Video: Wet Plate Collodion Demonstration

As part of my ‘portrait theme’ presentation I gave to my local camera club I put together a video demonstrating how I create portraits using the historical wet plate collodion photography technique from the second half of the 19th century.

Here is the resulting image. It’s technically very flawed; it’d been a while since I made a plate and I was distracted by all the video making… but the flaws often add a certain charm to the end result.

5 Responses

  1. David Fox, MD

    Hello, I greatly enjoyed your video ! I do have a question. At the end of the video it appeared that you had created a positive image on the glass. I thought that the collodion process produces a negative, from which an albumin print positive is created. What am I missing here ? Thanks !

    • James

      Thank you, and sorry for my very slow reply – I only just saw your comment in a sea of spam! The collodion process can produce either a positive or negative resulting image. When made on a black material it’s always going to be a positive. With glass you can choose to make a positive or negative. A positive is really a very underexposed negative, which appears as a positive when you have something back behind it. You can see a similar effect with 35mm film negatives too; especially if they are underexposed. Hope that makes sense!

  2. David Fox

    Thanks ! I don’t get it (LOL). It’s no doubt something that would be very clear/intuitive if demonstrated visually. Thanks again. I enjoy your site !

    • James

      I understand; it’s not at all obvious and tricky to describe with words. Here’s another try – [NEGATIVE] the silver that is formed on the plate will block light when you look through a glass plate with a white/bright background. These will be visually dark areas representing the highlights. Where there isn’t any silver you have a ‘void’ and you can see right through the glass to the bright background, representing the shadows. There we have a negative.

      [POSITIVE] Take that same plate and put some black velvet behind it (instead of a bright background) and things change. The areas that have silver formed will reflect light back at you. These visually lighter areas represent the highlights. Where there isn’t any silver (the voids) you can see through the glass to the black velvet, which is dark and represents the shadows. There we have a positive image (from the same plate).

      How good the plate is as a negative or positive depends on the exposure and development time. A negative needs to be more dense to successfully print from and so needs to be exposed and developed for longer. This plate will be a terrible positive.

      I don’t know if that helps explain. That’s the first time I’ve tried to put it into such words… lol

      I’m glad you enjoyed my site, thanks.

  3. Raimo Dahl

    Thanks for the video, It’s always nice to watch wet plate videos. My friend made one video of me doing wet plate some years ago. Anyways, I haven’t seen this before. So now it’s time to watch it.

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