Making a Digital Gum Bichromate

A Gum Bichromate print is different from other antique processes in that the sensitive emulsion offers a base that a dye or pigment can be added to produce any color. The paper can also be recoated several times using a different color emulsion for each coat. Because of the lack of fine detail and poor tonal separation, in comparison to the 1855’s carbon technique, gum bichromate popularity waned until the 1890s, when it was taken up by the Pictorialists who favored its more painterly look. Creating the look of gum bichromate was a challenge because if you’re not careful the final image can look like posterization or similar effects. It can also have lots of color based on how many color emulsions you apply.

Step 1: I started with an image that was made in Zion National Park using a prototype of the Pentax K100D digital SLR using P-DA 12-24mm lens. As captured, exposure was 1/45 at f/5.6 and ISO 400.

Step 2: Next (and below right,) I applied Feivel’s Gothic Glow, a free Photoshop Action that’s available from Action Central and gives a glowing and feathering effect to an image. The Action can be applied to either the entire image or to just a selection, depending on which version of the Action you choose.


Step 3: The image needed a rough edged effect because of the multiple layers of different colored emulsion that might have been applied, so I used onOne Software’s PhotoFrame Pro 4 Professional, a Photoshop-compatible plug-in, to create the edges. (The current version of onOne’s PhotoFrame is 4.6 and you can read about it here.) PhotoFrame Pro comes with a huge library of effects any of which can be customized by all of the controls in the plug-in’s interface.

Step 4: The final image has a decided gum bichromate look. All it needs to complete the look is to be printed on any of the watercolor type paper stocks that are available from companies such as Epson, Moab by Legion, and others.

I am not a “my way or the highway” kind of guy so all of the software that I used to produce these effects is just the software I used and not the only way to accomplish these kind of effects. There are always new products being introduced and old ones being improved. When compared to the mothership, Photoshop-compatible plug-ins are relatively simple tools and their designers are always looking for better ways to produce new, exciting effects.

The secret of using any of these effects tools, if there is any, is to look at your requirements and all of the features that a specific plug-in or Action offers and pick one that fits your digital darkroom needs and budget. And don’t forget something that the late Eddie Bafford once told me: “You need somebody standing next to you with a 2×4 to whack you ‘upside your head” if you get too carried away.” He was talking about the traditional, wet darkroom but could have been talking about the digital one too!

Author: Joe Farace

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