Arts & Culture

How to Make a Sun Print

A beginner’s guide to the photography method, from Georgia’s Rinne Allen

photo: rinne allen

When I first came to work at Garden & Gun many moons ago, one of the first photographers whose work I admired in the magazine was Georgia’s Rinne Allen. I particularly loved her sun prints, because the colors and compositions were so striking, and she’s become known for having perfected the method. A few weekends ago, I tried my hand at the process with my three-year-old and it made me want to learn more from Allen.

photo: rinne allen

“I first learned how to make them in college when I was studying photography,” she says. “I was lucky to have a professor who made sure we all understood the origins of photography, and light drawings were one of the first types of photographs made. They predate cameras.” The process is fairly simple: botanicals or other objects are placed on sheets of light-sensitive paper, left in bright sunshine, and then the sheets are plunged into a water bath to reveal the ghostly silhouettes left behind.

photo: rinne allen

Allen, who uses specimens from her garden to create her pieces, is still entranced by the end result. “I love how tangible and unpredictable they are. To me, they are a nice antidote to the technology of digital cameras, and I love the tactile process involved in making them. Plus, they are one-of-a-kind, which makes them really special.” Allen also considers them a sort of visual journal of each season, and she just moved, so her upcoming subjects will come from her new garden. Allen releases collections on her website on each equinox (so set your calendar timers for June 21).

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Over the years Allen has also taken on custom commissions to create sun prints creating a range from grains to medicinal plants, and has even traveled to specific Southern gardens to document their flora. Still, one of her favorite ways to collaborate involves children. “I have literally made these with hundreds of kids over the years, including my own two sons,” she says. “Waiting for the sun to ‘develop’ them is a good lesson in delayed gratification. Plus, I love that they get to learn about plants as they make them, even if it is just by touching them.” And while Allen hand paints all of her light prints so that she can make them in all manner of sizes, you can easily purchase pre-treated sun paper (which is what I did) to make them at home. 

As Allen says, “They’re pure magic!”

photo: rinne allen