Wet Plate Collodion-Process & Chemistry

Symposium “Breekbaar Bezit” FoMu Antwerp – 28 & 29 Nov 2013

After much anticipation the symposium “Breekbaar Bezit” became present. I travelled to Antwerp on Wednesday afternoon to beat the traffic, the dark and be there in time because it was an early start Thursday. I hooked up with Jeroen de Wijs who was prepping the collodion demo during that symposium and together with Michel Vaerewijck, another collodion-freak, we enjoyed a great dinner at the Fiskebar. I will shortly layout the events, lectures etc. planned on those two days and who presented them. In short: they were a FANTASTIC two days!

Thursday 28 Nov

  • Registration and coffee
  • The history of glass production, making and composition of glass – Lecture by Olivier Schalm – Chemist
  • History of glass in photography – Lecture by Katherine Whitman
  • Photographic techniques on glass incl. retouching and coatings – Lecture by Herman Maes


  • Albumin negatives by Vai van den Heiligenberg
  • Wet / Dry Collodion glass negatives by Jeroen de Wijs

Coffee break

  • Digitising glass plate negatives: standards, guidelines and targets – Lecture by Hans Meesters
  • Handling and packing of photography on glass – Presentation by Andy Smith
  • “Red een portret” project of archiving glass negatives from Studio Merkelbach Amsterdam – by Ellen Fleurbaay

By the end of the day our heads were full of interesting information and our poor bellies were empty. Fortunately for us Antwerp is situated in Belgium and they sure now how to properly deal with food (in Maastricht “Burgundian” is merely a marketing strategy whereas in Belgium it is true culture). On recommendation by a colleague I reserved a table at “Gigi Il Bullo”, a pretty loved Italian restaurant; it was a wonderful evening!

Friday 29 Nov

  • Registration and coffee
  • Case study restoration internegative on glass from Abraham Lincoln in 26 pieces – Lecture by Katherine Whitman
  • Instable emulsions, conservation, damages on glass plate negatives – Lecture by Clara von Waldthausen
  • Research on silvering and damaging on glass plate negatives – Lecture by Eva Grieten


  • Case study transportation photographic materials on glass – Lecture by Conrad Willems
  • Reeves Photo Studio, Lewes (UK) – Lecture by Brigitte Lardinois
  • Digitising photographic collections on glass – Lecture by Henk Vanstappen

Coffee break

  • Daguerreotype cover glass reconstruction – Lecture by Matthias Kuhlenkotter & Martin Jurgens
  • Glass negative project with volunteers at the Felix Archive in Antwerp – Lecture by Werner Pottier
  • Sisters Vlaanderen at thé Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar – Lecture by Thunnis van Oort

The End!

They were a fully packed two days with a lot of interesting information. I hope FoMu will continue to organise such wonderfully hosted events with such a broad content. Kudos to all of you!

photo 1 photo 2

P.s. it’s too bad I don’t have more impression photos of these two days but I recently sold my last digital camera (yeayyy!) and the iPhone does a rather poor job 🙂


Collodion Negatives & Suction Cups

Forgot to mention that in the previous post; the last two shoots I did making clear glass ambrotypes I finally got around using a suction cup for pouring the plates. The clear glass is so thin (it’s leftover glass  from broken frames at work) that when pouring collodion on it while waiter-traying you’d notice the heat of the fingertips leaving clearly visible marks. You can of course use the cantilever method (hold the plate in a corner while pouring) but I find that to be a very uncomfortable manner and with a 4×5″ it leaves you with a relatively large stain in one corner. Suction cup is THE way to go! Anyway, thought I’d share 🙂


P.s. When developing I just use the waiter tray method; so far so good. Perhaps when I’ll change the developer and need a really extended development I’ll get back to using the suction cup because the heat of the fingers might come into play again.

Linhof & Enci Maastricht

My schedule has the finicky habit of changing the very last minute. The plan was to write a blog post last night, go cycling today in the morning somewhere and print the image for the exhibit in Aachen during the rest of the day. Found out on Monday we had a theatre show planned for Tuesday evening…darn. I rescheduled the printing to Monday evening / night, cycling with a friend Tuesday afternoon and go the theatre (cabaret) in the evening. Hmmm what to do with the Tuesday morning…Linhof yeah! I still had everything packed from Sunday, switched a couple of things, reread the Linhof manual, the bits that mattered anyway, and went on a trip this morning.

Seeing that the time would be limited I picked the Enci as a good place to shoot. Been there before in 2011 (see this link), easy parking, easy access, not many people around, close to home and was eager to see how it looked after two years. Nature has found its way; really beautiful there. Unfortunately they made a sort of bar and introduced paid parking (blood suckers) but luckily for us this wasn’t opened and we did not see the parking meter 😉


I chose to work with the darkbox this time as it would work faster with setting up etc. The flashlight I bought to function as a darkroom light with red foil works like a charm! Plenty of light, you can switch it off to save battery life and easy to hang from its detachable hand strap: good purchase! The Jody Ake back works really nicely, the ridge the plate rests on is relatively small and will fall off during printing because of the ridge in the glass plate holder of the enlarger. I had trouble focusing; don’t have a dark cloth for 4×5″ and I really need one outside; the foldable hood from Linhof itself is not good enough, certainly not with an f/14 lens. But, the lens was properly attached this time! 🙂

A fresnel will be one of the next purchases for the Linhof to improve focusing as well. On top of that I focused for the background; the line of trees at the other side of the water but the foreground comes out sharper than the back..? Maybe there was wind on the other side of the water..(35 seconds exposure time)? And I find it hard to ‘read’ the negatives. As in if they come out a little foggy perhaps? Not sure. I still have to adjust developer for them, in the first place to build up more silver on the plate. Did it here by multiplying regular exposure by 3 times and overdeveloping a little.


A first timer this shoot was the use of glycerin to keep the plates wet until I got home to give them a final rinse. I ordered two liters of glycerin and added 2 liters of water to them in a large canister. Left it overnight to properly become one. France mentioned you were supposed to coat the plate with the substance like you do with collodion and it’s supposed to lay on top of the plate. This solution was not thick enough for that so I covered the plates in the boxes to make sure they stayed wet enough. Have to read up on that a little more but it seemed to work out just fine. In the scans I can see some strange cringes in some parts of the plate; have to look with a magnifier to determine if it’s the scan or in the negative. Will report back on this when I do.


I left the plates in there for several hours, around 5 hours even I guess, before I gave them their final rinse. I fixed on the spot after the shoot, placed them in a rinsing bath to get the fixer off and then placed them in these boxes you can see up here and covered them with glycerin. When I took the plates out at home to rinse them I poured the glycerin back into the stock bottle for re-usage.


Anyway, enough of the boring part..it’s the plates we care about! They are all 4×5″ clear glass ambrotypes shot using a Berthiot Perigraphe 90mm f/14 with an exposure time of 35 seconds.



Not perfect but fun we had and better they will get! Looking forward varnishing them and seeing how they will print. Have a good day! Already excited about my next adventure 🙂

P.s.: the cabaret turned out to be a duo singing their songs for the entire show..right. I took Bart out for Sushi, much better!

Collodion Demo @ Gallery Art.Room Roermond

Yesterday was the day I was preparing for earlier; the wet plate collodion demo @ Art.Room which is currently showing my work. Show runs until the 2nd of October in case you want to give it a look 🙂 It was a great day, met some new people and some of my loved friends. My first ‘model’ of the day was Dr. Christoph Wahl, who not only looks great on collodion, but was also so nice to share some of the images he made that day of the demo and even scanned the wet plate I made of him so all the courtesy goes towards him!

L1002724_blog L1002730_blog L1002735_blog L1002737_blog L1002744_blog


And last but not least…Mr. Wahl himself:


Something funky did happen with the varnish however, seeing that where I poured it first it forms a darker image that towards the outer edges. Not sure where that comes from. Perhaps some alcohol evaporated from the varnish and I should add a little to it…Next time!

Postponing Final Rinse using Glycerin

Glycerin, widely known for usage in pharmaceutics and cosmetic applications such as cough syrups, tooth paste, soap and other skin care products, can also be used in wet plate collodion photography.


When working out in the field KCN is the recommended fixer as it requires a lot less washing time than the safer, more friendly alternative, hypo (sodium thio-sulphate). Apparently I’m very sensitive to the smell of KCN so slowly want to push it out of my workflow. I just don’t feel comfortable using it when I can smell it this badly. But working with hypo on location is not really an option unless you have running water. So……

I remembered a discussion on Facebook where the use of glycerin and or honey was mentioned to keep the plate wet until you arrive home and give the plates their final proper rinse. I just couldn’t remember how it was diluted, ratio, if glycerin or honey was the only compound needed etc. Luckily Facebook is still around and I started a discussion on the topic. That surely cleared things up and here’s what I will be doing (first in the shape of a test, later on the real deal):

* Fix the plates in hypo 20% dilution
* Give it a quick rinse to get the excess fixer off
* Flow the plate with a mixture of glycerin and water, ratio 1:1 (read flow the plate as with collodion, not submerge)
* Stash it in a tray which on its turn is stacked into a black light-tight box
* When I get back home, rinse the shit out of them!

Sounds like THE thing to do! Now, all I need is to find some proper trays, a couple for 10×10″ plates, and a couple for the 4×5″ plates. And of course a black box. The purpose of the glycerin here is that it will adhere to the plate without having to submerge it in a fluid. Saves in weight to drag along and when you would hold the plates in an angle there’s no chance they will (partially) dry out. Not having to lug around 25 litres of water when working on location sounds like a dream, without all that water a weird wet dream, so just a dream 😉

I will first be testing this to make sure the hypo will not affect the plates in any way while waiting to be rinsed. I hope to post results soon and the stuff I used to keep the plates stored in. I’m very happy to have figured this out a little and would like to thank France Scully Osterman, Craig Tuffin, Frank Lopez, Denis Roussel and Andreas Reh for their input!

4×5″ Collodion in the Field? I’m ready for it!

As mentioned before I tried to modify a standard Fidelity Elite 4×5″ film holder I bought together with the Linhof Master Technika. We seriously messed up the holder beyond use haha! The room for manoeuvring just was too small (the tools were too big for the job, whatever) but the plastic just melted while trying to cut out the dividing section to make a plate fit. Mission failed.



But luckily a holder came on my path (thank you Jeroen!) especially made for shooting wet plates and other alternative thingies that fits a 4×5″ film camera. This back is made by In Camera Industries.
“In Camera Industries produces sturdy, functional, industry-specific tools for the in-camera photographer. Born from a need for durability and accessibility, each product is created for the most professional of image makers, with the ease of use for the novice as well. Established in 2011 by photographer Jody Ake.”


This means I can finally start using my new hotty out in the field! Not sure when that will be because the next outside shoot I have planned (2nd of June) will (partially) be on black glass so 8×10″ / 10×10″ plates. BUT, surely the following one will be with my new camera making 4×5″ clear glass ambrotypes solely.

Edit: Someone asked me how the inside of this holder looks, especially the ridge. I made a photo of it and will post it here as well. The ridge that holds the plate is approx. 1mm thick on all sides.


I also intend to use the darkbox again instead of the tent. Makes it a little more compact on location and, most importantly, I will be able to handle it on my own. No need for someone else to close the zipper, set it up etc. I can now travel on my own to make images. The only disadvantage of the darkbox is its size. The inner working space is quite compact and my large silver nitrate box barely fitted in while working in a handy manner at the same time. So, I thought it would be wise to have a smaller silver box made. It would also save in space and weight, needing less silver nitrate and all. I emailed John Brewer who also made the other two boxes I have and fortunately he had one laying around for a max. size of 5×7″. Perfect!



Now, all I need is some proper weather..(un)fortunately no money in the world can buy that 😉

Lastolite Urban Collapsible

I recently received the mask for the mask series and am now working on the concept for this series of images. I have something in mind and today at work I ran into the perfect addition for the photo: the Lastolite Urban Collapsible. I was already thinking of doing something with different backdrops, maybe even paint one myself, but this looked like a great way to start. It’s collapsible so portable, easy to store, easy to get out etc. These backdrops come in 4 different combinations, each one has two different sides to them. I chose the “Rusty Metal” and “Plaster Wall” version which, I think, will work very well with Collodion.



The size of the backdrop is 150 x 210 cm which is pretty large. Big enough to fill up the wall of my studio intended for this anyway. Looking forward to using them. I hope to be shooting some plates around Easter (days off at work!).

New Lens: Berthiot Perigraphe Serie VIa 90mm f/14

Seeing that I want to buy a 4×5″ light field camera for making collodion negatives on location, solely landscapes, I also wanted to find a proper landscape lens for it, with a wider angle for that size than my current Steinheil which is a 150mm, and so that I can keep that Steinheil on my 10×10″ camera. Not many have been made for that size but Jeroen pointed me towards Berthiot Perigraphe lenses on Ebay. Extremely small with a proper angle at 4×5″. I found one, placed a bid and am now awaiting its arrival!

A, like new, Berthiot Perigraphe Serie VIa 90mm f/14. Not fast with its f/14 but during the summer I have to stop my Steinheil down to at least f/11 to get a shutter speed of a couple of seconds which I need to remove and put back the lens cap for the exposure. It’s supposed to be really sharp so I’m looking forward to this little gem. At f/14 the light for focusing will be rather little but with the help of a focusing cloth (and landscapes, I mean, who gives a damn up to infinity) I should be fine.


There are (probably the older versions) brass-colored models of this lens available on Ebay but this one looked so immaculate with pristine glass I just had to jump the gun. Not sure if the glass is coated though, I’ll find out soon I guess. If present, on such a disturbing level, I’ll just sell this one and buy an older version. Anyway, looking forward to it! My last lens purchase is quite a while back. Oh, and not giving a rats ass about the overly popular swirly Petzval effect keeps my wallet from complaining 😉

For those wanting to read a little more background on these French lenses check the following links:
Collection Appareils

“The Mask Series” – Wet Plate Collodion International Collaboration


At the end of 2012 I joined the project “The Mask Series”, an initiative started by Shane Balkowitsch, which is an international collaboration of artists working with the wet plate collodion process photographing the same object, in this case, a Czech M10 gas mask (see image above).

The Goal:
The goal for this series is to raise awareness of the historic wet plate technique as an art form.  This will allow artists that normally do not have a chance to share their work to participate in a collaborated effort with other artists from around the world.  The ultimate goal is to have the collection shown in a gallery as a complete body of work or have it published in a book.

The Prop:
The prop that must be used in each image is a vintage Czech M10 gas mask.  This ambiguous prop from decades ago is perfect for this series.  It levels the playing field for each artist.  It also highlights and allows the perspective, composition and personal taste of the artist to be the focus.  Some artists may find it an inspiration, while others may view it to be a crutch or hindrance.  The end result will be the unique vision of each individual artist.
Gas masks have historically been used to protect people and citizens usually in times of war.  In other situations a mask can be used to hide the identity of its wearer.  The gas mask is also very symbolic to the wet plate process since many hazardous and caustic chemicals are used during the development of the images and most wet plate studios use gas masks on a daily basis.  This type of vintage gas mask also has a presence and cannot be easily ignored.  If the prop used for this process was a shirt or hat for instance, someone may not draw a line from one artist image to another’s.  With the gas mask, the viewer will quickly realize the common thread amongst the pieces of work, and can then identify and understand the purpose of the collection.

If you have any questions, comments or want to participate as an artist, please contact:
Shane Balkowitsch
Nostalgic Glass
4419 Centurion Dr.
Bismarck, ND 58504 USA
Phone: (701)223-9936

Or check his website about the project.

Basic Collodion Technique: Ambrotype & Tintype

A while back I bought the manual Basic Collodion Technique: Ambrotype & Tintype written by Mark Osterman and his wife France Scully Osterman. It was not until the past few days I came around to reading it. What a comprehensive manual! Sure, it says basic in the title but it’s even a very decent and (to me) very clarifying guide for people working with the process for a couple of years now. I am really glad I’ve bought it and am very much looking forward to the Complete Collodion Guide they have been working on for the past few years. I hope it won’t be too long before it will be finished (hint hint 🙂 )

If you’re also interested in ordering this shoot France an email:
sculloster [at] gmail [dot] com

56 pages where the process gets explained, the chemistry necessary, formulas to work with but most importantly what exactly these ingredients do, how they relate to each other and how to adjust them accordingly when deemed necessary. That part makes this an extremely valuable manual; to really understand what the compounds of let’s say the developer do. That, and proper exposure, determine the outcome in a far greater way than what sort of collodion you’ll be using. Have fun!