Tin Type Wet Plate Exposure for Collodion

Continuing on from previous journey into the alternative process. I’ve been trying. Rushing home from work to catch the last bit of sunshine from the end of day.  Even though I’m lucky enough to live in Graz with an interesting church straight outside my window, I’ve failed, failed to make a decent image of the awesome red brick church from my living room. Maybe at some point I will make a presentable wet plate image. But for now, it’s time to wait. As I’m restricted to home or more precisely to a darkroom. A darkroom which can’t move or be moved. It is my bathroom. This is the nature and process of this kind of photography from the mid and late 1800’s – the tin types. You start and you must finish. Preparing a wet plate, using it wet, developing it wet. It’s always wet until after it’s fixed, dried and varnished.  This difficulty of making wet plates is part of the charm – the art. I will make the image of the church. The church celebrates its 125th year. It seems the appropriate subject for the medium when the dates are taken into account.  This is the challenge for the next couple of months.


While for now it’s time to figure out more of the basics. As in what the heck exposure should I be using. There isn’t a definite rule for this with wet plate per se. It all depends on the collodion which is applied to the plate. Reading various posts and articles on the web it’s somewhere between 0.5 to 3 ISO. So very insensitive, things work in seconds instead of the typical hundredths of seconds when comparing to a handheld 35mm camera under normal light conditions. What’s normal with wet plate in 2016 ? Nothing, well it was quite normal and innovative in the 1860’s.

Going back to my first two plates which suffered from oyster marks from the metal plate. The metal plate is the adaptor for 9x12cm on the 18x24cm FKD camera. The camera I’m using is from the 1980’s made in Russia. I choose it as it’s inexpensive and robust – solid. It can also be used for sheet film too. I had to modify it a little to accept the Petzval lens. Also I removed a screw to allow the focusing to go a bit further for the lens to focus sharper.  So since using the bigger aluminium black plates (modern day tin types), 18×24 I didn’t see any oyster marks – the white querllies on the plate. So the metal plate adaptor for 9x12cm was to blame (not of course the photographer who forgot to clean off the excess silver solution from the edges and back of plate – no, no – he’s perfect without fault!) I had chosen to use the larger plate to photograph the church outside of the window from our home. Unfortunately my exposure time was too short, to be honest a complete palava. But I guess one shouldn’t be too hard on oneself when starting out with collodion. No wonder there’s a web site called Collodion Bastards – is it the process ? or folks involved in the process? Either way the name is apt.


So I decided to set up a still life instead. To determine some kind of benchmark for exposure under controlled conditions. So no better place than the kitchen was chosen. Along with various paraphernalia and objeda. To achieve different shapes, colours and textures. I managed a rapid three wet plates over a 4 hour period!  Of course each time changing my composition of my still life. Not sticking to rules – as usual. That’s me I guess. All in all between set up, preparation, development and cleaning up afterwards it was most of late Saturday morning and afternoon. The time ran by, so I guess it must have been fun!

Here below is the setup of objects from the kitchen counter to make up the still life.


And here is one of the final wet plates. Which yes, I’m happy with. Full of errors and mistakes galore. But hey I’m learning and that’s what it’s about.

Still Life in the Kitchen on collodion, Ilford Fixer 24 seconds

Still Life in the Kitchen on collodion, Ilford Fixer 24 seconds

This is my exposure test plate with various bands to illustrate and find the best suitable exposure time. So far I believe it to be 24 seconds or 12 seconds. So I have even screwed that bit up too. But I’m narrowing it down!  Remember it’s fun, I keep telling myself!

Exposure test for collodion 8,16,24,32 seconds - Collodion Fixer

Exposure test for collodion 8,16,24,32 seconds – Collodion Fixer

Yep, here’s an interesting view from the back of the FKD camera below. USSR finest quality communist wooden box camera from the time (mmh not sure on that, but it’s solid enough)

FKD View Camera 18x24 in landscape format, ground glass

FKD View Camera 18×24 in landscape format, ground glass

Using a light meter, well I’m not sure if it’s worth a curse. But anyway set to ISO 3. The lowest available setting the little black meter would go down to. It’s measured a very optimistic two seconds for 5.6 aperture. I don’t believe it. I’m sticking to between 12 and 24 seconds myself!

Polaris Light meter at ISO 3

Polaris Light meter at ISO 3

Here it is the silver nitrate box and various bits.  Plastic gloves and kitchen towel is essential by the way. Wiping gently the excess silver nitrate from the edges and back of the plate improves the developing process as I stated above.While also prevents dips and staining of the bath! Also using gloves the right size helps too. Notice the silver nitrate marks on my wrist – Doh!

Darkroom setup - Bathroom - Silver bath

Darkroom setup – Bathroom – Silver bath

My set in the bathtub. Would mention at this point don’t get the excess silver from developing onto the surface of the bath. It probably doesn’t come off for at least a long while. Our bath is old anyway, but I’m still careful not to splash or spill when developing. This will all change when my darkbox is finished. I’ve made one out of two ikea moving box but haven’t used it yet. I have a wooden one planned. First things first – sort out the process, exposure, development and fixing.

Darkroom setup - Bathroom - Workflow for development

Darkroom setup – Bathroom – Workflow for development

I believe pouring the collodion on to plate, I’ve improved greatly on this. With a more even and constant kind of flow. It’s tricky but if you’re slow and patient it works.

Collodion applied to 18x24 plate

Collodion applied to 18×24 plate

That was Saturday’s achievement. Time to book workshop and get further ahead.




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