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Slightly Better Plates

Posted by on 06 Apr 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

Wet plate collodion is a slow material for in-camera use. So we need, besides a fast lens, a lot of light, preferably containing UV as much as possible. To make some test plates I set up a studio with a still life subject. The lights were tungsten halogen lamps: Ianebeam 2000W and two Ianebeam “Redheads” 800W.

A temporary studio with halogen lights.

A still life setup for trying wet plate photography.

I changed my collodion to the “Old Guy” formula by Quinn Jacobson, and got a bit cleanier results — more contrast, less surface scum…

A still life shot. The “Old Guy” collodion, f:5/300mm lens wide open, 10 sec. exposure.

And finally I infused courage into myself to try shooting a live model. Ulla was such a forbearing poser in the irritating heat of 3600 Watts. Unfortunately it was my last plate for the day, so couldn’t experiment any more.

Ulla, plate preparation & exposure values as above.

There were a few flaws in the plate — blotches that I could finally pin down as finger marks, formed at the time of pouring the collodion… I guess that’s because I was holding this plate “waiter style” for too long, with my fingertips warming the plate.

Matching the marks on the plate with my fingertips.

It’s quite hard to find some wetplate process chemicals in Finland; I have bought my collodion (Scharlau, 4%) from Cheminent, but now I hear good news from Bostick & Sullivan, the dangerous goods shipping is now available to European countries!

Here’s my ambrotype process outlined:

Clean a 18×24 cm glass plate thoroughly.

Pour collodion on the plate, let it stiffen for a while, then sensitize by dipping into silver nitrate solution for 4 minutes.

In a red safelight insert the plate into a plate holder, then go to the camera and expose the plate.
In the red safelight hold the plate and pour developer over it. Develop for 15 seconds.

Rinse the plate with water.
Put the plate in a tray of fixer (plain hypo or Hypam), fix twice the clearing time (hypo 2 min., Hypam 1 min.)

Wash in water for 10 – 15 minutes. Dry in a rack.

But there is one more step left: varnishing… haven’t tried that yet, but I think I’ll be using some of the modern acrylic varnishes (like Liquitex), rather than the traditional sandarac varnish.

More Bad Ambrotypes

Posted by on 03 Apr 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

I had another wet plate holder made from an 8×10″ film holder; this one works a little better than the previous wooden holder…

A plate holder for 18x24cm plates, constructed from an 8×10″ film holder.

…and some more bad ambrotypes here… screwed up by my inexperience and awkwardness — also overexposure and maybe some issues with the chemistry…

I used my OHP f:5/300mm lens on a 8×10″ camera, with the aperture wide open. It was a bright day, so I exposed only for one second… but even that was too much, and the image is overexposed.

The second try (don’t ask what happened to the collodion layer — I don’t know!), exposed about as fast as I could remove and replace the lens cap, half a second I guess… couldn’t stop down (to increase the exposure time) because I don’t have any stops for this lens. Still a bit overexposed.

The chemistry used here is based on the “New Guy” formula, introduced by Quinn Jacobson. I will tell more about my mix of chemicals after experimenting some more — and hopefully getting one proper ambrotype plate!

A still life in artificial light, exposure 10 seconds… I think there must be either fogging or some kind of surface scum in my plates, I will need to fix that somehow…

Talking of Quinn Jacobson, there are very nice videos and descriptions of the wet plate process on his website.

Poor Pours

Posted by on 10 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

Here are my very first ambrotypes ever! Not exactly a great success… I seem to need some more practise in pouring collodion 😉 …

The images look somewhat low in contrast, there may be several reasons for this:

  • overexposure
  • light leaks in the camera (had a hard time removing & inserting the plate holder’s dark slide — the moisture from the dripping plate must have softened it somehow… while twitching it I may have enabled some light leak… the conclusion is that my wooden plate holder will not be good for this, I guess I’ll need to make another one from a modern aluminium/plastic holder)
  • my chemistry and/or developing technique
  • etc…

A pair of shoes (à la van Gogh 😉 ), my first try with the wet plate collodion. The 18x24cm plate was sensitized in silver nitrate for three minutes, exposed in camera for 12 seconds, developed for 15 secons, rinsed, and fixed for one minute.

Same as above, execpt for the 4 minutes silver sensitizing…

The images here were shot with a Tachihara 8×10″ camera and a simple home-made f:6,7/400 mm lens. The lighting was with a Ianebeam 2000W halogen lamp.

The chemistry:
Collodion, solution approx. 4%, USP (Sharlab).
Iodizer, 3g cadmium bromide + 4g potassium iodide dissolved in 6ml distilled water — this mixture was added to a solution of 120ml Sinol (denatured alcohol) + 120 ml ether.
Working collodion (for pouring onto plate), Sharlab collodion + iodizer, 1:1.
The silver bath (for sensitizing the plate), 90g silver nitrate to 1000ml distilled water.
The developer, 15g ferrous sulfate + 14ml acetic acid + 18ml Sinol to 355ml distilled water.
The fixer, sodium thiosulfate, 20% solution.

Cleaning Glass

Posted by on 09 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

For cleaning and disinfection purposes we have two renowned products in Finland: Vim, a scourer for kitchens & bathrooms, and Sinol, which is basically ~95% ethanol (denatured alcohol). I’m intending to use a mix of these ingredients for cleaning my glass plates.

So, what I do is mix Vim and Sinol 1:1, pour a little pool of the mix on a glass plate, and rub it all over, by circular motions, with a cotton pad. Then comes rubbing with another dry pad, and a third one, until the plate is completely dry and clean. Both sides of the plate are getting similar treatment.

I then store the plates (18 x 24 cm) in a photo paper box, each plate separated by a sheet of paper.

Silver Mix

Posted by on 07 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

I mixed 90 grams of silver nitrate to 1 liter of distilled water to make the sensitizing solution for wet plates…

Measured its specific gravity (1.08) and determined the pH (around 4 – 5).

I’m keeping the solution in a plastic bottle in a dark and cool place… waiting for the first glass plate to be sensitized.

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