Wet plate collodion was invented in 1851, and until the early 1880’s was the dominant method of photographic image making. The techniques and chemistry that I use are nearly identical to those used by the photographers of that era.
The process is referred to as wet-plate because the entire procedure is executed while the photographic plate is still wet. Work is done in a portable light-proof dark box which contains all of the chemicals and equipment used for preparing and processing the plates. The entire operation is done under red safe-light conditions.
Images are created in-camera, using one of the following supports; clear glass for negatives in the making of albumen prints, black or clear glass for ambrotypes and japanned (enameled) tin or aluminum for “tintypes”.
In preparation, the plate is coated or “poured” with collodion, a clear viscous liquid which forms a thin, tacky layer. After approximately 20 seconds, it is then immersed in an upright bath containing a silver nitrate solution. Several minutes later, the now light-sensitive plate is removed, placed in a holder and taken to the camera for exposure.
When exposure is complete, the plate is removed from the holder and a small amount of acidic developer is poured across it’s surface. After 15 to 20 seconds the image becomes visible and the plate is rinsed in water.
A one minute immersion in a “fixer” bath clears the remaining unexposed silver. An additional water rinse completes the photographic process. Later, when dry, the plate is warmed up and given a coat of clear varnish, increasing it’s durability.
An albumen print is created using hand-coated and sensitized
papers. The image is created when a glass plate negative, in contact with the paper, is exposed to sunlight. This is a “printing-out” process, which means the image is created solely by the action of light, allowing the photographer to witness the development in progress. When the exposure is judged to be complete, the print is run through a series of steps, including gold toning, fixing, hypo clearing and numerous water rinses.