Building a Large Wet Plate Rack to Hold 10×8 and 12×10


Over the next weeks and months I will try to post some pictures and stories about the various projects I have been completing in my upgrade to making 10×8 wet plates. There are many challenges involved in moving up from 5×4 plates – everything needs to be bigger! First up, here is my plate rack project.

I designed the rack using the brilliant Sketchup. At first I really couldn’t get to grips with it, it just wasn’t immediately intuitive to me. After struggling and giving up several times I decided to watch a few excellent YouTube videos on how to use Sketchup for woodworkers. Working through the videos and making the same models from scratch myself as I watched I quickly got up to speed enough to create a model for my rack.

I used wood that was readily available to me from a DIY shop. Sketchup makes it easy to (manually) create a set of drawings of all the required components with dimensions and turn a plan into reality!

Here is my finished model with a 12×10 plate and 10×8 plate for scale:

Sketchup Rack Model

The inspiration behind the design (well, the design I copied!) was an original small rack that I use for 5×4 plates:

Original Small Rack

To complete this project and many others I realised I needed a new tool for my garage – a router. I have no idea how I managed without one. I built a custom table mount for it too (which was easier said than done). Here are some of the steps of me building and assembling the rack:

Rack build

The plates need to be held by a V-groove. This is when I realised that a router would be a definite requirement! I created a jig that would help me create straight cuts across the grain of the wood. I’m very much a woodworking beginner, trying to figure things out as I go along.

Marking out the grooves

It seemed to be working, slowly but surely. The jig wasn’t perfect – it was still hard to make a straight cut. But with slow progress I was getting there.


I modified the jig so that it would follow the fence perfectly (by straddling it) – it worked a lot better and really sped things up!
Modified jig

My homemade router table was causing me issues so I modified it by embedding a plate with the appropriate hole and mounting points. That was hard work because the metal is *thick* and really hard to cut. I’m glad that job is behind me. It’s very solid and reliable now though.

New router table plate

Much improved:

Improved Routing 1

Improved Routing 2

Once all the parts were built I did a quick mock assemble (with clamps) to make sure all fitted together well.

Test Assembly

It did, so I went ahead and assembled it properly. It was very satisfying to see a model transform into reality so well, especially considering my limited woodworking skills and experience. It was great fun.



After a few coats of varnish:

Polaroid 405 Instant Film Back


12th August 2015 – Another old post I didn’t get round to publishing. This one is from September 2013!! (I’m not a very good blogger)

I recently acquired a Polaroid 405 back that will let me expose Type 100 Polaroid film (e.g. Fuji FP-100C and FP-3000B) with my Speed Graphic 4×5 camera and lenses. It produces 4.25″ x 3.25″ prints after just a few minutes.

I’ve been keen to get to grips with Fuji instant film and try to get consistent results with it. The best way I could see of doing this is use a non-automatic camera. The Automatic Land Cameras are brilliant and I will continue to use them, but having full control of the exposure and being able to add in large format movements, compose on the ground glass, etc was really appealing.

The first step was to test it to make sure it was light tight and ensure the mechanics were sound, especially the rollers. The rollers looked clean and undamaged so I was optimistic. I asked Abi to sit for me at our south facing front door; the warm evening sunshine was reflecting off the fields providing a nice soft light.

I set up the Speed Graphic on a tripod, mounted with the Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar-S 150mm f/5.6. My first mistake when I took an incident meter reading from Abi’s position; for some reason I convinced myself that the lens was f/4.5 when wide open.

My second mistake was forgetting to close the lens after focussing and loading the Polaroid 405 holder! As I started pulling the dark slide I quickly realised my mistake and pushed it back in; I exposed the top portion of the frame for a second or so. I went ahead and finished the exposure so that I could get an idea of how it will look. Here’s the result below:

It was a bit underexposed too, that will be partly due to the fact that the aperture was set to f/5.6 and I metered for f/4.5. Also, I’m not convinced that FP-100c looks its best when rated at ISO 100.

I attempted my second picture. Metered at 1/100s but exposed for 1/30s. After compensating for my aperture mistake I was rating the film at ISO 50 and here is the result, a much better exposure I think (please excuse the ridiculously dusty scan, I really need to re-scan the print sometime):

I’ve got lots learned and it should be much easier compared to learning with automatic Land Cameras.

Does anyone else rate FP-100C at ISO 50?

Kodak 5×4 Dip & Dunk Tanks and Hangers


12th August 2015 – Here’s a post from October that I didn’t find the time to quite publish!

Ages ago I bought a pair of old, beautiful, ceramic Kodak tanks and three 5×4 sheet film/plate hangers.

Kodak Sheet Film Tanks

I usually develop sheet film in the brilliant MOD54, but I was tempted to give ‘Dip and a Dunk’ processing a go in my darkroom. The prospect of loading the holder in complete darkness (well you always have to do that) and then finding the correct tank, plunging the holder into the tank and starting the massive dev chart timer in my pocket was pretty intimidating. But it wasn’t too bad in practice and it was a good experience with a good result. I exposed a fresh sheet of Foma 100 to test with. I set up a picture in the garage and using the Sinar Norma I had the opportunity to also try out a new lens too – an unnamed Air Ministry 14″ f/5.6 lens. Being such a long lens I had to use a 6″ extension to the rail and I almost maxed out on the rail/bellows length!

For the first time I had to consider the bellows factor. Using the superb Reciprocity Timer app it suggested adding 1/3 stop. Add to that reciprocity failure, which the app worked out for me too and the 2s (at f/16) exposure became 6s.

Everything seemed to work out great and I love the (new to me) process of developing 5×4 film. Here is a scan from the developed film.

Speed Graphic and Ambrotypes

Silver Gelatin Print from an Ambrotype


Ever since I overexposed an Ambrotype I’ve wondered how well it would perform as a negative, mounted in the DeVere 54. So I finally got round to knocking up a holder from cardboard to fit in the plate holder. Turning on the enlarger light I was impressed by the projected image. It was really bright so I stopped the lens down to f/22 and started with a grade 4 filter. It turned out that a grade 2 filter was sufficient for 25 seconds and I dodged the side for 12s and bottom for 10s. From a bad ambrotype I got a pretty interesting silver gelatin print!

The resulting silver gelatin print:

The original Ambrotype:
Ambrotype 3

Wet Plate Collodion – My First Few Solo Plates


Since starting wet plate collodion at home I have made a total of 13 plates (including the failures / test exposures). Here are all of my scanned plates below. It’s vital to get the exposure spot on to get a good result. I’ve only managed this a couple of times so far. It’s all about experience and I feel I’ve learnt a lot fairly quickly, especially with the last four plates of my dad.

Here was my first attempt, the day after preparing all the chemicals and after leaving a plate in the silver bath overnight. These were made on aluminium black trophy plate (traditionally known as tintypes). I found developing the plate a challenge – I think these are all overdeveloped; I was looking to see an image on the plate whilst developing but I couldn’t – this resulted in me developing for much longer than I should have. I also overexposed the plates significantly as I tried to find my way!

Here’s the very first plate – exposed for a whopping 10 seconds at f/4.5 In my defense it was 5pm in Scotland on a cloudy day in May.
Alumitype 3

The area at the bottom right is interesting as the exposure/development looks quite good. I’m not sure what was missing there, perhaps it was developed for less time?

Having seen it was overexposed I attempted 8 seconds at f/4.5
Alumitype 4

Starting to look better, but I really need to cut the exposure a lot more. I halved the exposure to 4 seconds:

Alumitype 5

Looking much better, but I realised at that point that I was really exposing for far too long. So I tried one last attempt at 1 second:
Alumitype 6

Not bad for my first attempt and I learned a lot about exposure (overexposure). I was surprised at how short the exposure time had to be, especially considering the last plate was made at 18:30 and was still overexposed.

Two months later and I finally found some time to try again. This time I wanted to attempt ambrotypes. I sourced some glass from a local Scottish Borders artist and framer – I found out that 5×4 glass is easily sourced from a framer’s scrap glass bin – perfect!

I set up some of my old Star Wars toys to attempt a still life picture (I didn’t have any willing subjects at the time). My first exposure was 4 seconds at f/8
Ambrotype 1
Pretty good result first time! Far from perfect, I’m still practicing all the pouring (collodion and developer) and I started to get a strange marking on one edge of the plate. I also messed up the composition; I forgot to lock the tripod and moved it when inserting the plate holder. Oops!

Finally a willing subject – Abi – but this time I foolishly asked her to sit on the swing. I have no idea why I thought that would be a good idea, especially on a windy day. The exposure was 2 seconds and f/5.6 and inevitably the swing moved during the exposure. But I actually quite like how it looks.
Ambrotype 2

A week later and I found some more time to try again. I had two willing subjects this time – a nice, still (nearly) 5 year old and a fidgety, no chance of staying still (nearly) 3 year old. I found how strong UV is during direct sun light – 2 seconds at f/5.6 was way too much. Had I not learnt anything about exposure!? 😐
Alumitype 3

In an attempt to redeem myself I tried a picture of Jodie at f/7.1 and 1 second. STILL OVEREXPOSED! LOL
Ambrotype 4

Was I capable of underexposing? Let’s try a self portrait… it was much later in the day. This is f/8 at 1 second.
Ambrotype 5
Finally I had underexposed a plate! :-)

My Dad came to visit us and I asked him to sit for me so I could try another ambrotype. I asked him to sit in a shaded area and it took a few attempts to find the right exposure.

Ambrotype 6
Clearly way underexposed at f/8 and 1s – the sun hitting the hill in the background looks reasonable though!!

I moved my dad and changed the camera position to eliminate the bright background as that would be a distraction once the exposure was correct.
Ambrotype 7
This time I opened the lens by a stop 1s @ f/5.6 – trousers are looking good(!) – I love how the skin is so dark; he has no head and only parts of his hands show up! :)

I moved the camera closer to eliminate the bright trousers
Ambrotype 7
This was f/8 and 4s – definitely some progress but skin tones are way too dark. The glasses appear to be absorbing UV light too and so are really dark. We took them off for the final plate…

Ambrotype 9

f/5.6 and 4 seconds – perfect!! Dad did a great job holding still for 4s, it’s perfectly sharp, and that’s without any head support at all. Removing the glasses was definitely necessary and the eye contact is really enhanced too. I’m really pleased with it.

My next big learning curve – varnishing! I tried varnishing my first plate (one of the duff ones) with sandarac a couple of days ago and the result wasn’t good at all; a really matte finish – it’s like the glass is frosted. Lots of experimenting required to find the best result. I need to try combinations of hotter plate, cooler plate, hotter varnish and cooler varnish… I wonder what the effect of how quickly I heat the plate after applying the varnish makes too. I definitely want to nail the varnishing process before ruining one of the good plates!

Wet Plate Collodion Introduction Workshop with Alastair Cook


Back in July of last year I attended a brilliant afternoon Wet Plate Collodion introduction workshop by Alastair Cook. I had been keen to explore wet plate collodion photography, especially after seeing the results in the flesh at Alastair’s exhibition. When I heard he was doing a workshop where we would learn how to do it and have a try too I jumped at the chance!

Alastair talked briefly on some of the types of wet plate photography; daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and ‘tintypes’ showing us some original examples and explaining the differences in the processes and the results.



Some discussion about the equipment used for wet plate.

Examples of where plates have gone ‘wrong’ and where they have gone ‘right’.

Alastair talked us through the process and then performed a demonstration.








Then we did our own, taking pictures of each other. I took one of Alastair first – we tried a 4s exposure. The light was fading and the result was quite dark but I absolutely love it! It’s a lot more interesting in the flesh, especially when held up close to a light; the picture fades in and out in an almost holographic way! Here is the scan:

My second picture was of Katherine and it was exposed for around 5.5s as the light was fading even more. The result was good!

Pouring the collodion was much easier than I expected it to be. There is a lot involved in mastering the techniques of holding, pouring, spreading evenly, etc. Holding the plate in the best hand, working safely without spilling and wasting. Handling the plate so as you don’t damage the plate or ruin the application of the collodion and silver nitrate. It is an extremely hands on process and subsequently really rewarding when you see a great result.

Here is a brief list of tasks required to make a ‘tintype’:
Coat the plate with collodion
Place the plate into the silver nitrate bath (lights off)
Silver nitrate for 3 minutes
Set up camera and subject – compose and focus
Back to the plate, remove from silver nitrate bath and then dry back of plate
Place into plate holder and insert dark slide
Hold vertically and remember which side has the plate in it!
Check focus of camera
Insert into camera
Hold lens cap in front of lens, remove dark slide, make sure subject is ready
Remove lens cap and count the seconds
Replace lens cap and dark slide
Take plate holder back into the darkroom
Remove the plate from the holder
Pour a small amount of developer onto the plate and allow it to cover the plate
Shake the plate to move the developer around
Develop for 10s then rinse with water to stop
Place into the fixer (Ilford Rapid Fixer) and then turn on the lights
Watch the image appear – it’s like magic!!

One of the best photographic experiences I’ve had. Half a year later and I have nearly everything I need to start doing wet plate myself. More on that soon!!

James in the Darkroom [Guest Post by Lynsey]


My wonderful wife Lynsey, a brilliant Family Life Photographer, documented me making my first ever paper negatives with a camera I borrowed from my friend Alastair Cook. There were so many unknowns (like the lens aperture) and challenges I was amazed the first negative worked so well. It was a great experience; both making the negatives and being photographed and I LOVE the results – you can certainly see the genuine excitement and wonder on my face. Thank you so much Lynsey! xx



Hello, film enthusiasts! I’m James’ wife, Lynsey! One evening in the Christmas holidays, James was keen to try out a wooden field camera from the late 1800s that he had borrowed from a friend. Usually James’ evenings are spent alone in his darkroom, rushing to get something finished before I start hassling him to come in and watch an episode of Homeland before it’s past our bedtime. That evening, I decided to follow him around with my trusty DSLR whilst he did a couple of test shots of me, and developed them in his darkroom. It was fun! I’m a photographer too, and I love to capture people just as they are. This is James:

The Darkroom Build!


I’ve taken the next logical step after really enjoying getting back into film photography and exploring it in ways I’ve never done in the past; shooting larger than 35mm, developing my own film, and basically doing so much more than just shooting a roll with a point and shoot and taking it to Boots to produce mediocre prints. I have built a darkroom! In the freezing cold and damp garage… but after a lot of work I’ve created a light (and dripping water) tight room that is actually capable of being quite cozy once the oil heater has been on for a short while.

It all began in January 2013 – operation clear the garage of ‘stuff’. This first picture was actually taken after lots of clearing out had been completed, believe it or not!

I acquired an old kitchen from some friends:

I bought an old Kodak Beehive safelight and rewired it:

A 35mm enlarger given to me by a friend was in a messy state thanks to the deteriorating foam packaging.

After assembling it and giving it a try I was a bit concerned that the light spill was a bit excessive:

I checked with my fellow #BelieveInFilm folks on Twitter who confirmed that it was indeed fairly excessive! I discovered a missing part and after realising where it went the light leaks were resolved!

That’s better…

I read that it’s a good idea to have the safelights turn off when the enlarger is ON to make it easier to see a stopped down image for dodging and burning. So I built a relay box that uses the timer output to turn the safelights OFF when the enlarger is lit:

Things were starting to come together, I just needed to build the partition walls to help keep the heat in and the light out.

Before going much further I did a little test printing, which didn’t go so well. More about that here:

But the next print, a few days later, was more successful:

A very useful addition to the darkroom equipment list – a paper safe – so much easier and quicker than opening and closing boxes:

Following some enjoyable and successful printing the rest of the darkroom build was in order. A top priority was to sort out the ventilation. I bought a bathroom ventilation kit from eBay. The first step was to make a hole in the garage wall:

Whilst knocking through the wall with my favourite chisel (everyone has a favourite chisel don’t they!?) I lost down the hollow wall space!!! :-O :-(

With the help of some strong magnets and some new-found fishing skills I was able to retrieve it!! 😀

Then I had to wire in some new sockets from the garage consumer unit and a fused spur for the fan:

I had an email alert set up on Gumtree to notify me of darkroom enlargers being listed locally. One morning I woke up to a MEGA deal! Not only did it include some amazing darkroom gear including:

DeVere 54 5×4 enlarger
Paterson 35mm & medium format colour enlarger
Schneider 50mm Componon-S Enlarger Lens
Schneider 80mm 5.6 Enlarger Lens
Schneider 150mm 5.6 Enlarger Lens
Rodenstock – Ysaron 150mm 4.5 Enlarger Lens
All the adapter rings I’d ever need
Negative holders for 35mm up to 5×4
Massive 20×16″ high quality easel and a 15×12″ easel
Baeuerle Electronic Timer Bs782 that can time down to 0.1 seconds
Another Kodak Beehive safe light (I was looking to buy another one!)
120 and 135 contact printers
A few boxes of paper
A million other darkroom related goodies

In addition to the amazing darkroom haul, the deal also included:

Mamiya M645 with 80mm f2.8 lens
Minolta X-700 35mm camera and a bunch of lenses
A selection of Cokin filters
A bunch of expired film & more!

All for the amazing price of just £170. So many of the individual items are worth that much alone!

Here is the haul in the back of the car

And just some of the boxes filled with goodies

Here’s the massive 20×16 easel compared to my 10×8 easel

The Paterson enlarger:

I sparked up the DeVere 54 lamp and all was good:

The timer worked well too

The DeVere 54 was a bit seized but after some careful lubrication and gentle persuasion the head started moving up and down again!

I inserted a 5×4 negative and the 150mm lens and checked that all was working – 5×4 negatives look amazing when projected!

Now back to the darkroom build – I reconfigured things a little bit. I wasn’t planning to plumb the sink in so it was a bit redundant and a waste of space. I removed it and covered the hole. I placed out the 14×11 trays and the much larger 20×16 trays to ensure there was enough space.

It looked like there is enough space for printing up to 20×16 so I was able to cut the work top to size, creating a bit of segregation between the wet and dry sides.

Next step – building the partition! Time for LOTS of wood from Wickes to create the stud wall. I acquired plenty of used 120x80cm plywood to use as walls for free!

The beginnings of the stud wall construction:

Next I had to build a door from scratch. I considered building a sliding ‘pocket door’ but I decided to go for the simpler hinged door.

Painting with black matte paint around the door frame and a little on the floor helps prevent light from creeping in and does the job fine.

I made sure to have some extra height for the rather tall DeVere 54 enlarger:

I got the ventilation hooked up and working:

Another important addition to the darkroom – an old HiFi system!

I managed to acquire another DeVere 54 for cheap. It is in much better condition, it’s newer and it means I have a bunch of spares including the (probably difficult to source) light tube. Neither enlarger included a baseboard so I went about building one and figuring out a way to attach it.

Using the screw-in knob part at the back and some metal to hold the back of the baseboard…

A little countersinking for the screws at the front of the frame…

Job done!

Here is the completed dry side:

And a panoramic view of the entire darkroom in action:

It’s very early days and I’ve only managed around 10 prints but I’ve already seen some results I’m really happy with, like this one:

More darkroom posts to come soon I’m sure! :-)

Great Twitter hashtag: #believeinfilm

My First Pinhole Photograph


Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2013 takes place on the last Sunday of April each year and I plan to take part for the first time on Sunday. I’ve never made a pinhole photograph before and I’ve left it a bit late to dabble in any impressive DIY pinhole construction attempts. But it suddenly dawned on me that we have a paper pinhole camera kit that has yet to be built and that I could use the pinhole on the Speed Graphic by simply taping it to a lens board.

Before committing myself I turned to the brilliant calculator to figure out the variables. But first, following Iain Kendall‘s advice, I scanned the pinhole to determine the diameter of the hole. I left the settings from a previous B&W negative scan (6400dpi) and got the following… this is a 100% crop of the scan:

Pinhole Scan 100% Crop

Using the measuring tool in Photoshop, I measured the diameter of the hole – it was 100 pixels:

Pinhole Scan Measurement

To work out the size of the hole in millimetres required some simple maths:

6400 pixels per inch = 251.968 pixels per mm

100 / 251.968 = 0.3968mm The size of the pinhole!

Now to use the calculator to figure out the other variables. The Speed Graphic takes 5×4 sheet film. In order for the pinhole to provide a sufficient image circle I had to measure the diagonal of a sheet – it turned out to be approximately 150mm. Calculator

Measuring the distance between the film plane and various positions of the front standard I found that a 90mm focal length was almost exactly in line with the front opening of the camera – nice and easy to set in the field without a ruler and it has an optimal diameter of 0.4mm. Perfect! The resulting image diameter is 173mm, enough to cover 5×4 film. The angle of view will be 79.7 degrees, which I believe is like 25mm (on a 35mm camera) so pretty wide angle. Lastly the F Stop is f/227. Everything looked good on paper – the next step was to mount the pinhole and test it out before Sunday!

Mounting the pinhole onto a lens board – I just used some electrical tape and some cardboard behind to add support and fill the gaps.


After mounting the pinhole I pointed the camera at a halogen desk lamp and looked at the ground glass – it worked!

Halogen desklamp through a pinhole

The following day I decided to test the pinhole out on some Fomapan 100 5×4 sheet film. I walked a few metres from our front door and set up the tripod and camera pointing towards the crags in front of our house. Being such a wide angle it wasn’t the most suitable scene really, so I made sure to include a wall for some foreground interest. It would also be interesting to demonstrate the DOF recorded by a pinhole photograph. Below are some pictures showing the camera set up:

Pinhole Photograph in the Making

I used the viewfinder to get a rough idea of the composition. The field of view turned out to be quite similar.IMG_3444

I took a reading with my Sekonic light meter – the wall and grass were showing an reflective reading of f/8, 1/60s @ ISO100. I used a fantastic iPhone app called Pinhole Assist that helps with all aspects of photographing with a pinhole. Plugging in the values from my light meter showed the EV of 12 and the exposure time for f/226 aperture is 13 seconds


Compensating for reciprocity failure of Fomapan 100 meant I had to multiply the exposure time by 8 giving 104 seconds. I rounded this down to 1 minute 40 seconds exposure time.

After developing the sheet in my darkroom garage



Here is the scanned result!

My First Pinhole Photograph

Olympus OM10 + Kentmere 400 on a Wee Walk Down the Road


We went for a wee walk down our road the other day so I decided to try out the Olympus OM10 with Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens and Kentmere 400 film, neither of which I’ve used before.
Olympus OM10 and Kentmere 400 Film

The Kentmere film has an interesting look that I really quite like. In terms of quality it’s certainly no HP5; the grain is quite pronounced but very pleasing (developed in Kodak HC-110 dil.F for 16 minutes). It’s not overly sharp but has very pleasing tones. I look forward to shooting it more!

I was impressed with how the film performed when overexposed. The first five pictures below were shot fairly wide open at f/1.8 – f/2.8 without me considering the maximum shutter speed of the aperture priority OM10, which is 1/1000s. With ISO 400 film, the result was that the frames were being overexposed by around 2 stops. After realising my mistake I starting to stop the lens down much more to around f/11 and sometimes f/16. I didn’t think the first eight frames would make it but after normal development they are just fine (albeit quite dense). They scan OK and I’ll have to wait to see how they perform with the enlarger.

When cutting the film from the reel in the dark tent I wasn’t careful enough. With hindsight I remember not being able to move the frame advance lever by a millimetre after shooting the the last frame – clearly I was at the very end of the roll. I’ll know for next time that I should cut as close to the reel as possible. However, the result is actually quite interesting – a happy accident perhaps? :-)