The salted paper process owes its existence to several hundred years of very clever men and women studying the surprising, and assorted, relationships between light and chemistry. The actual process, and concept, made its unique debut in the imagination of William Henry Fox Talbot while he was on his honeymoon in 1833. Talbot, his new bride, Constance, and his new toy, a camera lucida, traveled to Lake Como, Italy, to celebrate the beginning of their life together. While attempting to make a decent drawing of the lake (which is truly beautiful and well worth the effort of attempting a drawing) with his camera lucida, Talbot confronted, head-on, his utter lack of talent for rendering. At this point he considered the possibility of how charming it might be to permanently capture the images he was seeing in a more perfect manner and to return home and impress his friends and neighbors. When the honeymoon concluded, Talbot, his new bride, and the useless camera lucida returned to England and he set to work on a solution for his inspiration… a burning desire for vacation pics. In 1834 he came up with the beginnings of a significant discovery. Using his knowledge of past silver salt experimentations from visionaries such as Humphrey Davy, Thomas Wedgewood, and Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Talbot proceeded to create precise photogram “tracings” of flowers, leaves, feathers and lace on salted and silver nitrate sensitized stationary. He called his discovery “the art of photogenic drawing.”


To make a salted paper print, it is necessary to first salt the paper in anticipation of sensitizing it, in a subsequent step, with a coating of silver nitrate. There are several salting formulas to choose from but a quite common one would consist of distilled water, gelatin, and sodium citrate, ammonium chloride salts. This solution is prepared and the paper is immersed in the warm salting solution for several minutes. The insensitive salted paper is then hung to dry and when ready, a coating of silver nitrate and citric acid solution is applied. This sensitizing is done in a number of ways including floating the salted paper in a tray of silver nitrate or direct application with a hake brush.

When the silver nitrate coating is dry, a light sensitive compound of silver chloride will have precipitated within the fibers of the paper. By itself, the silver chloride will provide only a wispy rendition of values. As it requires the impurities within the paper to absorb the chlorine formed during the compounding of silver and sodium chloride. It is the excess of silver nitrate that facilitates the reaction and is why it is occasionally necessary to double coat with or increase the percentage strength of the silver nitrate.

The prepared and sensitized paper is then layered in a contact frame, with a negative, the same size as the final print, and exposed to UV (ultraviolet) light until the image is darker than the desired final print. The exposed print is immersed in a slightly acidified salt bath of Kosher salt and citric acid whose purpose is to precipitate the free (or excess) silver by producing silver chloride. The print is then toned in a variety of toners if desired, fixed in a weak 10% sodium thiosulfate solution and then washed and dried.