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Mark the Menace: Wet Plate Collodion | by Ivan Sohrakoff
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Mark the Menace: Wet Plate Collodion

Mark is not actually a menace, although he did a great job of portraying one! Wet plate collodion has a way of making even the nicest people look menacing, and I think this has to do with the fact that only UV light (no reds or yellows) is recorded on the plate. The three-second exposure also made for a serious portrait.


Thanks to Mark for all his patience, and for bringing the barrel-aged Old Rasputin XIV Imperial Stout for a nice pairing with our waffle breakfast!


8x10 wet plate collodion ambrotype (scanned on a flatbed scanner)

3-second exposure

11.25" Voigtlander Petzval lens from 1857 (wide open at F4.6)

Kodak Master View 8x10 camera




About Wet Plate Collodion:


Wet plate collodion is a 19th-century photographic process invented in 1851. It was the third photographic process (Daguerreotype was the first, Calotype was the second), and used throughout the civil war. Wet plate collodion was the most popular form of photography from the 1850's into the 1870's.


Wet plate collodion is a process of hand-coating a plate of glass or metal with salted collodion and then sensitizing the plate in a solution of silver nitrate, making the plate light sensitive. The plate is then transferred (in a darkroom) to a light-tight holder, and then to a nearby camera while still wet. The image is exposed using a view camera (of any size). Exposures need a lot of light, and the plate is only sensitive to UV light (no reds or yellows) and has an ISO of less than 1 (yes, one).


After exposure, the holder is taken into a darkroom, the plate removed, and a developing solution poured over the plate. It is then hand developed, stopped, and rinsed. At this point, the plate can be taken out of the darkoom. The image appears as a negative until a fixing agent poured over the plate turns it into a positive. For an ambrotype (wet plate collodion on glass), the silver is a creamy color, so the image appears as a negative if viewed against a bright white and a positive if viewed with a black background. Ambrotypes can be made specifically for use as glass negatives as well (for contact printing). For a tintype (on metal), the plate is pre-coated with a black background, and the final collodion image appears as a positive. The final step of the process is varnishing the plate to protect the silver from tarnishing.

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Taken on July 15, 2012