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Make Chlorophyll Prints with Alternative Photography

Green leaf ready for chlorophyll prints

Make Chlorophyll Prints with Alternative Photography

Art has many unique techniques and various creative outlets. Here we outline one that many are not familiar with. In this article you will learn an alternative and sustainable form of photography termed chlorophyll prints, which involves developing your images directly onto plant leaves.

What are Chlorophyll Prints?

Chlorophyll Printing is an organic technique that requires no chemicals and is wholly dependent on an extraordinary amount of sunlight which enforces a pigment change within the leaf.

Prints are transferred onto leaves leaving a beautifully designed leaf. This alternative form of photography was pioneered by Bin Danh.

How Does Chlorophyll Printing work?

Many leaves contain different pigments that can soak up and release energy from a wide range of wavelengths, and their ability to do so is vital to the photosynthesis process.

However, for this printing process, we must rely on the sunlight to bleach the exposed pigments to create and develop the image onto the leaf. The two pigments relevant to chlorophyll printing are chlorophyll pigments and carotenoids.

Chlorophyll pigments give the leaf its green colour. These pigments absorb UV light and reflect the green light, making them the most important pigments during photosynthesis. However, chlorophyll pigments do not help excess energy to be released, which is where carotenoids intervene.

Carotenoids give the leaf its yellow, orange and sometimes red colour. They absorb less UV light and more violet/blue light thus reflecting the yellow, orange and red.

Carotenoids are much less visible on the leaf as the chlorophyll pigments are much more vivid, but they play a vital role when there is an abundance of UV light available. These pigments have the capacity to disperse and banish any energy excess, therefore maintaining a healthy UV balance.

To put it simply, the changing of the colour from green to yellow is the way the leaf ensures the stability of its UV intake. Chlorophyll printing enforces this pigment change.

What Materials Do You Need for Chlorophyll Printing?

• Sunlight

• Plant leaf (suggested leaves below)

• Positive/transparency (preferably high contrast)

• Contact print frame/clip frame (2 sheets of glass to sandwich together & pegs to attach and flatten the leaf will also work)

• Water

What Plant Leaf Should You Use for Chlorophyll Printing?

The success of your chlorophyll print is mostly dependent on the type of leaf that you use, as well as a lot of sunshine.

Not all leaves will work because of their ability to cope with a high level of UV exposure – for instance, aloe vera plants have a higher tolerance to UV rays, so the likelihood of the pigment change that is necessary for chlorophyll printing is non-existent.

Other plants with a much lower tolerance of UV exposure will simply die before any pigment change takes place. For example, a peace lily does not need much sunlight therefore it will dry out early on.

Also, as we’re developing an image onto the leaf, it’s preferable that the leaf is broad and flat (and of course green!) making it much easier to work with.

Below is a list of suggested plant leaves for chlorophyll printing, however, you can experiment with any leaves that are in your garden as there is no specific leaf needed in this process.

• Oak leaf

• Spinach

• Maple leaf

• Aspidistra Lurida

• Currant leaf

• Sycamore leaf

• Hosta plant leaves

• Colocasia plant leaves

• Alocasia plant leaves

To reiterate – the time taken to fully develop the image will depend on the leaf itself and the amount of sunshine available. It’s important to be patient!

Step By Step Process of Chlorophyll Printing

The process from start to finish can be frustrating as it may take a lot of trial and error before you get a successful outcome, however, the finished result can be beautiful and unique and of course completely organic. Now that you have all the materials, it’s time to start printing!

Step 1- Choose your image

A high contrast positive is recommended for this process as it will result in a much clearer print, although it is possible to achieve a good print with mid-tones.

You can print an image from your phone using a home printer and clear digital transfer film, but ensure you increase the contrast using any photo editing app and convert the image to black and white.

Step 2- Position your image

Place your leaf within the frame (leaf goes on the bottom) and position your positive on top, then enclose the glass frame, sandwiching your image in-between. It’s important to enforce the pigment change before the leaf dries out, so this can be quite a tricky part of the process.

You can position the leaf so that the stem is on the outside, therefore making it possible for the leaf to gain access to water. You could tie a small plastic bag filled with water around the stem using small rubber bands.

This will keep the leaf from drying out and dying early in the process – it is a living organism after all! Make sure your leaf and image are secured within the frame and are laid flat. The more pressure applied, the sharper the print.

Step 3- Place your frame in an area of direct sunlight

Your leaf needs a lot of sunlight to enable the pigment change to take place, so the time of day, geographical location and time of year will all be factors in how long it takes for the photograph to develop.

The time taken can vary from several hours up to several weeks, depending on these factors. Your frame does not need to be outside, but by a window or any place in your home that receives direct sunlight.

Step 4- Ensure the pigment change is occurring and remove your image

As stated previously, this can be a long process, so it’s important that we check up on the leaf to determine whether the pigment change is occurring. The more sunlight exposure the print receives, the better chances of seeing bleaching taking place early on.

There will be no real need to remove or touch the image until the end, as you will see the bleaching take place across the exposed areas of the leaf. When you are satisfied that the leaf has been exposed and a significant amount of bleaching has occurred, it will be time to remove your print!

The leaf is very delicate so be sure to be cautious when slowly peeling back the positive. Place your leaf print on some kitchen towel to dry. Hopefully now you can see your print on the leaf!

Preserving Your Chlorophyll Print

The best place to keep your print is in-between pages of a book. This will ensure that the leaf remains flat and does not get damaged yet is easily accessible when you want to show others.

If you want to display it, however hard you may try, your print will have some degree of UV exposure, even after the printing process has completed. Over time, your print will lose its clarity and crispness because of UV exposure.

The typical approach for preservation is to coat your print in a UV stabilised polyester resin. Once coated, you can display your print proudly. Another alternative method of preservation requires a certain degree of chemistry.

For this method you will need the following materials:

• Baking soda

• Glycerin (found in drugstores)

• Copper sulphate (found at garden centres as root killer)

• Water and saucepan

Step 1

The first step is to blanch your print in an alkaline water solution. Fill your saucepan with enough water to cover your leaf and add a pinch of baking soda, bringing the water to a boil. This process makes the water alkaline. Keep the leaf in the water for 2 minutes and remove.

Step 2

Make a solution of water and glycerin and add a small amount of copper sulphate, which will change the colour of the solution slightly blue. Boil this mixture to remove the air, and then when solution is finally cold – add the leaf for 3 minutes. Remove the leaf and rinse with water if turned blue. Lay the leaf flat to dry on paper towel.

Try Something New

Chlorophyll printing is a unique hobby that creates spectacular results. Whether you’re looking for something new or just want to let your creative juices flow, this is worth a try.

You may be the first in your circle to try it, but there’s no denying your peers will be very impressed. Have fun!

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