If the wet plate collodion would be my choice for alternative photography, I’m not sure which I’d like the best – the positive ambrotype plate or a print made from a negative plate. With collodion you can’t really get them both from one plate.

If you want a positive plate you have to underexpose; make a thin negative which appears as a positive when viewed against a black backround, or when exposed on a black metal plate (tintype). For printing with salted paper, albumen, palladium or such, you need to give the plate more exposure, thus creating more density to be able to produce a good print. But that denser plate won’t work as a viewable positive image then…

For my previous post I scanned the plates with an Epson Perfection 4990 Photo scanner in reflective mode – the normal way to scan positive photographs. That’s the way to do it, if you want to show how the plates look on a black background. Usually ambrotypes look better when viewed from the collodion side, but that also means that the image is seen reversed, flipped horizontally. That, of course, can be easily fixed in Photoshop, but I wanted my ambrotypes look like the real things and didn’t flip them.

But I also wanted to see how the plates would scan with Epson’s transparency scan settings, corrected as right-reading. I must say I was surprised to see how good they looked on the display! Although the shadow tones were very thin and lacked separation, the highlights scanned very well. If my plates had been exposed a bit more (like for negative work), the tone rendering would have been better still…

An inkjet print from a scanned ambrotype.

An inkjet print from a scanned ambrotype.

So it made me thinking… which would I like more, the positive ambrotype plates or, say, palladium prints from collodium glass negatives? I admit I’m more of a printmaker, enjoying the delicate highlights and deep shadows in a print.

On the other hand, ambrotypes on glass can be very effective in their moody low tones, although their highlights are seldom white and subtly separated.

I just made these quick inkjet prints from my scans, and toned them digitally… and started thinking of all the different methods to print these plates. Some issues of originality, authenticity and reproducibility raised to my mind… but I will talk about these more next time.