RUS
Alexey Alexeev Photography (Ambrotypes, Tintypes, Wet-Plate Collodion)

Wet-Plate Collodion Process. Ambrotype


Wet-Plate Collodion Process. Ambrotype

Introduction

Wet-Plate process was invented by, an English sculptor and photographer, Frederic Scott Archer in 1851. He experimented with collodion in the hope of producing a photographic negative on ordinary glass plates. He also found that underexposed very thin negative looks like good positive being placed on a black background. Such photographs on glass with black paint on one side called ambrotypes and on metal with black varnish called tintype (or Ferrotype). The process is rather simple: bromide and iodide salts dissolved in collodion, which is a solution of pyroxylin in alcohol and ether. This mixture poured onto a cleaned glass plate, and allowed to sit for a few seconds. The plate then placed into a solution of silver nitrate in water, which would convert the iodide, bromide salts to silver iodide, bromide, respectively. Once this reaction complete, the plate removed from the silver nitrate solution, and exposed in a camera while still wet. It developed with a solution of iron sulfate, acetic acid and alcohol in water. Then plate fixed with sodium thiosulfate. After that the plate washed with tap water. Finally it protected with gum sandarac varnish.

Part 1. Chemistry

Photographic Collodion

You need:

Hardware:

Chemistry:

Chemistry to prepare photographic collodion

WARNING! Use only glass bottles and measures for Ether and collodion. You have to use lab hood or work outdoor. Collodion and Ether is flammable. Ether is self-explosive. Work with great care.


Formula

Photographic Collodion

Part A
Plain Collodion 4-6%   

Part B
Alcohol 190 Proof
Ether


— 300 ml


— 200 ml
— 100 ml



Take 300 ml of Plain Collodion. Add 100 ml of Ethyl Ether and finally fill with 200 ml of Alcohol 190 Proof (95o) 

Photographic Collodion has very long shelf life but you should store it in a brown glass bottle in dark cold place.

Salted Collodion

Part A
Photographic Collodion

Part B

Distilled water
Cadmium Bromide

Part C
Distilled water
Potassium Iodide


— 280 ml


— 3 ml
— 1.5 g


— 3 ml
— 2 g



First you should prepare "Part B" and "Part C". Take needed amount of salt and fully dissolve in a water.
Then measure photographic collodion (Part A) and pour into bottle.
Add "Part B" then shake well for a minute and add "Part C" and shake one more time.

Raght after shaking collodion became milky - this is normal. Let stand it on a window for a week or two. After that period collodion became clear and will work well. You should decatenate it from sediment then.

Silver Bath

You need:

Hardware and tools:

Chemistry:

Prepare Silver nitrate solution

Formula

Silver Bath

Part A
Distilled Water
Silver Nitrate

Part B
Distilled water


— 800 ml
— 100 g


— up to 1 l

Measure 100 g of silver nitrate and add it to 800 ml of distilled water. Dissolve it. Add distilled water up to 1000 ml. Then filer solution.

You should store Silver nitrate solution in a cold dark place in brown or black glass or plastic bottle. You should filter the solution from time to time.

WARNING: Wear goggles and gloves to work with silver nitrate.

Right after you make a fresh solution of silver nitrate you should stabilize it by put a plate with a salted collodion layer overnight. After this step you should work with this solution only under safe light.

Check specific gravity with help of the hydrometerFrom time to time you should maintain your silver nitrate solution. For this procedure prepare big clear glass jar and pour entire solution in it. Set on a window under direct sunlight for a week or two. Filter solution twice after that step.

Then you should check specific gravity with help of the hydrometer. Specific Gravity should be 1065-1080. If less then add silver nitrate if more then add distilled water

Repeat stabilize step as for a fresh solution.



Developer 

Components to prepare developer: Developer for ambrotypes

Tools:

Chemistry:

Formula

Filtering developer

Sugar Developer

Distilled water
Ferrous Sulphate
Sugar
Glacial Acetic Acid
Alcohol 190 Proof

— 200 ml
— 10 g
— 12 g
— 8 ml
— 8 ml

Mix everithing in the order mention above. Then filter solution into stored bottle.


Fixer

Components:

Tools:

Cemistry:

Formula

Plain Fixer

Part A
Distilled water
Sodium Thiosulphate

Part B
Distilled water


— 800 ml
— 200 g


— up to 1 l

Measure 200g of sodium thiosulphate and put into 800 ml of distilled water, then mix well. After fully dissolved add water to make 1 liter.

Preparing fixer

Varnish

Components:

Tools:

Chemistry:

Formula

Varnish

Sandarac
Alcohol
Lavender oil

— 57 g
— 415 ml
— 47 ml

Mix all ingredients in glass jar, close the lid and set aside for a couple of days. It's best to shake jar from time to time.
After sandarac successfully dissolved Filter varnish three times.


Varnish has almost indefinite shelf life. Store it in a cold dark place. Filter varnish from time to time.

Preparing varnish


Part 2. Cameras, Lenses and Tools

Camera and Lenses

You have to find any Large Format camera for start to make ambrotypes. This can be either old wood or modern metal camera. But before buying a camera you should know that the size is fixed and you could not make a plate larger than the size of the camera, for example if a camera is 8×10” your maximum ambrotype will be 8×10” and not large. We use rather modern cameras: metal Calumet and wood Burk and James..

Modern camera has a lot of movements. This helps to manipulate with a DOF and focus.

Actually you can use all lenses for large format camera. Just remember that to focusing on infinity you need a bellows length equal focus length of your lens. But to focus closure you need longer bellows.

Large format camera Calumet C1 8x10

For a portraits you need bright lens F/3 – F/4 and not less. For this purpose Patzval type lenses a very useful: Darlot, Dallmeyer, Hermagis and so on. For Still-Life and landscapes you can use any lens which you like even modern lenses.

Lenses
First Row: Dallmeyer 3B 11”/3, Dallmeyer 4B 17”/3.8; Second Row: Kodak Commercial Ektar 12”/6.3, Industar 300/4.5

Plate Holder

You also need to obtain a special holder for glass plate. You can buy one or make by yourself. Just cut off a central part of usual film holder and glue plastic corners.


Part 1. Chemistry

Deburring and washing glass plate

Glass plates and washing tools

First of all you need to deburring a glass. Use grindstone for this operation on each edge of the glass. Wash glass plate under tap water with soap or washing liquid after that. Rinse well and place on the drying rack. You can wash a number of plates before photo session.

Cleaning glass plate

This step is very important. You have to remove all grease from the surface. It’s best to use a mixture of alcohol and whiting for this purpose. Use proportion alcohol : whiting : water 1:1:1.

Preparing glass cleaning solution

Pour a small puddle into the center of the glass and rub it with a paper kitchen towels. Then clean glass with the new paper towels. Last step is to rub a surface with the alcohol using one more paper towel. Do not touch the surface which you just cleaned.

Polishing glass plate

Pouring collodion

Pour a good puddle of collodion in the center of the plate. The puddle should be not very large but not very small – about 2 cm from each edge of glass.

Pouring collodion

Then you should spread the collodion by each corner and pour off excess from the last covered corner into bottle.After pour of last drop of collodion you have to place a plate in vertical position lower the pour off corner and rotate. You need to rotate a plate to avoid a lot of parallel lines on a plate.

Right after you should wait a little about 20-30 seconds. Collodion should “set”. Check it by tap the plate from a corner. Your finger should leave a park on collodion but collodion has not to be moisture your finger. Right after that you should place the plate into sensitizing bath for 3-4 minutes.

Pouring off excess collodion

Sensitizing plate and load it

Work in a darkroom under safelight.

You should put a plate with collodion layer in sensitizing bath with silver nitrate solution right after collodion has been set. Sensitizing is sufficient when the silver nitrate flows off the surface of the plate uniformly without beading or forming irregular rivulets. Upon sufficient sensitization, the originally transparent collodion film will take on an opaque creamy appearance. Remove the sensitized plate from the silver bath. Wipe off the reverse carefully to remove excess fluid. Hold plate by one corner in vertical position. Use paper towel for this operation.

Wipe of the back side of the plate

Load a plate into special plate holder.

Load a plate into special plate holder

Exposing the plate

Load the holder into camera and make exposure. Exposure times depend on light type, light intensity, object, lens, etc. Usually for portraits we want to obtain 3-10 seconds. Collodion is blue light sensitive. It means that you need a strong day light or blue light. You can use Sun or a bunk of special big fluorescent energy savings lamps.

Here is an example of making a portrait in studio. It’s helpful to use a special tool for portraits known as “Posing Stand” or “Head Rest”. This is a iron tool with massive and heavy base which allow to fix a head of a sitter.

Построение кадра. Установка света

Check focus, light and focus for the last time.

Final focsing

You may use lens cap or hat instead of shutter on long exposures.

Development

Back to the dark room right after exposure was made.

Preparing developer

Hold a plate in one hand by a corner and pour a small amount of developer on it. You should pour enough developer to cover entire plate but not more. It’s best not to allow developer to pour off from the plate while developing. Rotate the plate and slightly rock it to allow the developer to flow over the plate.

The image starts appears after about 5 seconds. If image come up very early and very quickly it seems that you overexposed and if image come up too slow and too long that means underexposure. Total development time should be about 20 seconds for ambrotypes.

Development of an ambrotype

You should stop development process before shadows appears by pouring tap water onto the plate. Then wash the plate carefully.

Fixing the plate

Place a plate into a tray with the fixer. Gently agitate a tray. This step can be done under normal light. You should fix twice longer than image became clear.

Fixing the plate

Fixing the plate

Fixing the plate

Wash the plate for 15 minutes in a 3 changes of fresh water. Then rinse it with distilled water and place to drying rack.

Varnishing

It’s better to varnish the plate to protect a delicate surface of the collodion image. Warm the plate on alcohol or oil lamp and warm varnish as well. Cover the plate with varnish in the same way as you covered it with the collodion. Drain excess in different bottle. Warm one more time. Be careful and avoid of burning a plate.

Black the back

We have to paint back of the plate with the black color to see the positive picture. We use glossy acrylic paint for this purpose. Cover the back with two layers. Dry it overnight after each layer.