The salted paper process was the result of several hundred years of clever men and women studying the relationship between light and chemistry, and the concept made its debut in the imagination of William Henry Fox Talbot while on his honeymoon in 1833. Talbot, his new bride, Constance, and his camera lucida, traveled to Lake Como, Italy, to celebrate their marriage. While futilely attempting to make a decent drawing of the location with his camera lucida, Talbot considered the possibility of how charming it would be to permanently capture the images he was seeing to show his friends and neighbors. When the honeymoon concluded, Talbot, his new bride, and the camera lucida returned to England and he set to work on a solution for his inspiration, a great desire for vacation pics. In 1834-35, he came up with the beginning of a significant discovery that evolved into the salted paper images he called photogenic drawings.


The first step is to 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 and a common one would consist of distilled water, sodium citrate, ammonium chloride and gelatin. This solution is heated and the paper is immersed for several minutes. The salted paper is then hung to dry and when it is ready, a single or double coating of silver nitrate, anywhere from a 8% - 20% 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 or cotton pad.

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 slightly darker than the desired final print. The exposed print is immersed in a salting bath to neutralize any free silver and then toned in a variety of toners and fixed in a weak sodium thiosulfate solution. The print is then washed and dried.