What Equipment Do I Need for Wet Plate and/or Dry Plate Photography?

We are in the midst of a resurgence of many alternative photographic processes. These processes date back to the mid-19th century and are capable of producing exceptionally fine prints. This post deals specifically with wet plate and dry plate processes and answers the question: “What equipment do I need for wet plate and/or dry plate photography”?

CAMERAS: The good news is that you do not need to purchase a special camera for wet/dry plate work. You can use just about any modern or vintage camera that accepts modern or vintage film/plate holders.

PLATE/FILM HOLDERS: You need a new or used modern plate holder, a vintage plate holder, or a modern film holder modified for plates.

COLLODION WET PLATES: Since collodion wet plates are no longer commercially manufactured you will be coating your plates. This applies to tintypes, ambrotypes on glass, and glass negatives. You can cut the plates to whatever size fits your holder.

DRY PLATES: You can purchase ready-made dry plates or coat your own. If you are purchasing ready-made the plate sizes will be determined by the manufacturer. J. Lane Dry Plates provides many standard sizes and will build to order many sizes. If you are coating your dry plates you can cut the plates to whatever size fits your holder.

MODIFYING A DOUBLE DARK SLIDE FILM HOLDER THAT FITS YOUR CAMERA: Modifying an existing double dark slide film holder is a great option that will save you $200 – $400, vs. buying new, depending on size and supplier. Double dark slide film holders with a METAL septum work best. I have used Fidelity with great success. The modification took me less than 90 minutes. If you want to modify a double dark slide film holder but do not want to DiY or do not have the time or tools required, Lund Photographic can do it for you. I cut my first two and Lund modified two more for me. All four work great. There are many tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere on the web so I will not go into details here.

BE AWARE OF TWO LIMITATIONS WHEN MODIFYING A MODERN DOUBLE DARK SLIDE FILM HOLDER: Only one side of the double dark slide film holder can be used for the plate. (One side is used for loading the holder the other side is for exposure.)  The plate size must be ¼ inch smaller on each of the four sides to allow for the installation of corner brackets to hold the plate in the proper position. So, a modified 8×10 double dark slide film holder can take a maximum plate size of 7.5×9.5 inches.

Lund Photographics      Film holder modifications

Pictoriographica            J. Lane Dry Plates

Pictoriographica            Double Sided Dry Plate Holders

The Light Farm              Dry plate coating

Drew Wagner

Global Darkroom Printing Survey

On March 11, 2020, Ilford Photo posted the results of their “Global Analogue Film Photography Community Survey”.  5,439 photographers from 87 countries responded.

Ilford Photo concluded, in part, that  “While new generations of film shooters may not yet have embraced the darkroom as they have film shooting or home processing, we firmly believe that printing is an integral part of photography and is as fun and rewarding an experience as all that comes before it. The data shows the tangible aspect of darkroom printing, not least getting people away from a screen to create something meaningful with their hands, is appealing but it is clear obstacles do exist. Time, expense, space, knowledge, and equipment all play their part.”

Please visit the Ilford web site for results of the entire survey.    http://www.ilfordphoto.com

 

UV Light Box for Albumen Printing

When acquiring my 8×10 View Camera a few years ago I did so with the intention to make contact prints using modern and, down the road, historical processes.

At the time I did not know much about the techniques and materials of historical processes but I loved the tonality and detail of the prints that I had seen in exhibitions and books. After thoroughly researching, I found the connection to historical processes , particularly Albumen Printing, quite fascinating.

Historically, most Albumen prints have been made from dry and wet glass plate negatives. Since I had never made dry or wet glass plate negatives, my initial plan was to make Albumen contact prints from the same film negatives that I would be using for silver chloride contact prints.

Since Albumen coated and silver sensitized printing paper is no longer commercially available it must be hand-made using artists’ paper which is then coated with Albumen and light sensitive silver nitrate using historical or modern recipes. (Albumen paper coating and sensitizing is an exhaustive subject by itself and will be covered in a future entry.)

From the beginning of photography the sun has been the source of light to enable a negative to be printed as a positive. The UV and blue wavelengths in sunlight were essential to printing glass negatives on Albumen paper.

Although I truly enjoyed using the sun as my light source and making this connection to the photographers from the 1850 – 1900 period, the inconsistent and unpredictable nature of the sun was a challenge to me. Printing only on sunny days, at specific times during the day (11AM – 1PM = best UV light), and with light levels changing from season to season, was technically challenging. Additionally, I like to work in the darkroom at night which was not possible!

I researched the internet for photography web sites, forums, and videos to learn about light boxes for historical printing processes and found a wealth of information for purchasing commercially available “off the shelf” light boxes as well as descriptions of and plans for DIY light boxes.

Research showed that specific wavelengths of light were required for different historical printing processes as the light sensitivity of the various chemicals utilized were different.

  • I decided that a DIY light box would be the best fit for me. The options were many:
    • Fluorescent Tubes: BL, BLB, and SA
    • H.I.D.: Mercury Vapor, Metal Halide
    • LED
    • Tanning Lights / Tanning Beds
    • UV Grow Lights
    • Reptile Aquarium Lights

After a lot of reading and interaction with web and Forum members who had already built their own light boxes, I decided to build a UV Printer using BLB fluorescent bulbs. I chose BLB bulbs because I did not want LED/ Tanning/Grow/Aquarium bulbs and BLB bulbs were lower cost than BL bulbs.

  • Below are a few details of my build:
    • Overall Size: 28in.W x 25in.D x 18in.H
    • Bulb Specs: Twelve 15W T8 BLB tubes 18in.L x 1in.W
    • Cooling: Two “computer” fans
    • Reflective interior walls: Silver foil tape
    • Accepts my 11×14 contact printing frames with room to spare
    • Average print time with the box: 10-18 minutes
    • Average print time with the sun: 6-12 minutes

Stay in touch for my next blog ……. DIY modification of a standard film holder for use with dry & wet glass plates.

Drew Wagner