Wet Plate Portraits

It has been a little while since my last post and I do apologise. I hope you all had a great Easter weekend! My folks came over to visit us in Cambridge and I think we have seen and done more over the course of 3 days than we would normally in a month. Especially the R.A.F. base in Duxford was a great day out, but I might tell you more about that on another occasion.

Since my portrait session with Chris I have been inspired to get some practice in, and I have been asking people to sit for portraits. I am now up to a half-way point for the people I still have on my list and the results have been interesting. Some good and some… not so good. I had a light leak in my main plate holder that took me a while to find, resulting in light streaks on the plates. The sitters were a little varied in understanding what was expected of them – but I am proud of all of them for putting up with me 😉

Rui and Krisztina were both photographed in the same position near our front door, using a small metal garden chair, an old Victorian library table for support and a mid grey background. They were photographed on different days, and the overcast skies on the day I shot Rui were preferred for the final results. I had some trouble keeping the sun spots of Krisztina’s face and kept putting her in different positions to aid that. Both were photographed using my antique reproduction camera, using a no-name brass lens. Exposure times were between 7 and 12 seconds at roughly f5.6.


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Sanchari and Francisco were both photographed on the other side of the house, in our small front garden. Francisco against the wall of the house, Sanchari on the opposite side, against the wall towards the street. Both their days were sunny and quite bright, but I still had some trouble keeping the sun out of their eyes. Francisco managed to find a shady spot and we shot a clear glass plate, which turned out OK, but I felt the development was too long on it. We shot a small black plexiglass plate which works very well but I’m not sure I like the ‘plasticky’ look and feel to it. We shot one with an exposure time of 1:20 ‘just because’ at f22. Apart from being overdeveloped, it didn’t come out too bad! The other images were exposed between 8-12 seconds.

Sanchari’s face had to be shielded with a transparent reflector, and we can tell where we had some clouds before the sun – I did not think of using the reflector then and the contrast shot right up. The lines on her plates are a light leak (the long stripe) and developing lines (the watery waves) and I don’t really like where they ended up, near her eyes and forehead. It is quite amusing to know that the blouse she was wearing was a normal modern day blouse, but on the plates it turned right into period wear!

Both were photographed using my antique reproduction camera, using a Rodenstock 320mm lens. Exposure times were between 8 and 14 seconds on f5.6 and f8, apart from the one of 80 seconds on f22.


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Photoshoot: Microscopy with Chris Thomas

After my wetplate session with Chris, he was kind enough to invite me to his home in Milton and try some microscopic photography first-hand. Last Tuesday I went over where Chris had already set up two microscopes. Now I am no expert when it comes to microscopes – in fact, far from it. I know it has lenses, it magnifies, I used one in biology lessons and some examples can be very, very expensive. From the two that were set up, it was immediately apparent that the build quality of the two were no where near comparable, but either would certainly do the job for a first introduction.



We started on the grey one on the left. The enlargement on it was a little less powerful, but still plenty to get some good detailed images of a butterfly wing. We simply set up a camera with a tripod and focused through one of the eyepieces. It’s a simple way to get a quick microscopy image, but you’ll have to trade for the fall-off on the sides – as you will never be able to cover the whole magnification – resulting in a round image.

microscopy - butterfly wing

The other microscope however, was a completely different story. Even though we would not have been able to set up my camera to the microscope on the fly, Chris has put together a few simple elements which allow for his DSLR to be mounted on the top. A flick of a switch and the light source travels either to the eye-pieces to the front, or the camera lens at the top of the set-up. Brilliant!


Now the fun could truly begin. We set about with a Allium sample, magnified 25 times on the objective, 5 times on the eyepiece. We took about 20-25 images in slightly varying focusing settings, to create an image stack later on. We then magnified it 40 times on the objective, moved on to a Tilia leaf on which we tried a polarising filter and a simple piece of plastic film (!) to create some unexpected effects. We finished up out session with my personal cheek cells. They look just like me, don’t you think? (I could have have a really nice pun there in the lines of ‘my spitting image’ but I won’t go there 😉

Thanks to Chris Thomas for a great afternoon and the image stacking files!

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Wet Plate Photoshoot: Chris Thomas

A couple of months ago, I met Chris at one of my blogger meetups in Cambridge and we got talking about photography and wet-plating. Chris, a microscopy photographer himself, expressed interest in having his portrait taken in this technique – especially since he was the portrait photographer for a recent gathering of the Huntingdonshire Business Network. The aim would be to take a day in March where the sun would be out – a mean feat in the UK at the best of times – and to photograph Chris with his tablet and microscope, showing the old cemetery outside my house in the background.

We set the date for the 24th of March and kept out fingers crossed. The day itself turned out to be cold but sunny and after a few test plates in the shade and one in the sun, we settled on shooting when a cloud moved just in front of the sun. Overall the light was more pleasing and the shadows less harsh, whilst still retaining some of the brightness and speed we needed to get the shot. Not unimportantly, Chris would not be freezing in the shade or squinting against the sunlight.

The longest exposure times we had were 20 seconds in the shade, which came as no surprise. The final image though, was taken at 6 seconds with the lens set to f8. I love how Chris and his instruments are clear but we can still see the vague outlines of the gravestones behind him. If I were to be critical (and I usually am) I would take this shot again at 7 or 8 seconds, develop slightly less long as the image film has gotten dense on the top, and get the eyes in better focus. Without a headrest at this moment though, I am quite pleased with how this came out.

Chris has written about our session in his blog: miltoncontact.blogspot.co.uk. You can find it here.

Thanks to Chris for providing the header and for digitizing this final plate!


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