Direct Phone Prints – A New Printing Technique

Following a recent trip to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I returned with several rolls of exposed film as well as dozens of digital photos taken with my smart phone. This is common; I usually shoot lots of phone photos along with my film shots. Most of these digital shots get forgotten about quickly, some of them get edited using downloaded apps, texted to friends, and then also forgotten about.

But this time I had some shots I really liked and didn’t want them to be forgotten, so I started thinking: what if there was a way to make silver gelatin prints of these photos directly from my phone?

Making prints of digital photos is fairly common, but the usual method is to upload the image to a computer, edit it using Photoshop, Lightroom, or similar program, then print the photo out as a negative transparency on special paper using a high-end inkjet printer. I don’t have the software or equipment, nor do I have the desire to learn how to use them.

Instead, I thought of a simpler, quicker way to do this. Using photo editing apps on my phone, I took one of the images, made it black and white, adjusted the contrast, reversed it left-right, and finally, inverted it negative and saved it as a new file.

Going into the darkroom I brought the image up on my phone’s screen and experimented with placing the phone inside the enlarger directly above the lens bellows. After setting up the easel and focusing, I used a makeshift lens cap to turn the image “on” and “off”. It took me a while to find the right aperture and exposure time, but after a few pieces of paper I managed to get a very pleasing print of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

From there I had the hang of it and am now able to repeat this process consistently. Here are some of the images I’ve printed so far. Note the format of these images is the length and width of my phone’s screen, and that each image has a white circle on one end where my phone’s front-facing camera lens is embedded in the screen. Looking at a properly focused print through a strong magnifier, one can even see orderly arrays of black silver dots representing the LEDs that form the image.

There is some irony to this post: these images started off as digital files, were manipulated and printed onto physical paper, and have now been scanned back into digital form to allow uploading and presentation on the Web.

Click on each image to enlarge:

This was the first successful direct phone print.

The below image was blue-toned after printing.

Rocketpunk Alternate Prints

Two of these images from the Greenbank Radio Astronomy site have been printed before on a different paper and appear in earlier postings. It’s interesting to compare how the lith developer chemistry interacts with the emulsions of different papers to create radically different effects on the same image. (Click on the “rocketpunk” tag at the bottom of the post to compare this with older versions)

The images in this post were made with Moersch Easy Lith developer on Arista EDU RC paper. In the earlier images they were made using the same developer but printed on Fomatone MG Classic paper. The former usually results in a very high contrast, super grainy and gritty image with a slight yellow-pinkish hue to the highlights, while the latter gives me a smoother, dreamier image with more of a brownish-pinkish color, with out-of-focus areas progressing to heavier grain.

As a result I tend to choose different papers for different types of images depending on what type of atmosphere I want to portray.

As manufacturers tend to start or stop producing certain papers without notice it can be tough to find good papers for lith printing sometimes. Some years ago my favorite lith paper was made by Kentona, but they stopped making it suddenly and so I had to search for new options. Many common papers such as Ilford Multigrade or the old Kodak paper (if you find any) simply do not work with lith developer at all and are only suitable for standard black and white printing, so searching the net for advice while experimenting with various brands and models is necessary.

And the same goes for lith chemicals…

Rocketpunk Collections


This is a partial collection of what I call my “rocketpunk” series: an ongoing series of photos which share the common theme of the dream of spaceflight, exploration, and the “future that might’ve been” had the dreams of the 1960s carried on according to then-current predictions. Photos of real objects and artifacts that prompt one to imagine a sort of lost golden age of spaceflight, much as antique photos of airships or Jules Verne book cover art might.

Some of these photos are of actual aircraft, spacecraft and launch vehicles or engines, while other videos are of observatories used to study the sky.


Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Delta upper stage with satellite payload and aerodynamic shroud, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD

Delta launch vehicle, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD

Sounding rocket, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD

Radio Telescope, Greenbank Observatory, WV

Radio Telescope, Greenbank Observatory, WV

Radio Telescope, Greenbank Observatory, WV

Radio Telescope, Greenbank Observatory, WV

Radio Telescope, Greenbank Observatory, WV. This 300 ft wide dish is the largest steerable radio telescope in the world.

Radio Telescope, Greenbank Observatory, WV. This 300 ft wide dish is the largest steerable radio telescope in the world.

Apollo Command Module, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD. lith print version 1

Sounding Rocket, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD

Sounding Rocket, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD

Jet Engine of a Boeing 707, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Udvar Hazy Center, VA

Rocketdyne F1 Rocket Engine, Udvar Hazy Center, VA. Five of these enormous engines powered the first stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle.

Rocketdyne RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engine, Udvar Hazy Center, VA. The Space Shuttle was powered by three of these extremely efficient reusable engines.

Delta Launch Vehicle Propulsion System Detail, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD

Apollo Command Module, Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD. lith print version 2


On Display at Glen Echo Park: Rocketpunk! Modern Tintypes and Ambrotypes


This gallery contains 5 photos.

Now on display at Glen Echo Photoworks through May 7th, 2012. Join us for theĀ reception on Sunday, April 22nd, atĀ 6:00 PM. More info here: These are from the “Rocketpunk” project. It’s an exploration of spaceflight history and what the … Continue reading