Large Format Photography – Day 6 in the Netherlands

On the Sunday evening I travelled back to the Netherlands. Not only to return my mum’s car (thanks Mum!) but also to spend another day on my large format photography project. Initially I had planned to stay a few days, but as it’s Sean’s birthday tomorrow I’ll have to get back to Dusseldorf. I had written down a whole list of possible culprits for the trouble my glass plates were causing me last time which included peeling of the chemicals, lack of contrast, black spots, wavy lines, fogging, holes in the collodion, clotting in the drain corner………quite a list.

Having read a LOAD of posts on the forum, there were a number of ways I could try and adress the issues at hand.


  • The peeling collodion? Clean the glass plates better. Use albumen subbing round the edges. Be careful not to sensitize the plates when still too wet, or the collodion lifts off.
  • The collodion clotting in the drain corner? Add some additional (denatured) alcohol to the collodion. Wick off the corner with a tissue/ piece of paper.
  • Flow lines in the Collodion? Work faster. Thin the collodion with some additional (denatured) alcohol. Pour more than needed – do not stop pouring until 3/4 of your plate is covered.
  • Low speed? A Quick clear collodion mixture is slower in speed. This cannot be remedied. Remember that an ambrotype is an Underexposed plass plate negative.
  • Low Contrast? The collodion is too new and needs to ripen. Add some old collodion, which is now slow, but very contrasty. It is the bromides in the mix that give contrast (iodides give speed). Make sure you are not overexposing – when developing, an image should appear in 8-10 seconds and development needs to be stopped at 15-16. If it comes up too quick, you’ve overexposed. Too slow and you’ll have underexposed. Develop too long and the image will dissapear back off the plate and go grey and grainy.
  • Fogging? You’ve developed too long. The developer is too intense. The silverbath is too alkaline – check the PH value, which should be 3 and bring it back to the correct value. Check for light leaks within your darkbox – the plate should come out completely clear without light. The collodion needs time to ripen.


I had already diluted my developer 1:1 with water (this should have been distilled, I used demineralised) so I can use it as a tray developer. The pouring of a little developer and rocking the plate did not seem to work out well for me. I then tested the darkbox again for light leaks and the darkbox passed fully.

Next, I cleaned a few plates extra carefully, till they were literally squeeky clean. I diluted my collodion with denatured alcohol by adding 15 ml to my 55 ml collodion. When pouring my plate I immediately noticed an improvement in flow. I managed to cover the plate more easily, with less sticking to the corners and wicking off the drip in the drain corner. The flow lines seemed a lot less obvious, wlthough I did still notice them being there – but I suppose when I’ve worked on my technique they may improve as well. I took care not to sensitize the plates too quickly, lest the collodion would let go from the plate.


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After sensitizing in the silver bath for 3 minutes, I exposed for a waaaaaay shorter period of time – I don’t really know why I thought I needed 2 minutes or more – and started with a 15 second shutter on F5.6 and it came out GREAT.

Plate 2 I tried with a longer shuttter speed to see the effects of a few seconds more. It was shot with a shutter of 25 seconds and developed for 1 minute in my diluted developer.

Plate 3 I coated a larger plate to practise the collodion flowing (it went well), exposed it for 20 seconds and developed for 30 seconds.

Plate 4 was an attempt at a self-portrait with gas mask, like I tried last time. Even though the exposure looks ok at 15 seconds, f5.6, the sun came through and it is slightly overexposed. Apart from that, I should have slouched a little further down on the chair!

At this point, it had been very cloudy with showers off and on. There was a massive downpour at a point mid0afternoon and I decided to continue indoors with artificial light, seeing I picked up a 2000W handheld video light 2 weeks ago on a fleamarket.

Plate 5 was shot with just a plain bulb, on 30 seconds, f5.6. I forgot to close the shutter when taking the plateholder off the camera, but there’s nothing on it.

Plate 6 I used the videolight (both bulbs = 2000W in total) for 30 seconds, f5.6. There is an image showing, but it’s not amazingly clear.

Plate 7 I used the videolight (both bulbs = 2000W) for 60 seconds, f5.6. This looks good!

Plate 8 I used the vidoelight (both bulbs = 2000W) for 40 seconds, f5.6. This looks a little underexposed, but still nice.

Plate 9 I tried to get a close-up of a rug cleaner. I used the videolight (1 bulb = 1000W) for 1 minute, which is too dark.

Plate 10 I tried again. I used the videolight (1 bulb = 1000W) for 2 minutes. There is an image showing, but it is still underexposed.


Shoud you be wondering what the messy white spots are on some of the edges – those are the supports on the inside of my plate holder. On my self portrait, they seemed to have been more than a little dirty and caused some silver contamination. Also: please ignore the canvas pattern going through the wet plate images, I took the snaps of them on my apron as I did not have any black paper/ velvet etc at hand.

By this time I was knackered and cleaned up my stuff, to be continued! (possibly next week!)


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