Wet Plate Photoshoot: Weekend at Lacock Abbey

On the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of August 2014, ten wet plate photographers would gather from all corners of the UK to spend two days at Lacock – once the home of Henry Fox Talbot- and I was pleasantly surprised to be invited (Thanks Tony & Mark). After a gruelling drive on the Friday afternoon I arrived at the Picadilly camp site well on time. The owner, Peter, is a little peculiar but friendly enough. I pitched my tent and met most of the others at the Red Lion pub in Lacock village.

On the Saturday, we were met with rain, more rain, heavy rain, proper showers, downpours and more such fun. Driving up to the Lacock Abbbey, we met Roger Watson, the curator of the Fox Talbot Museum who guided us onto the site. Marquis and tents were pitched in record time, darkboxes erected and cars and vans unloaded before starting the day proper. Lucky for us, the rain cleared later in the morning and the burning sun that followed made for some …. interesting …..shooting conditions!





I started my photography in the cloisters as I fell in love with the light the moment I laid eyes on it. Both plates here have an exposure of around 1-1.30 minutes at f4.5  and look to have suffered from collodion drying before development.




Some plates were a little less successful, such as the two below. The fogging on the plates may have come from warm developer, warm silver, warm plates, drying plates…..


The Chapter House


The Chapter house


This image, taken from the cloister walkway, I tried about three times before I settles on this one, and ‘perhaps it was not to be’. There are more than a few subjects that will be very hard to capture in collodion due to very low or very high contrast. This particular scene had everything going for it in colour, but falls completely flat in this beautiful process….Also note the two darker spots on the top right. These are actually collodion drying spots where I had my fingers whilst supporting the plate. Mark Voce told me this is a myth – but it was clearly happening to me! You will be able to spot some of these black marks on other plates as well.




I had taken several other plates on the day, from outside the building, keeping the Abbey in full view – which all failed. Oh well.

On the Sunday, the weather had dried up completely. We rode in convoy back to the site, set up and started afresh. This first image was shot into the sunlight, which might not have been the best choice! I shielded the lens with my hand from a slight distance, but the haziness due to the brightness of the light is clear.


Entrance archway


Slightly less conventional, I then tried to capture the tap we used to take fresh water for rinsing our plates. I loved the contrast between the strict lines of the tap and pipes, the grittiness of the old wall and the lush succulence of the plants. Again, it didn’t quite go as planned. I left myself only a small space to move in and it’s noticeable that the first attempt at the top is much better framed than my second one. Apart from that, The grain of the wall and the detail on the plants – their shadows being quite deep – might be something not easily captured in one plate.





Next, I moved to the Abbey walkways. Initially, I wasn’t going to take this image as it seems too obvious a shot, but I’m happy I did. The first attempt worked well at 1:30 at around f8, and dried well after – but it seemed so dark when wet, that I decided to shoot a second one at 2:00 at f8. The second plate is so beautiful and silvery on the plate and I am completely in love with it! The white lines going through the middle are left by people going into the abbey, the open door can be seen on the end.


Cloisters hallway

Cloister hallway


Staying within the cloisters, I decided on a hard shot to take and I set up at the Abbess stairs. There is a window and stairs and no room to more back from them. The stairs being still very dark, regardless of the window right next to them. I do like how this image somehow looks like I used flash lighting. The exposure was 2 minutes at f4.5.


The Abbess stairs


One of the last shots I then set up was in one of the darkest rooms in the cloisters. There is quite a fair amount of space, before you get to 3 coffins in front of a latticed window. Most visitors just cast a glance at the coffins and pass through to the next space, making in a perfect subject in a busy National Trust property. I set up in the corner and it took two attempt to get this plate. With the lens wide open at f4.5, it took 2:30 minutes and quite a bit of over development. I am sorry/ happy to say that this plate didn’t scan amazingly well and the original looks a lot better!




The weekend was more than amazing and even though the weather didn’t always play ball, the organization, location and company more than made up for that small hindrance. Many thanks to all that came along and made it so enjoyable!








Wet plate series: …From the Grave

A few posts back, I hinted at a new wet plate series that was being made. The series are centered around flowers, collected from local graves. The idea behind it is the questions of morale – is it OK to take from the dead? In this case they are ‘just’ flowers that ‘just’ happen to grow on a small plot of land, but is it OK to take flowers that are planted there? Or flowers that someone bought and left for a friend or relative that has passed away? How about any of their personal belongings – going into the subject or ‘proper’ grave robbing? Do we consider the cemetery as a public place of rest where all that stands and grows there belongs to society as a whole?

The advantage to doing this series has been as a practice for my wet-plating skills: to smooth out the collodion pour, better my feel for timing, develop a faster work-flow and provide me with plenty of issues to troubleshoot. Another advantage has been the challenge of styling. Setting up flowers to take a still-life shot has proven more difficult than it should be and I am sorry to say some flowers have been picked without being captured successfully.

I tried to photograph each flower or bunch of flowers as to create a monument for the deceased, to represent something that will last as long as their headstones.

The series is at this time unfinished – even though I initially planned this to encompass only 8 plates – more plates will be added as we progress through the seasons.


wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Alice Maud Green, died 1958

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; C.N.Butler, died 1915

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; William Alfred Hugh Peddle, died 1919

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Bertha Matilda Brock, died 1939

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Josh Brown, died 1995

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Minnie Mary Wenham, died 1961



Wet Plate Shoot: Calvin

A few weeks ago I convinced Calvin, one of the fellow members of PhoCus in Cambridge, to sit for a few wet-plate portraits. We share the same interest in Medium and large-format photography and it would be a good chance for him to see and experience the process before moving back up North.

In the last few sessions, I had photographed people outside as the presence of UV makes the exposure times shorter, whilst providing me with ample (free) light and more space to more in. I had, however, also noticed that exposure times could vary wildly on days where clouds could pass in front of the sun at any given moment. I decided to take this shoot indoors.

For this shoot, we used one unit of Halogen lighting of 2000W on a tripod to the right. There is a skylight in the window behind Calvin, but no other ambient light. We used a (gold) reflector in some of the shots.


1. test plate

1. test plate

Happy - circa 12 seconds exposure

Happy – circa 12 seconds exposure

looking away from the camera, lost detail to the eye.

looking away from the camera, lost detail to the eye.

Nice and creepy

Nice and creepy, just the way we like it 😛



Calvin's first wet plate. 12 x 16 cm on clear glass

Calvin’s first wet plate. 12 x 16 cm on clear glass