A wet plate collodion photograph: step-by-step
svenska nedan

This is a brief walkthrough of making an ambrotype, a wet plate photograph on black or clear glass. The clear glass needs to be backed with something dark, for the image to appear positive. I find that quite a lot of information about making an image, especially in magazines, is wrong. This is how it’s done. I’ve simplified a few things, to keep it short.

    Preparations

  1. Clean a glass plate (preferably black glass) with a home made cleaning paste. (You can clean several at a time.)
  2. Set up your camera on a tripod, focus it, and try to guess an approximate exposure time. 1–30 seconds is perfectly normal.
  3. Take your plate holder, your clean plate, and get into your darkroom (mobile or stationary).
  4. Flowing and sensitizing

  5. In the darkroom, take your collodion bottle and pour collodion on the plate, making sure it covers the entire plate. This is called flowing the plate, and takes practice to do well.
  6. When the collodion has set (15–30 seconds) lower the plate into the silver nitrate solution tank. Close the lid so that it is light-tight.
  7. Wait 3 minutes.
  8. [Safelight on] Open the silver nitrate solution tank, remove the plate and load it in the plate holder.
  9. When it is safely in the closed plate holder, walk to the camera.
  10. Making the exposure

  11. Put down the plate holder, double check the focus on the camera, and close the shutter.
  12. Affix the plate holder to the camera back.
  13. Remove the dark slide.
  14. Make the exposure by opening and closing the shutter. Anything from 1 second to 1 minute is normal, depending on the conditions.
  15. Insert the darkslide.
  16. Remove the plate holder, and walk to the darkroom.
  17. Develop and fix

  18. [Safelight on] Open the plate holder and remove the plate, holding it carefully in your hand. Place the plate holder out of the way.
  19. Pour developer on the plate, using as little developer as possible, but covering the whole plate. This takes practice to do well. Develop for about 15 seconds.
  20. Stop the development by submerging the plate in water, or by pouring water on it gently and evenly.
  21. When the development is stopped, the plate is no longer sensitive to light. [Safelight off]
  22. Submerge the plate in the fixer. Fix until the plate clears, about 15–45 seconds. Now you should have an image on the plate.
  23. Rinse in water baths, at least 20 minutes.
  24. Place plate in drying rack.
  25. Varnishing the plate

  26. When dry, heat the plate over an oil lamp. Don’t overheat it. If you can’t hold it in your hands, it’s too hot.
  27. Hold the plate in your left hand, keeping it perfectly level, and pour the lavender varnish on the plate. Make sure that you cover the entire plate. Pour off excess varnish into a separate »drain« bottle.
  28. Hold the plate by the edges, and gently heat the plate over the oil lamp. This speeds up the drying of the varnish. Don’t overheat.
  29. Let the plate dry completely in a dust free environment. This can take a day or two.
  30. Congratulations, you’ve made your first wet plate!

Equipment

I will not list everything needed to make wet plates here. You need a lot of stuff. The problem is that getting the equipment and chemistry is difficult if you live in Europe (easier in the US), and expensive. So before I show and tell about all the stuff I use, let me recommend this to the beginner:

Take a class or a workshop on wet plate photography. There are many good ones, and most of them will save you a lot of money. Hundreds or even thousands of dollars. (I’m not kidding.) I learned from John Coffer and can recommend him wholeheartedly.

These are things you will not get by without:

Things you don’t need, but are nice to use

My equipment

Cameras

Camera front NHS3221 Kameran Sida

I have two cameras to make wet plates. One regular 4×5 inch camera, with a film holder modified to accept quarter plates. The other one is a custom made 8×10 inch wet plate camera, shown to the right. I put a pair of glasses on top of the camera for scale. Attached is a Taylor, Hobson & Cooke 12 ½ inch ƒ/3.1 (!) lens, made in the 1920s. It’s a very rare lens, I have only heard of one more, ever.

Before ordering a camera made only for wet plate collodion photography, I did some serious research on the options. In hindsight, a modified regular 8x10 inch camera might have been a good option as well, but I’m not sure it could handle the Cooke lens, it weighs close to 3 kgs.

The main reason for using a »real« wet plate camera is the camera back and the plate holder. Working with a »book style« plate holder with generous margins to the dark slide, and a generally sturdier design, simplifies the work greatly. That said, you can produce outstanding results with modern, normal equipment. The other advantage a wet plate camera has is its sturdy front standard. It is made to hold a really big lens, which is probably not the case with a modern camera. Most cameras cannot accept a lens with a diameter of 5 inches, which is quite normal in wet plate photography.

The darkbox

 NHS3206 Ladan Back Cl NHS3218 Ladan Op 

I also have a portable darkbox, that I built myself. I should have made it a bit bigger. Still, I can pour whole plates in there, although barely. It will be fun to try 8×10 inch sometime soon. The box is a pretty simple construction, but it took me quite a while to finish. I’m not a carpenter, that’s for sure. The thing that protrudes from the bottom of the box is the silver nitrate bath. The silver nitrate solution is in a plexiglass container made by Steve Silipigni, and the plexiglass container sits inside a light-tight box, which is what you see on the bottom. I’m a bit proud of that design, with its 15° angle and all.

 NHS3208 Ladan Shroud NHS3210 Velcro

Stapled to the inside of the box is the shroud, that wraps around the photographer to make the box light-tight. Instead of making a frame for the shroud to keep it from getting in my face, I put som velcro on the inside of the lid and on the shroud. It works pretty well!

World wide wet plate

There are people all over the world doing wet plate photography. Most of them are in the USA, but Europe is catching on quickly, much thanks to Quinn Jacobson and the web forum he’s running. From the top of my head we have »wet heads« in Norway, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France, Bulgaria, Russia, Italy, Austria. I am the only one in Sweden, so far.

American plates

I think there are about a hundred wet plate photographers in the US. »Civil War Reenactments« are a type of live role playing war games which are hugely popular, and the wet plate collodion photographers have a given place there. This has made it possible to make a living on making plates for quite a few photographers. I believe the reenactments are getting less »lucrative«, and the wet plate scene is turning more towards »art«, whatever that implies.

Här följer steg-för-steg-guiden på svenska.

    Förberedelser

  1. Rengör en glasplåt (gärna svart glas) med hemmagjord rengöringspasta. (Gör flera åt gången.)
  2. Ställ iordning kameran på stativ och komponera och fokusera bilden. Försök gissa en ungefärlig exponeringstid. 1–30 sekunder är helt normalt.
  3. Ta med plåthållaren och din rengjorda glasplåt och gå till mörkrummet (mobilt eller stationärt).
  4. Att »hälla« och sensitera plåten

  5. Håll plåten på vänsterhandens fingertoppar (som en kypare), flaskan med kollodium i höger (om du är högerhänt) och häll kollodium på plåten. Detta kräver övning och kunskap för att göras på rätt sätt.
  6. När kollodiumet har stelnat eller »fått skinn« (15–30 sekunder), sänk ner plåten i silvernitratbadet och stäng locket, så att det är ljustätt.
  7. Vänta 3 minuter.
  8. [Mörkrumsljus på] Öppna silvernitratbadet och ta upp plåten. Ladda den i plåthållaren.
  9. När du fått plåten i plåthållaren och stängt den, gå till kameran.
  10. Exponera plåten

  11. Ställ plåthållaren bredvid dig, dubbelkolla att kameran är fokuserad och stäng slutaren.
  12. Montera plåthållaren på kamerans bakstycke.
  13. Dra ur plåthållarens ljussluss.
  14. Exponera plåten genom att öppna och stänga slutaren, allt från 1 sekund till 1 minut är normala exponeringstider.
  15. Sätt tillbaks ljusslussen.
  16. Gör loss plåthållaren, och gå till mörkrummet.
  17. Framkalla och fixera

  18. [Mörkrumsljus på] Öppna plåthållaren och ta ut plåten, ställ hållaren så att den inte är ivägen.
  19. Häll försiktigt framkallare på plåten, så lite som möjligt ska användas, men det måste täcka hela plåtens yta. Detta kräver övning. Framkalla i ca 15 sekunder.
  20. Stoppa framkallningen genom att lägga plåten i vattenbad eller hälla en mängd vatten över den.
  21. När framkallningen är stoppad är plåten inte ljuskänslig längre. [Mörkrumsljus av]
  22. Lägg plåten i fixet. Fixera tills plåten klarnat, ca 15–45 sekunder. Nu ser du bilden du nyss tagit!
  23. Skölj plåten i vattenbad (byt vatten flera gånger). Minst 20 minuter.
  24. Ställ plåten i torkställ.
  25. Lacka plåten

  26. När plåten är torr, värm den över en oljelampa. Värm den inte för länge. Om du inte kan hålla plåten på fingertopparna är den för varm.
  27. Håll plåten på vänsterhandens fingertoppar (som en kypare) och häll lavendellacken på plåten. Lacken ska täcka hela plåten. Häll av överflödig lack i en separat flaska.
  28. Håll plåten i kanterna, och värm den försiktigt över en oljelampan. Detta förkortar lackens torktid. Låt inte plåten överhettas.
  29. Låt plåten torka i en dammfri miljö. Det kan ta en dag eller två.
  30. Grattis, du hart gjort din första plåt!