Wet Plate Collodion

As a class we had the opportunity to learn about wet plate photography for the first time and was given the opportunity to do this whole process for ourselves.

The 19th century photography process of Wet plate collodion is the chosen method for the american photographer Sally Mann and is for many photographers a great opportunity to experience the development of  photography for themselves

We was working with tin types which is the method in which the first ever photography was taken and recorded it is unknown how long these will last but so far they is evidence of tin types surviving 150 years in perfect condition.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 11.09.34

Photograph by Wayne Myers: http://www.waynemyersphotography.com

How to:

I will be explaining the process of tin types also known as Ferrotypes therefore you will need a prepared/clean tintype sheet or aluminium plate. Glass can also be used if you want to create an Ambrotype.

  1. Pour the collodion onto the plate.
    As we were only using a small plate size we were able to hold the plate from the corner when pouring the collodion on to allow more control when rocking the plate in order to spread the collodion across the whole plate.
    Choosing to pour the collodion into the centre of the plate and rocking to move the collodion across to cover all edges of the plate. Failing to cover the whole plate in one even flow can resulting in you photograph having ridges.
    Pour the excess collodion off and check that it is ready to be placed in the silver bath by creating a tidy finger print in one corner of the collodion.
  2. Place the plate into the silver bath.
    This is a solution of silver nitrate and distilled water placed in a light proof box for three minuets while the plate sensitises. You will need to turn the lights onto the safety light before removing the plate from the box due to how light sensitive it will be.
  3. Placing the plate in the holder.
    When you remove the plate from the box make sure to wipe any excess silver nitrate off the back of the plate with a bit of tissue or a paper towel.
    Place the plate into a plate holder than is light tight. (We were using an adapted large format film holder)
    Place into the camera with the collodion side of the plate facing towards the lens.
  4. Making an exposure.
    Place the plate holder onto the camera with the collodion side of the plate facing towards the lens.
    Make the exposure and close the dark slide.
    The exposure that we was working with F7 for 4 seconds (If i have remembered correctly)
    You have at the most ten minuets to make an exposure as the longer you wait the collodion starts to dry out and once it has dried out on the plate, those area will not develop.
  5. Developing the plate.
    Back in the dark room take the plate out of the holder you want to poor the minimum amount of developer onto the plate and roll the developer across the plate to cover it completely and in one motion.
    Anywhere on the plate the developer stops will deposit a silver line that will steak in your image.
    Once the plate is covered by the developer start counting to fifteen seconds while you watch and rock the plate.
    The image should start to appear by ten seconds.
  6. Fixing.
    Place the plate into a bath of Hypo or Sodium Thiosulfate and leave it in there until they is no longer any greasy streaks across the image.
  7. Rinsing.
    Place the plate in a bath of ordinary cold tap water to just wash any excess off.


Once you have finished rinsing the plate and allowed some time for it to dry, you can then varnish the plate this is not necessary though.

  • To coat a plate with varnish you will pour this onto the plate using the same method as you did the collodion. This will only work if the varnish and the plate is at 43.33 °C (110 °F).

You can also paint the collodion onto the back of ambrotypes to give a black background that is needed to turn change them from negatives to positives.

Our results: 

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 11.10.212013-04-16 16.02.112013-04-16 16.01.09

Photographs by Sophie Wong: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sphwng-tks-phts/597738316922465?fref=ts 


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