The Wet Plate Collodion Process

[music playing]
>>>Collodion photography is both difficult and somewhat dangerous to do. It was invented
in 1851 by the Englishmen Frederick Scott Archer who has looking for a process that
could produce fine detail and negatives. It was one of the first photographic processes
invented. Cutting the glass. I use both black glass
and clear glass in the process. I use clear glass for negatives and black glass for positives.
I shoot everything from 11 x 14 to quarter plate.
Deburring the glass. You need to do this so you don’t get cuts on your hands because
of the cyanide used in the process. It also gives a ridge to hold the emulsion or the
film. Cleaning the glass. Although this step isn’t
very flattering, it’s extremely important. If the glass isn’t cleaned well the emulsion
or collodion will peel from the plate. Flowing the plate. This step is where you
actually pour the collodion onto the glass plate. It’s very technique driven. It takes
a lot of practice to do it correctly. The technique used here will determine if your
plate is smooth and ridge free and will determine how many defects or imperfections you have
in the plate. Sensitizing the plate. When the collodion
has reached a set point, the plate is dropped into a bath of silver nitrate for three to
four minutes. Exposing the plate. Exposure in wet paint
photography range from a few seconds to several minutes depending on the lighting, the chemistry
and what the photographer wants the image to look like.
Developing the plate. It only takes fifteen to twenty seconds to develop the plate but
you need to know what you’re looking for so you don’t overdevelop or under develop.
Fixing the plate. I use potassium cyanide to fix the images. I let the sitter wash from
a bluish negative to a warm positive ambro type.
Last year I bought a 1990 Dodge Caravan and put a dark room in the back of it. This has
allowed me to take wet-plate on the road and do portraits outside of my studio. While this
is exciting, it presents a whole new set of challenges for me and makes me appreciate
the photographers of the nineteenth century even more. The biggest challenge I have is
the technical aspects of the process. I have no running water and it’s much more difficult
to control the light when I’m not in my studio. But when it’s successful, it can
be very rewarding.

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91 thoughts on “The Wet Plate Collodion Process

  1. fascinating!

    I have some old glass slides that perhaps were made with similar process.

    from what I understand they were used with a projector to be shown on a wall or early screen.

  2. Great video, I really like the look of wet plate prints. do you use albumen POP for the paper positives or just strictly ambrotypes?
    too bad Son House is not with us anymore, as his portrait in wet plate would look very fitting.
    good slide work by the way.
    thank you for posting this.

  3. I like the use of the stand to register/hold the subjects head in focus 😉 much simpler than my ideas for a rotating laser !

  4. Thanks for your video. I would love to see your work in person. Do you have any displayed nationally? I have seen some originals from the late 1800's and they are faded but your work is rich and full of detail.

  5. Good work man. I just figured out how to get an almost exact daguerreotype "look" using multiple programs on my digital files. They're pretty sweet. I'm getting images that look like that book Bob Holman and Chuck Close collaborated on.

  6. That is absolutely fantastic. I'm writing a conference paper on John Thompson's photographs of Victorian London Street Life and your video just brought it all together for me, in terms of what Thompson was actually doing. You are extremely talented, and this video was very helpful (and brief enough for busy students). Thank you, 5/5!!

  7. Hi,
    Awesome video! I have been wanting to do this for a long time, but just don't know where to begin. What type of camera would you recommend? Can these cameras be used for wet collodion as well as film? Where do I buy the necessary chemicals? Thanks!

  8. Wow… The end result was fantastic. I'm doing research on this for my Modern Art History class, and I had never scene this process done before. It was really informative. Thank you.

  9. Wow! I'm not a photographer, but had to comment on how gorgeous both the finished product is, and the process itself! I'm so happy you are keeping this technique alive!

  10. You, sir, are a genius. Thanks so much for keeping this process alive. I think your work may have made Mathew Brady's chin drop, were he to have ever seen it. I saw some of your work on your website, and I love it!

  11. Good grief, man. These are stunning images. Every collodion shooter in the world should try to emulate you're painstaking appraoch.

  12. I am trying this for the first time tomorrow! I have shot almost entirely digital, and I want to slow down. Any suggestions?

  13. on that last photograph (the old man) how were you able to create that distressed border to the photograph?

  14. I am taking a Photography class, and it is because of the teacher that i am taking a look at your project "youtube video". I totally respect you! You are awesome and bringing history to life! I am sure the inventor of this is looking down on you and is very PROUD OF YOU. I AM VERY PROUD OF YOU~!!!! Keep doing what you love to do. Just do not BURN yourself~!!

  15. Thanks a lot for the explanation! Where can I get more detailed information about this process? Are the chemicals easy to come by? Thanks once again! Keep it up!

  16. hello Quinn, Im blessed to be watching this video because you have really helped me, I want to try his technique because im doing my final major project in college I have tried liquid light in the dark room but never this, please suggest where to buy a starters kit or maybe do a tutorial for beginners.
    Thanks you are an inspiration

  17. Where would one get the bath itself (not the silver nitrate). Did you make yours yourself?

    Also, do you turn the negative into a positive? Meaning everything form start to finish is done on a single black plate. If not, why not use silver gelatin paper for positives?

    Thanks in advance!

  18. Thanks! What I meant by the paper was, that if you contact print the glass negative onto another plate of glass, I didn't understand why you wouldn't use paper.

  19. This is awesome! I'm a photography major but we won't get into ALL (for some reason you can't go to school for 50 years) the alternative processes. Multiple color gum bichromate is about how far we'll get into craziness. I can't wait to have the opportunity to do this a little later, thanks for the vid!

  20. That's cool. I just had a friend move out to Denver, planning a road trip from California one day. Just maybe I'll have to take a look! Thanks

  21. Hi, great vid and thanks for sharing. Can you recommend a vid or book where i can find info on mixing silver nitrate solution from scratch please as buying ready made from USA is extremely expensive with carriage.
    Thanks again for any help.

  22. Thanks. You can find that information in the 19th c manuals. Most of them have it – Towler's Silver Sunbeam, etc.

    I would warn you that it's very dangerous to do that process – danger gas!

  23. Thanks Quinn. Ye i know about creating the silver nitrate crystals with nitric acid, but its what to do with the silver nitrate after (what proportions of deionized water to silver and acid etc, what the gravity is) but thanks again for your reply buddy, all the best.

  24. That's the easy part. 9% Working Silver Nitrate:

    90g of AgNo3
    1 Liter of Distilled Water

    Flow a glass plate with Collodion. Let it sit in the silver bath for at least four hours – you can leave it in overnight (iodizes the bath). After that, you're ready to use it.

  25. Thanks, i can`t believe i thought it would be more difficult! And i heard you need to have nitric? acid as a maintenance top-up?

  26. No, don't add anything. The pH will be around 4, the specific gravity somewhere in the 1.070 – check it all before you start using it – this will give you the baseline to perform maintenance on it later. I have an entire chapter on it in my book. You should consider getting it – it comes with access to online videos, too. Very detailed, very easy to follow, no guess work.

  27. Quinn thats fantastic news you have a book (does it show that i`m new to the scene?) What book is it? I cannot see it on amazon in your name, Once again thanks for all your help.

  28. Hi Richard, you can find it here; I hope you can swing it – it will go a long way both in safety and time.

  29. Hi Quinn, just watched the substratum video, great work. You allude to being in Europe and about where to get supplies in the book, does the book give suppliers in Europe of all the wet plate chemicals? If so i`m sold.

  30. Well Quinn when i get back on Friday i will order your book for sure, and once again i thank you for taking the time to get back to me. Your pedigree is impressive and i look forward greatly to reading your book.
    All the best

  31. Thanks. No joke, potassium cyanide (KCN). It's a 2% solution and it's not for everyone to handle and manage. Professional use only.

  32. I'm not sure what you mean by "assemble the camera"? Over the years, I've used all kinds of cameras. Currently, I'm using an 8×10 Chamonix and a 16×20 Chamonix camera.

  33. You have all my respect! Collodion might represent the future of photography in the next 30 years or so, since the production of negatives is becoming increasingly discontinuous.

  34. Thank you, Francesco – one of the reasons I started working in it over a decade ago. I was sure that the demise of film was close. I'm surprised it taking this long.

  35. I miss my darkroom. Good to know people are keeping traditional photographic methods alive 😉 ☠

  36. Because a stringed instrument is almost like singing, which is difficult to on a computer, plus, it's much faster and easier to play stuff on your own, just like digital photography is. I do love photography also, but I can't imagine going to the studio, dragging that thing along with me, standing in chemicals to do something I could do in photoshop easily. Even though that's not "real" whatever that means.

  37. You just answered your own question. I play music, and I don't use a computer for the reasons you pointed out. I make photographs, I don't use a computer for the reasons you pointed out. It's not a stretch to understand the reason people still spin vinyl or make wet collodion images.

  38. HIGHLY impressed…but I'll stick with photoshop. My dumb ass would probably lick the plate after I'm done.

  39. That is correct. There's a lot that goes into the chemistry before and after, but that's the critical point, converting the salts into halides.

    The collodion is salted with a bromide and iodide. I add more solvents to thin it down (alcohol and ether).

    The plate is immersed into a bath of silver nitrate for 3 – 5 minutes.

    The developer is made of ferrous sulfate, alcohol, glacial acetic acid and water.

    The fix can be KCN or hypo or RF.

    Varnish: Gum Sandarac, alcohol, lavendar oil

  40. It's a good question. The recipes that I use are 19th c. We know that there are tens of thousands of collodion images today that are at least 150 years old. So at least that long.
    I would guess under $200 – make 6x6cm Holga images. Maybe even less.
    I have a book and videos that many, many people have learned from. Of course, a workshop is the best, but a lot of people can't do that. No need for KCN, hypo works fine. visit and take a look. Thanks!

  41. I just discovered wet plate collodion process this morning, when I saw some photos on flickr by a Polish photographer, so I googled the words and came across your video. I must say I am deeply impressed by your work, it is fascinating and so different from nowadays photoshopping of everything. It takes a lot of patience, skills, motivation to keep such techniques alive, thanks to people like you, who make Photography remain Art.

  42. Beautiful. I took a History of Photography class in college, and was blown away by the description of this process. One day I hope to shoot a photo with such methods.

  43. This is amazing! I'd love to try it, but i'm sure it's not easy to come by the necessary materials.

    Why is the process dangerous?

  44. I was told when taking photos on glass you could use clear glass and frame it with black behind it and it would be positive is this true?

  45. Wow! This is really cool! I shoot digital, but still use film on occasion. Nothing like this though…this is real talent!

  46. I came here as I am purchasing a 1871 A. Semmendinger camera (he was my great-great-grandfather and held 4 patents at the time) and want to know more about the wet plate method. Thanks for posting- very informative!

  47. Hi Quinn Jacobson i am an 18 yr old student and i'm making a paper about the wet plate collodion process. I really like to know more about the process. Right know im really confused with wich chemicals you have to use at the beginning of the process, i've found some other video's but they all say different things some of them say you just have to poor collodion on the plate and let it bath in silver nitrate and others are saying something different. Is there any way that i can contact you and that you could like explain every step off the process with wich chemicals i need to use and why. It would really help me a lot.

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