Wet Plate Collodion Photography In The Field … My Dark Box/Room

Wet Plate Collodion Photography requires that:

  • The plates be coated (“flowed”) and sensitized immediately prior to use.
  • The exposure, development, and fixing processes must be completed within 15 minutes of the sensitization. Otherwise, the collodion will dry out rendering the plate a failure.

When working in a studio the 15-minute window for processing is usually not an issue as the darkroom is generally located in close proximity to the studio.

However, when working in the field, the photographer must bring a dark box/room to the location in order to complete the entire  process in the field.

The field dark box/room must be portable, completely light tight, and large enough to allow processing plates in the size selected by the photographer.

There are several commercially available and DIY options for portable field dark box/rooms:

DARKBOXES have two basic designs:

  1. Designed to allow your hands and arms to be inside the darkbox while the photographer sits or stands outside the darkbox in the daylight and looks through a safelight window (usually red rubylith).
  2. Designed to allow the photographer to walk into or sit/stand in front of a three-sided box/cabinet and wrap a very large curtain of darkcloth around the box/cabinet and him/herself creating a light-tight fourth side to the box/cabinet.

XXX-Large film changing bags and bench top sand blasting cabinets have also been repurposed as darkboxes. Typically, the darkbox is set up on a three-legged stand, in the back of an SUV, on the tailgate of a pickup truck, or on a table. DIY wooden darkboxes are very popular … plans & photos are easily found on the web.

DARKROOMS can generally be repurposed vans, box trucks, trailers, camping tents, ice fishing tents, and grow tents with modifications to insure a light tight space.

After exploring these DIY and commercial options on various wet plate collodion web sites and forums I decided that a grow tent would be the best choice for me because I wanted to be able to be IN the space, move around, stand up, and sit down.  I did NOT want to reach into a box to work.

I chose the CoolGrows grow tent for its’ size, portability, price, and ease of set up.

Size:  4 feet x 4 feet x 7 feet 8 inches

Weight:  26.5 pounds

Set up time:  15 minutes

Price:  $91.00

My portable darkroom is large enough for me to use a 4×2 foot folding table inside giving me almost the same working area that I use in my home-based darkroom. Plenty of room without bumping into the walls when moving around. High enough with a flat roof so that I can easily stand anywhere in the tent and hang my safelight from the ceiling. All my chemicals, cooler (when needed), wash water, and waste container for liquids to be carried home for disposal, store easily under the table.

Drew Wagner

 

 

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