Maybe I would like to try collodion wet plate photography, IF I only had a camera and a lens for that purpose, and IF I had a wet plate holder for the camera, and IF I could acquire all the chemicals and stuff here in Finland, and IF I could construct some kind of portable darkroom for processing the plates, and so on…

Quite many “if”s there, when dreaming of wet plate photography! Yet, there are some very special qualities in a collodion wet plate photograph (particularly in a glass ambrotype) that you can’t find in any other photographic image. I guess the success in the process is very much dependent on the photographer’s chemistry and darkroom skills. You expose the final plates in camera, so you need to use a large format camera to get large format images. Plus, if you want to create something noteworthy with the process, you will have to be an artist as well… 😉

Anyway, I added the “Ambrotype” tag on the sidebar, with intent on giving the wet plate process a try. I’ll be doing this now and then, and between other tasks. I have already ordered some chemicals from a Finnish supplier and Artcraft Chemicals from USA.

But first things first – I have to make sure that my camera suits wet plate working. I have an older Tachihara 8×10″ wooden view camera, no lens. The camera should be just fine for starting wet plate work, and maybe I could build a lens myself for the first tests.

I also need a special plate holder; can’t use the standard 8 by 10″ film holder. But a conventional two-sided film holder can be modified by cutting an opening for a glass plate. This is just what I did to an old wooden sheet film holder.

Here’s my old wooden sheet film holder with the dark slides removed. On the left I have cut a hole out of the septum, and (on the right) inserted silver wires to each corner to hold the glass plate. I also had to make other minor modifications, because the holder’s dimensions are a bit different from modern 8×10 holders.

A few years ago, inspired by Alan Greene‘s excellent book Primitive Photography – A Guide to Making Cameras, Lenses, and Calotypes – I ordered three inexpensive positive meniscus lenses from Surplus Shed. I haven’t used the lenses since, but now, by loosely following Greene’s instructions I built two lens systems for my Tachihara; one is a single element “landscape” lens with focal length of 400 mm and aperture of F:6.7. The other one is made of two identical positive lenses, so it is a kind of symmetrical 200 mm duplet lens. These are very much prototypes, built into cardboard tubes (actually Pringles potato snack cans) painted with matte black spray. Greene recommends PVC tube for lens building, which is a good idea, but I thought I’d make some quick tests first with very simple construction.

Basic materials for building simple lens objectives for a view camera: Pringles cans with caps, cheap lenses, black foam-core, some glue, a cutting knife, and matte black spray paint.
On the left I have some building material, and on the right the finished 200mm duplet and 400mm landscape type lenses, separate interchangeable stops (made of Pringles caps) and a lens cap (which is just a coffee jar cover painted black).

Tachihara 8×10″, equipped with the 400mm lens.

Very soon I’m going to shoot some paper negative tests to see if my plate holder is light tight… and to find out how my new lenses perform!