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The Calotype is an early negative-positive photographic process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot over a period from January 1834 to publishing and patenting the method in January 1838. The process was also known as the Talbotype after its inventor.


Calotype negatives were made on paper. Best quality writing paper was brushed with a solution of silver iodide and potassium iodide, and then dried. The paper could then be stored until needed. Before exposure, the paper was run through a bath containing a solution of silver nitrate, gallic acid and acetic acid. Exposures could then be made with the paper still wet, or after drying. Typical exposures could be around five minutes in sunlight.[]


The latent image on the paper could be developed in a mixture quite similar to the sensitisation bath - a solution of silver nitrate and gallic acid. After development, the paper was rinsed and fixed - in early versions using a salt solution, but later in a sodium thiosulphate ("hypo").

The resulting negatives would be contact-printed on to paper treated with silver chloride. The negative was often waxed, to make it transparent, to speed up printing. Later, the negatives were waxed before sensitisation, which both increased sensitivity and reduced the effect of the paper grain.

The Calotype process was quickly superceded by the invention of the wet-collodion process.

Modern Procedures[]

Calotypes can be made with modern material. As "film" take BW-paper of fixed gadation 1 with PE coating. Develop it to get a gradation 0. If this negative is contact copied on the same paper the gradation is equivalent to a N+3 film (Ansel Adams Zone System). The contact copies can be cristal sharp. The sensitivity is about 6 ASA/9 DIN and the exposure values in bright sunshine are about 1/4 sec., f 8. If the negative is enlarged the gradation and the appearance is soft. The advantage of contact copies concerning the artistic expression is the reduction down to 5 grey tone values from black to pure white. This technique works not only with landscape or architecture but is also extremely valuable to take portraits. In Spain there are photographers called "Minuteros" taking Calotype portraits and earn their living on that.

For more information see:


  • Thomas Sutton, B.A.: The Calotype Process - A Hand Book , London 1855
  • Coe, Brian, Cameras, from Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, Norbok, 1978
  • Coe, Brian, George Eastman and the Early Photographers, Priory, 1973