are too high off the scanner bed, like the tumble weeds in the image below, you might have to place a piece of construction paper on top and weight it down with a book or paper weight.
3. Crop and touch up your image as needed in any photo editing software. I left most of the dust specs in my images because I liked the way they looked. You could clean them up if you want by applying a dust and scratch filter or manually cloning out the blemishes.
4. Experiment! I chose a black background for my images this time around, but I've got so many ideas for future photogram projects. What if I used white paper, watercolor paper, lace, or fabric in the background? What if, instead of plants, I scan feathers, torn textiles, or shards of glass? The possibilities are endless.
What do you think? Will you give this "cameraless" photography trick a try and make some custom photograms for your home decor?
What are some of your favorite ways to photograph nature?
Tanya Goodall Smith has been an avid photographer since her teenage years. Her interest in visual communications led her to study Graphic Design at FIDM Los Angeles, where her entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic quickly led to a successful career as a commercial artist. Tanya has created artwork for international brands such as GUESS, Kodak, HP, and Microsoft, but her favorite design challenge is working with new and local businesses to build a solid brand image.
During her freelance endeavors, Tanya rediscovered creative fulfillment in photography. Thanks to her many years’ experience in the publishing industry, her portraits and event photography have an editorial feel. Tanya’s photos and illustrations have appeared on the sets of various television shows as well as juried shows in Los Angeles, Utah, and Washington State, where she currently resides.
When she’s not working late nights in her studio, you’ll find Tanya taking pictures with her camera, chasing after her three active children, or daydreaming about a future trip to Rome. Luckily, her husband helps with the dishes; otherwise they would never get don