Trained as a botanist, Anna Atkins developed an interest in photography as a means of recording botanical specimens for a scientific reference book, British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. This publication was one of the first uses of light-sensitive materials to illustrate a book. Instead of traditional letterpress printing, the book's handwritten text and illustrations were created by the cyanotype method. Atkins printed and published Part I of British Algae in 1843 and in doing so established photography as an accurate medium for scientific illustration.
Atkins learned directly about the invention of photography through her correspondence with its inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot. Although she owned a camera, she used only the cameraless photogenic drawing technique to produce all of her botanical images. With the assistance of Anne Dixon, Atkins created albums of cyanotype photogenic drawings of her botanical specimens. She learned the cyanotype printing method through its inventor, the astronomer and scientist Sir John Herschel, a family friend.