What Is an Albumen Print?

Albumen printing was the dominant photographic process from the 1850s until the 1890s!

In today’s version of this process, Tim creates a 16 x 20 negative transparency from either a scanned 8 x 10 negative or a digital capture. Just as was done in the 1800s, he obtains the albumen by cracking dozens of eggs and separating the yolks from the whites. The whites are beaten to a stiff meringue and allowed to sit overnight while the albumen settles to the bottom of the jar as a beautiful pale yellow liquid. The meringue is removed the next day, and the albumen allowed to age from one month to years. 

Tim then floats Canson sketching paper on the salted albumen solution in a large glass tray and allows it to dry. (Note: This is the same paper used in the 1800s.) Subsequently, the albumenized paper is floated on a 20% silver nitrate solution for three minutes. After floating, the coated paper is sensitive to light. The paper and the enlarged negative are sandwiched together in a vacuum frame and exposed to ultraviolet light.

After washing to remove excess silver, the image is toned in a solution of gold chloride mixed with a small amount of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and washed. Two thiosulfate baths and a final wash follow.