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.