I have decided to join these two subjects into one. Mainly because I used the 12×20 View camera that I hand made, for most of my wet plate images, I have done. Wet Plate is a great experience! I got really lucky to join two of my good friends in this project. They were extremely dedicated and boy we sure learned a lot. I had already built the camera, so it was our disposal. With the high cost of silver and the learning curve we did most of our learning on a 4×5. Not only did we decide to take on the process, we made all of the components to make it happen. I had always intended to use the 12×20 so we made the silver box and the fixing tank, along with the trays for different size plates, and developing trays.
I remember the first pour of the colloidian. wow!! did we have a long way to go!. The more plates we poured the better we got at it. So as I have geared this blog for other people to learn from, we will use this for a starting point. The best decision we made was to do some research. I came across John Coffer’s website and I couldn’t send for his manual fast enough. There are a lot of great resources out there. Make sure to look at Scully and Osterman. All the supplies are available at Bostick and Sullivan.com. You can also find silver on different sites, make sure you look around and compare prices, you can save a lot of money here.
Back to the process, John Coffer puts out a comprehensive full on guide with all the recipes and technique to get you going in the right direction. It’s all hand written but it’s worth the effort to read. ( he also has videos too)
Make sure to follow the instructions and let it absorb, and then get to it. This is a hands on process so roll up the sleeves and get to it. I find that if your use to digital photography, where you take the picture first and make adjustments in post. Wet plate is just the opposite. you do all the prep and when you take the image and develop and fix it your done. Here is a quick over view of the process. Wet plate is exactly that. The complete process has to be done while the plate is wet If it dries out at any point, the plate is ruined. You usually have about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the temp and humidity. Start with a sheet of glass, black opaque glass, or a black opaque tin plate. Colloidian is a thin syrup made of Colloidian USP grade. either and alcohol(190 proof grain alcohol) and some salts. Next you pour the colloidian on and let it set up. Then off to the Silver bath for about 4 minutes Than under safe light conditions place the plate in the plate holder and off to the camera for an exposure. The process uses UV light and is pretty slow. about ISO 2. I found it easier to guesstimate the exposure, with a little trial and error and leave the meter in the bag. Wet plate reads colors differently, blues show as white and reds as black so it takes a bit to get use to. It will test everything you have ever learned so there is a bit of the learning curve. After the exposure is made than it has to be developed, this can be a tricky 15 seconds in the process and needs close attention. The the plate needs to be rinsed and then fixed, then in for a final rinse. Than the plate has to be dried and finally varnished. After the varnish dries it”s all finished and can be mounted and framed. Wet Plate is a one off process and trust me if you can ever make two plates look the same you are a true miracle worker. If I can help just message me and I can get you going in the right direction.
Here are just a few of my custom view camera’s. I have built a 20×24 but it was early in my camera building and I have surely gathered a lot of great information since then. I made a 12×20 or what I called my half frame camera, and I really loved the camera and used it a lot for both negatives and plates. I built a 12 x18 for my friend Cyndi DiMicco . Do a search online she has a lot of cool stuff. She did wet plate for her masters project and it really turned out great. I can tell you that I got her started, but she would be the first to tell you that she learned a lot on her own and it is due to developing a great deal of patience,
I was also lucky enough to come in contact with Daniel Carillo. He is based in Seattle and does some great work in Wet plate and Dags. Definitely worth some research.
I think Wet Plate and custom Camera work is great investment in the craft. It takes a certain individual to pull it off. But remember your not in it alone don’t ever forget to ask for help.
I have spent a great deal of time building a conversion back for a Polaroid 110. I always had a desire to build a full functioning 4×5 from that design, but the 110 is really limited on space. After all the trials and errors this is what I have come up with. Bare in mind that this camera has been changed at least 10 times so it is quite the guinea pig. So it’s a little ruff looking. But it functions very nicely. Actually lighter and more rigid than the 110. I have aspirations of building this design in a big format. To see how much weight I can reduce and how strong I could build it. I still would modify it further reducing the movements to the front and making the back rigid. I also would design the back like I did my 12×18. This will reduce the weight significantly and it would be strong and quite rigid. One of the biggest tasks that I have had trouble with is the rail. This eliminates that issue and makes it strong. I bought a small ball tripod head and adapted it to the front lens board it simplifies all the movements required. On the bigger version I have already designed a rise and fall mechanism. I enjoy building cameras, it is a huge challenge. I also like talking to other builders to see what they are doing to combat the obstacles at hand. There is truly no rules here. and 100 different ways to get from point A to point B. Any comments are always welcome. David