Patience is a virtue. My journey into the Wet Plate Collodion process

Posted by on Feb 2, 2016 in Uncategorized | One Comment
Patience is a virtue. My journey into the Wet Plate Collodion process

Before I start this blog I have to say I am a complete beginner in the field of collodion and this blog is my journey through this process.

Wet Plate Collodion is something I have wanted to do for a very long time but because of commitments and  ill health it hasn’t been possible until now.

A  couple of years ago after re-assessing a lot of things in my life I decided  I was going to concentrate more on my own photography.  I started researching the wet-plate process in more depth by surfing the net and looking through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc.  I kept returning to a certain photographer’s images, Mark Voce. Mark is based in West Yorkshire, he is a landscape/coastal & wet-plate photographer and his images are stunning. He also builds and sells awesome wet plate cameras, check him out.  I joined his Facebook page and  cheekily invited myself to one of his wet-plate meetings he had organised with his friends and to my surprise he said yes.

When I arrived I realised very quickly I was out of my depth because these guys already knew their stuff and they probably wondered ‘who the hell is this guy who knows absolutely nothing doing here’, however, they made me really welcome. I had a thoroughly good time and that day clinched it for me; this was something I really needed to do.

Obviously I still need to work  but I am now also concentrating on building my own personal portfolios and will be selling my own fine-art imaging through this website, through exhibitions and various other channels so watch this space.……

What can go wrong? over exposed, over developed and a contaminated silver bath

What could possibly go wrong?  Over exposed, over developed and a contaminated silver bath

Patience is a virtue

Never  truer word spoken when it comes to wet-plate photography. Frustrating, annoying, exasperating are just a few words I can think of  and that’s leaving out the expletives I have used over the last few weeks in beginning to learn this process. There are a million and one things that can go wrong but I am determined to learn this process  whatever.

People told me I will be on a roll one day and the next day it will all go pear-shaped, and guess what? They were right. Within a week I had contaminated my silver bath and to this day I still don’t know what went wrong, whatever happened it was a very expensive mistake because silver is not cheap.

Three apples, An over exposed image but I do like it

Three apples, An over exposed image but I do like it

The Wet-Plate Collodion process is an early photographic process, said to have been invented, almost simultaneously, by Frederick Scott Archer and Gustave Le Gray in about 1850.  It’s an intricate process which requires the photographic material (glass or tin) to be coated, sensitized, exposed and developed all within the span of about ten to fifteen minutes depending on the temperature you are working in. It’s a very slow process that is smelly, sticky and can be dangerous to your health if you don’t take proper precautions when working with it. It’s also very interesting and addictive and still one of the sharpest processes in fine-art photography to this day.

Down to the process

During my first experiments I used my photographer friend John Barron as the guinea pig. Now bearing in mind collodion has a very slow exposure rating, of around .75 ISO  and if you consider most films are around 100ISO upwards it needs a lot of light to get an exposure.

I was using equivalent to 1800watts of tungsten lighting and the exposure was still 8 seconds long as you can see by the movement in this plate

8 sec exposure, movement in the image

8 sec exposure, movement in the image

The next plate had a 12 second exposure but this time I used a head brace to help hold John still, a slightly sharper exposure. I was rapidly beginning to realise just how hard it was for photographers in the 1800’s but looking at the images you can see why they worked at it.

12 second exposure, longer exposure but more detail in the image.

12 second exposure with head brace, longer exposure but more detail in the image.

For the image below I decided to try some different lighting and shot a plate with my Canon Speedlite 580EXII flash head at full power. Collodion needs so much light that I had to position the  flash only 12 inches from John’s face. I also attached a flash cup with tin foil wrapped around the inside to produce more directional light, even so the light from the flash dropped away  drastically from just behind John’s eyes, an unworkable scenario. Poor John had stars in his eyes for about ten minutes.


Canon Speedlite at full power. Aperture f5.6

Canon Speedlite at full power. Aperture f5.6

Flash 12" from Johns face. far too close for comfort.

Flash 12″ from Johns face, far too close for comfort.

So this is my journey so far.  I will post images as I produce them and keep you all up to date. Keep checking in and see how I get on. Don’t forget to post your comments below. I really do appreciate them.




1 Comment

  1. Lolly

    What a pleasure to find someone who thinks through the issues


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