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I’ve been wanting to try wet plate collodion for a few years now, but the upfront costs had been holding me back. Well, and dealing with the more toxic chemistry has been a concern too. So, until I get around to buying the collodion kit, and maybe taking a workshop, I thought I’d try a pre-made liquid emulsion.
I had read that some people were using the Ag-Plus liquid emulsion from Rockland, and thought I’d try that. While Rockland does offer a tin type kit, I wanted to try glass plates.
As I became more interested in the idea of trying wet plate, I picked up a 1909 Star Premo 1/4 plate camera which came with plate holders. At the time I hadn’t realized that the holders for wet plate were different than dry plate, and dry plate holders were what I had. I also have a Brownie box camera which fits a glass plate nicely.
After watching a few videos on how to pour a collodion plate, I poured a few plates with gelatin to help the liquid emulsion adhere to the glass. (I just used Knox Gelatin from the grocery store.) Flowing the plate with gelatin went smoothly, and I did a pretty good job. After the plates dried, I heated the AG-Plus to make it liquid, and tried flowing a plate. What a mess! Since the plate was much cooler than the emulsion, the emulsion started to thicken very quickly and wouldn’t flow correctly. I tried using it anyhow. The process was mostly a frustration since the emulsion was too thick, I got no exposure, and I gave up and ended up putting everything back in a box.
Now, a year or two later, I tried it again. I had read that the emulsion has a fairly long shelf life, soI tried the same emulsion, developer, and fixer. I coated a plate for the Star Premo, and the Brownie. Again, the plate was not warm enough, and I got a thick lumpy emulsion, better than the first try though! I exposed the plates outdoors at about 2 seconds wide open. (Assuming a rating of ISO 2). In the tray of developer, an image appeared! While the emulsion was definitely too thick in spots (click the thumbnail to see example), it gave me hope, and I continued on.
For the next plates, I made sure that they were at least close to the same temperature as the emulsion. Flowing the plates was much easier, but still a little bit of a mess. I let the plates dry for at least 12 hours, and then exposed one landscape image, and one studio still life. The landscape image was shot at around f22 at approximately 4 seconds. The still life was lit with one 250w (?) studio spotlight, at around f64, and 45 seconds.
You can see that the landscape plate has some issues with the emulsion thickness, and possible fogging. The still life turned out much better, and what might be fogging at the bottom actually looks interesting.
Today I’ll be coating more plates to take with me on photo road trip, and will post samples once I have them. And once I refine this technique, I’ll write a more detailed how-to about my process. This does seem like a viable option for people who want to try a process like this, and not have to deal with the toxicity or expense of traditional wet-plate or tintype. I did have one wet plate photographer tell me that it may actually be harder to get a decent image with this method than with wet plate collodion. So perhaps if I master this, wet plate will be no problem when I finally do try it?