Wet Plate Collodion
Wet plate collodion was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. It gained popularity over its predecessors, the calotype and daguerreotype, due to its superior capture of details. It was commonly used to create negatives on glass which were printed onto albumen paper, creating the most detailed images possible at the time. It remained popular until the late 1800s when processes allowing negative enlargement and easier use outside of the darkroom were developed. Wet plate collodion grew in popularity in the early 2000s as portrait studios and artists used the medium to explore alternative ways of creating unique, photographic objects.*
What is it?
Wet plate collodion has three primary components. The “plate” is a substrate that carries the light sensitive emulsion. The collodion is a mixture of iodides, bromides, ether, and alcohol which becomes light sensitive when silver nitrate is added. It is most sensitive to light when it is wet, necessitating a darkroom at the time of photography so all the steps of creating the final image can be accomplished before the plate dries.
Once the plate is sensitized with collodion and silver nitrate it is place in the back of a camera to capture an image. The resulting plate is the final result and is a one-of-a-kind object. Cameras for wet plate photography tend to be large in order to produce a sizeable plate.
Tintypes vs Ambrotypes
Tintypes use metal as the substrate in wet plate collodion photography. The black surface of the metal makes the final image appear as a positive instead of a negative. It is a unique, one-of-a-kind plate that cannot be reproduced in the way that multiple prints can be made from a single negative.
Ambrotypes use glass as the substrate. If the glass is clear then the image appears as a negative. The plate can be used as such for printing, or it can be backed by a black paint (called japanning) or other dark backing to appear as a positive. You can use colored glass as a substrate creating unique and interesting scenes in different hues.
David Hyams, master printer and our co-founder, has spent his career understanding the chemistry behind this process, controlling variations, and using different techniques to make wet plates from digital images. Some of our capabilities include:
Wet plate portrait sessions
If you are interested in a photographic experience then book a portrait session. We offer both tintypes and ambrotypes (colored glass upon request) and multiple sizes. This is a particularly wonderful way to mark a special occasion such as a wedding.
We can take your digital images and transform them into precious objects that have a timeless quality. The size of the final tintype is dependent on your file size. Digital ambrotypes are available upon request.
Our equipment currently allows for plates up to 14x14 inches. However, we can source larger cameras for special requests.
Our pricing is based on materials costs, your customization requirements, and the market price for silver. Because of this we can only provide a basic estimate of pricing on our website. Contact us to discuss your needs or schedule an appointment to visit our lab and samples.
4x5 | $100 tintype | $125 ambrotype
5x7 - 6x8 | $150 tintype | $175 ambrotype
8x10 - 8x12 | $300 tintype | $350 ambrotype
inquire for larger sizes
February 23-24, 2019, 10am-5pm
Wet plate collodion was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. When used on a tin plate (called a tintype), the image is an in-camera positive that is one-of-a-kind. It is a very technical process that utilizes expensive and dangerous chemicals. This workshop is an introduction using affordable Holga cameras to learn the basics of flowing, sensitizing, shooting, developing, and fixing plates. This is a fun introduction that aims to keep costs low, avoid frustration, and prepare you for independent work and/or an intermediate workshop.
Workshops have no minimum of enrollment requirement but the maximum is 4 students. We will refund 80% of the fee if you cancel 3 weeks prior to the first day of the workshop and 50% if you cancel 1 week prior to the first day. No refunds will be issued with less than 7 days notice of cancellation.
Interested in another type of class? Here are some of our previous offerings. Join our mailing list at the bottom of the page to stay up-to-date on our workshops. Or, schedule and On-Demand Workshop tailored to your needs.