Anna Children Atkins

The First Book of Photographs

March 16, 1799
Today is the birthday of the English botanist and photographer Anna Children Atkins who was born on this day, March 16th in 1799.

Anna is often regarded as the very first person to have published a book that was illustrated with photographs. Anna's photographs were extraordinary, and she used a type process that produced images onto cyan blue paper. And in case you're wondering, that is the etymology for the term blueprints.

Today, there are just a handful of copies of Anna's 1843 work Photographs of British Algae. Sadly, although none of her specimens have survived, we at least have her beautiful prints.

Back in 2015, on the occasion of her 216th birthday, Anna was honored with a Google Doodle. And if you have kids, please check out a wonderful book of photography that Fiona Robinson wrote called The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs.

Now, a fun activity that you can do to accompany learning about Anna Atkins is making sun prints with botanical specimens. Sun prints are an easy project and only require a few simple steps.

First, you want to go out and gather items that you want to use for your artwork - this can be fern leaves, or little flowers that you pick, or even leaves from a tree.
Then you're going to need a tray, and on the tray, you'll place your sun print paper that you can get from Amazon. Next, place your botanical items on top of the Sun Paper.
Now, if you have plexiglass, you can place that over the top. If you don't have plexiglass, it's not a windy day; that’s just fine. You just need to bring your tray out into a sunny spot. And let it sit for about two minutes.

Soon you'll notice that the paper will begin to turn a pale blue everywhere that's not covered by one of your botanical specimens. (The areas that are covered by the specimens will remain a dark blue.)

After about two minutes, it's time to remove all of your items off of the paper. Then you just remove the paper and gently slip it into a tray of water. This step is essential because the water is going to stop that exposure process.

And you don't need to leave the paper in the water very long - only for about a minute.  Next, you can just take the paper out of the water after about a minute and then set it on a table or other flat surface to dry.

This sun print activity is wonderful to do with kids in the summertime on a hot summer day when kids are looking for something to do. Then when it's all done, you will have these beautiful, fun prints that you can put on display - and they make beautiful gifts.
It is a fun activity to do with little gardeners this summer in your 2021 garden.  

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Anna Children Atkins
Anna Children Atkins

Leave a Comment