Wet Plate Cameras
The wonderful Wet Plate Collodion process was invented by Fredrick Scott Archer (1813–1857) back in March 1851, the process is somewhat different and tricker than other alternative processes I have experimented with for a start the photograph is made not on paper but on a sheet of glass or metal and that’s before we start to consider the rather nasty chemicals including heavy metals and poisons that involved in the process.
The demands of the wet plate process are very different to other photographic processes and in order to experience the richness of the wet plate process I started to experiment with historic period correct optics and cameras going back to the 19th century. Purchasing photographic equipment that is over 100 years old is full of ups and downs, well to be honest more downs than ups and while I have collected a selection of very nice brass lenses I was unable to find a plate camera to meet my requirements, I found that wooden cameras over 100 years old don’t tend to fair too well and are often rather flimsy and in need of repair, so after a bit of research I started building my own. Below are some of the cameras I have built….
Whole Plate Camera
Plate Size: 8.5 x 6.5 inches
Plate Size: 6.5 x 4.75 inches
Lens: Ross petzval, England, 1862
Plate Size: 4.25 x 3.25 inches
Lens: Darlot petzval, France, late 1800′s
Orders are now being taken for wet plate cameras at present I am offering sizes based on the historic plate sizes (although I am happy to consider other sizes), these are as follows…
|Camera Size||Plate Size||Price|
|Quarter Plate||4.25 x 3.25 inches (108x83mm)||£500 (approx. €585 EUR)|
|Half Plate||6.5 x 4.75 inches (165x121mm)||£550 (approx. €640 EUR)|
|Whole Plate||8.5 x 6.5 inches (216x165mm)||£650 (approx. €760 EUR)|
|8 x 10||10 x 8 inches (250x200mm)||£725 (approx. €850 EUR)|
What is included with the camera…
- A Plate Holder with rotatable insert (portrait or landscape) for the chosen plate size plus an insert for the next plate size down, for instance on the whole plate camera you will also receive an insert for half plate giving a bit of flexibility regarding plate size.
- Two blank lens boards.
What is not included…
- Shipping, I usually use UPS and prices range between £25 and £125 GBP depending upon your location and the size of the camera, please contact me for an more accurate price.
- No lenses are included with the cameras, any lenses shown are for illustration purposes only. I can sometimes supply lenses, depending upon the size of the camera. Please contact me with your requirements.
A camera order requires a 50% deposit with order and currently the lead time is 8-12 weeks.
If you are interested in purchasing one of my wet plate cameras or want more information please contact me.
A bit more on the wet plate collodion process…
To create a photograph using the wet plate collodion process we first have to pour a solution of collodion on to a sheet or plate of glass or black metal such as tin or aluminium, after a few seconds the collodion mixture starts to go tacky at this point the plate is placed into a tank of silver nitrate. The silver nitrate sticks to the collodion creating a light sensitive coating on the plate. From here on in the rest of the process takes place in the dark under a orange safelight.
The now sensitised plate is now loaded into the camera’s plate holder / dark slide and exposed, one of the disadvantages of the wet plate collodion process is the working time, from coating the plate you have just ten minutes to take the photo and develop the plate. The plate is exposed just as with a normal sheet of film although it is much slower and is dependent upon the amount of infrared light on your subject. With the plate exposed it is developed by pouring a small amount of developer over its surface after a few seconds the plate is then fixed before being washed and left to dry.
The wet plate collodion negative is a beautiful object to hold, when the glass plate held against a black background the negative becomes a positive with an amazing depth, the image on the plate has an almost three dimensional appearance, the subject looks more life like than what can be captured on paper. It feels like a moment in time has been frozen, captured on to a sheet of glass or metal.
I have made a number of references to using either glass or metal plates, the good news the basic premise is the same with both. When using glass plates the final result is called an Ambrotype and appears as a negative until positioned against a dark background when it becomes a positive. The back of the glass plate is usually painted black so the plate is viewed as a positive. When working with a black aluminum or tin plate the final result is called a tintype, as the metal background is already black the images appears as a positive without the need to paint the back of the plate.
The image above is a scan of a glass plate ambrotype showing the final result of the wet plate process, this was taken using the half plate camera above and shows the tell tale shallow depth of field and swirling background that petzval lenses are renowned for.