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RPS day to Wicken Fen

At the start of 2015, I gave myself a membership to the RPS. I wanted to find out if joining such a big and venerable organisation would give me a much-needed push to further my photography skills. In short, the answer was no. Over the whole of last year, I ashamedly admit that I only managed to join them for one (1!) event and then made a write-up which I didn’t post. It was a field trip to Wicken Fen, a nature reserve maintained by the National Trust.

Well, as last year has been quite terrible for me photography-wise (I was too busy with other stuff, honest!) I might as well post this blog anyway to get rid of that horrendous back-log and start 2016 semi-afresh.

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The day was grey and only full of the promise of rain. At the Wicken Fen reserve, we were greeted by Ann and it was very soon thereafter that everyone had gone their own way, spread out over a vast area. So far for meeting new people… For the day, I had brought my Canon 50D with a telezoom and wideangle lens, my Praktica Super TL-2 35 mm camera with a 82-200mm zoom lens, a 28mm wide angle and a 135mm, which was completely unnecessary and a Toy camera. The roll in the Toy Camera will not be developed till the roll is full, so I’m sorry there won’t be any images of that (yet).

The day was grey and dreary and even though there were a few rays of sunshine peeping through the clouds – it remained overcast and dull throughout. I followed the boardwalk for a while, ending up in one of the hides where a rat was busy pilfering the content of a peanut stuffed bird feeder. Every 2-3 minutes or so he would scuttle up, jump over, maneuvered a nut out of the feeder and jumped away with it’s mouth full. What a clever little thing! I believe most of the RPS photographers present on that day will have a few photos of this little bugger – he / she was the talk of the event!

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As the day was so grey, the wildlife failed to make an appearance – or so I was told afterwards. I do not possess the correct equipment, nor the wish to stake out a spot for hours to photograph a species of bird I would not be able to identify. Instead, I stuck to landscape images / sceneries.

 

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I’m such a sucker for God-rays….

 

The one ‘trouble’ I had was the lack of normal daylight film in my fridge. Hopelessly devoid of stock, I made do with 400 ISO Black and white film (Ilford Hp5) and I have to say, I might actually like the results! Next time I might be able to actually USE the tripod I brought and not have the horrendous unintentional shake in the image….. until then, here’s my best efforts.

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Wet Plate Photoshoot: Wil & Varun

Just after the last wet plate weekend in the Peak District, I photographed two friends on consecutive days. They both know Calvin (see his shoot here) from their weight lifting club and Calvin had been kind enough to recommend me for a shoot.

 

On the Tuesday, It was Wil Solano. I have to admit I was pleased to meet him. A polite, intelligent and somewhat soft-spoken man, he seemed enthusiastic about the photographic process and his plates came out better than many I had tried before. Maybe it was because of the great weekend we have had recently, or maybe I am getting a bit better with timing, pouring etc. but also the fact that strong men with beards seem to capture well in this process. 🙂

 

Wil

Wil

Wil

Wil

 

On the Wednesday I would meet Varun Choda, a big fella, easy to smile with a good sense of humour, with an equally impressive beard. Maybe I shouldn’t be photographing people with beards – I’m having serious beard-envy! Can you believe that this guy is still single? I’m loving how the images we captured all seem to be a blast from the past – we started with a test plate with just his arms folded, which led to ‘you look like you should be holding a massive hammer’ to: ‘ I only have this one!’. He told me he likes art and to paint, so we did another version with brushes, which I believe came out better. His portrait came out as well as Wil’s the day before and he kindly agreed to sit for one last plate. He looked quite the sight in the middle of a cemetery sitting at a tiny table staring intently into the lens!

 

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Varun with hammer

Varun

Varun with brushes

Varun

Varun portrait

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The bad guy in a 1970s Hong Kong Movie?

 

 

 

Wet Plate Photoshoot: Wet Plate Camping

In the last weekend of August 2014, Tony Richards organised a social wet-plate gathering for all those from the UK and Ireland. Wet-plating would be optional, having a pint in the local pub would not be! 🙂

After packing my gear, I drove for nearly 3,5 hours to the Bank House Farm Campsite in Derbyshire where I would meet with Tony Richards, Marc Voce, Mark Scholey, John Kiely, John Brewer, Kate Horsley and Violet, Sam Christopher Cornwell, Guy Brown, Kevin Lunham, Moo Pa, Tim Ingmire, William Cameron, Tony Lovell, Simon Harbord and Ray Spence. (Sorry if I missed anyone). The Friday night was a bit miserable and the camera’s remained hidden, us photographers opting instead to head to the pub for a meal and some drinks till the early hours. The campsite proved fine, with plenty of space – with the only downside being the distance to the toilet and shower block, which was a 5 minute walk. The little river that ran by it was very pretty and proved a popular subject for the plates.

The Saturday started off with much of the same as the Friday, occasional showers both light and heavy, but we set up regardless and started shooting. The whole day would remain overcast and we finished up like the night before: in the pub with food and drink. I managed to shoot around 10-12 plates on the day, of which I will keep 2. I learned a lot about judging light and development times this day and will need to keep an eye on my continuous over-development of plates.

 

This was my first set-up, it took me about 5 tries to get the exposure about right. The light kept changing, with the sun towards the lens – so the spot between the trees burned out amazingly quickly. I am fairly happy with this plate as I tried tin typing for the first time and the material is remarkably easy to work with. Thanks to Kevin from Wet Plate Supplies (http://www.wetplatesupplies.com/) for hooking me up! This plate was shot at 25 seconds at about f5.6 – f8.

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This was my second set-up. Again, it took me a few plates to get the exposure right, but the balance on this plate is definitely better. I believe I came to 2.5 minutes at f8. The subject and composition, unfortunately, are not great. I scanned it, but this plate might be wiped.

 

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For my third set-up, I just turned the camera round and took the same exposure. It had a lot of lines over the top, that only showed when the plate was dry – which are not great – and I am not overly keen on the composition. I scanned it, but the plate will be wiped.

 

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This plate was just a complete guess. I saw the scene and wanted to capture it, but ideally, I would have come closer to it. There was a river in the way though…. I took this at 20 seconds f5.6 – and overdeveloped by about 15 seconds due to underexposure. This plate might look OK now, but the plate is very low in contrast and needed a lot of help in Lightroom. It will be wiped.

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The last set-up of the Saturday was, again, that little current in the river and the trees behind it. I love that I managed to get the timing right and for once I did not overdevelop. This image is taken on trophy aluminium and it has to be my favourite of the weekend.

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The Sunday proved a little better on the weather front and despite some people having to pack and leave earlier due to driving distances or being kicked out of their plush B&B, most kept shooting till well after midday before packing up themselves. The winds had picked up, most dramatically when it decided to pick up Mark Voce’s marquee and ditch it over the roof of Tony’s marquee tent. That day, I managed to shoot about 5 plates, of which I would keep 2. Having shot the river with varying results, I directed my attention to some of the attendees of the weekend.

 

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John Brewer, master in antique photographic processes, turns his hand to the power of digital image capture

Mark's brand new Marquee tent took a dive

Mark’s brand new Marquee tent took a dive

 

I asked John Kiely if I could photograph him in his van. Not amazingly original, but John is a patient man that proves a great subject. The first plate came out… odd, but it was not the first time I had seen this happening on one of my plates. Unless there had been an 8 second hail storm I failed to notice, it had to be a chemical issue. I remembered I had used the same funnel for both my fixer and my silver bath…. oops! I quickly filtered the silver and the second plate came out much better. It got hit straight into the lens by a stray ray of sun though, so it was very overexposed. The third one came out well enough – still a little overexposed at 8 seconds f5.6 – but we decided to leave it at that.

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For my last plates, I asked Mark Scholey to pose for me. The first one coming out well overexposed, this one was much better – again 8 seconds at f5.6. Unfortunately for both me and him, he must have moved a slight! Oh well….

I would have loved to have had more time to shoot some of the other amazing people at the gathering, but it’ll have to wait till next time. I will be looking forward to it!

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Wet Plate Photoshoot: Hisui

Right after the wet plate weekend at Lacock Abbey (see my previous post) I had planned to photograph a Cambridge based model called Hisui. I had found her profile via Purpleport.com and asked her to shoot with me. She agreed and we set our date on the 5th of August. With a day of work in between the weekend and the shoot, I did not have much time to prepare and unfortunately, it showed!

On my last day of the wet plate weekend, I noticed my collodion thickening up and showing more crepe lines than on the day before. I did mix up some fresh fix and developer, which were fully depleted.

Hisui arrived with her partner, spot on time. After explaining the process to them, we chose a few spots on the cemetery to shoot. I took a few Medium format film shots in between on my Rolleiflex (I must have had an inkling of what was to come) and we shot 6 wet collodion plates in total. Out of the six, there were two clear winners – which then both peeled off the plate! I chose to scan another 2, which I thought were OK, not as strong in form and execution as the 2 destroyed ones and 2 film stills. The film images I believe are good studies, but perhaps not final products. That will teach me to step away from digital….

Hisui, thank goodness, was patient and professional throughout the day and very understanding even after I let her know what happened to the plates!

 

The best 2 plates of the shoot *cringe*

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The second best 2 plates of the day

 

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The 2 best film images

there is a lot I like about the second image where Hisui flicks up the skirt, but it lacks the separation before fore- and background in the skirt that it needs to make it a true classic stunner!

 

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Wet Plate Photoshoot: Alice II

Just about a week ago, I photographed Alice for a second time. We met up at mine for a short shoot indoors. Our first test plate worked fine so we dove straight in, going for a morbid look, derived from a very sexy fashionable image taken from a glossy magazine ages ago. The slight movement resulting from the 12 second exposure – Alice being sat on a wobbly soft bed, tule in her face – works so very well with this look!

After that, we had a little bit of time left to go for the head wrapped look. Even though I really love how the plates turned out, I would like to try my hand again at the head wrapped ones as the original plates hardly show any contrast and I had to push them in Lightroom a little too far for my liking.

At this time of posting, I will be on my way towards Lacock, a 3,5 hour drive, to shoot the Abbey over the weekend. I’ll be meeting up with a number of fellow wet plate enthusiasts, so fingers crossed we’ll come away with some kick-ass plates!

 

test plate

test plate

Tule, I

Tule, I

Tule, II

Tule, II

Wrapped

Wrapped

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

 

 

 

 

DIY: Transporting wet plates out in the field

Today, I’d like to share a little secret with you. Well….little……..I had been pondering and pondering on how to keep my wet plates safe whilst being out in the field. Granted, my camera isn’t exactly the sort of size you’d happily take out to shoot some snaps at the beach, but still. I absolutely hate not being able to do something because of technical or practical limitations.

 

when it came fresh into our lives

my Reproduction camera when it came fresh into our lives – and yes – that’s me 🙂

 

I will warn you now – this is possibly the highest-tech solution I could come up with: trays within a bucket of water! Well? Isn’t that great? I know it’s exactly what print washers do – but I have neither the funds to just go out and buy one – nor do I have the patience to build one properly. 

The other difficulty would be the varying sizes of the plates that my camera takes. I decided to take the half plate (12 x 16 cm) and full-plate (16.5 x 21.5 cm) sizes as a starting point, to order and test my super-complicated idea.

 

What you need:

 

(Large) plastic storage container + lid

Plexiglass / acrylic sheet, 2-3 mm thickness, cut to size

Tools to cut / order to size online or in-store

Drill with large bit for holes

Acrifix / other acrylic glue

 

Take your (large) plastic storage container with a lid. A square one (or as square as you can get) without any holes, slits, gaps or damage. If it has a solid closing lid, perfect – because you’ll be needing that. Take the measurement of it’s smallest point – for me that was on the bottom as it tapers out slightly towards the top – and check what size plate it will hold. Mine would hold 2 full plates next to each other with space to spare, or 4 half-plates. Taking the measurement of the plate + a little space around it, this will be the size of the bottom. Now, you need some sides; I placed them on top of the bottom plate (easier to measure) and made them 1 cm high.

So, calculate the measurements of the pieces you need (this example is for 3mm thick acrylic). I ordered all my pieces from acrylic-online.co.uk and even though they state in their disclaimer that any tiny measurements may be slightly off, all cut pieces I received from them were perfect. They do charge £10 shipping as a minimum per order, so make sure you get all you need in one go!

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I ordered additional acrylic sheets for a massive silver bath – all the bits for the tray are at the back wrapped in dark blue, with the measurements written on them

 

I made 8 x full-plate trays: Plate=16.5 x 21.5 cm, Tray bottom plate (8 of these)=18 x 23 cm, Long sides (16 of these)=23 x 1 cm, short sides (16 of these)=18-0.6 (2x thickness) x 1 xm

And 16 x half-plate trays: Plate=12 x 16cm, Tray bottom plate (16 of these)=13.5 x 17.5 cm, long sides (32 of these)= 17.5 x 1 cm, short sides (32 of these)=13.5 – 0.6 (2x thickness) x 1 cm

Apart from that, you’ll need some 2 mm acrylic sheets, roughly the size of your tub to cover the trays between layers. With the amount of tubs I have, I can make 8 layers, I would be wise to order 9 divider sheets (1 to go on top).

 

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trays inside the tub – 1x full plate, 2 x half-plate

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trays in front of the box – I only fill it to about half-way when I wanted to use all of them

 

The only thing I have yet to do is drill thumb-sized holes in the bottoms, to make taking the plates out a little easier.It is also not advised to use a large tub this size and fill it up completely. Not only will it be amazingly heavy, it might break and / or spill water all over you, the car, your camera etc.

I have now used this system once – I transported my glass in the trays to begin with, to make sure I could fit them all in when done. On location, I took all trays out and filled the bottom of the tub with a layer of tap water, which I brought with me in several plastic bottles. It’s easy to keep your plates wet when they are immersed! After each layer, insert a plastic divider, so the tubs don’t sink into each other, damaging the plate below. Add more water as needed. When  done, close the lid securely, place the tub into your car and gently drive it home. Stick it under a slowly running shower and presto – safely transported and washed plates!

Wet Plate Photoshoot: Alice

Recently, I had a wet plate shoot with Alice, a model based near Peterborough. I had found her portfolio online, on Purpleport (see my last blog, Creative Collaborations: finding a model) and luckily for me, she agreed to a shoot. On the Saturday the 17th of May, a bright and sunny day, I packed up the car with all my gear and set of to hers. There, I was met with a warm welcome by my model and her husband, Jeremy. She gave me full choice of any and every outfit and prop available to her, including locations in and around the house. We settled on 3 outfits, a fish hat that Alice came up with on her own initiative and a location only 5 minutes away.

The day started off well – we unpacked the car and set up the darkbox in a lovely patch of shade. I dragged the camera and lenses a little further away where I would photograph Alice in a burned out building and near a blocked up well. As it later turned out, the heat would wreck havoc onto my chemicals and nearly all plates seem fogged; some worse than others, and it meant having to shoot some plates a few times. It dawned on me that I had set up the darkbox in the wrong place completely; I could have set up closer to where I would be shooting and save myself a lot of energy, drying plates, plates heating up….. Ah well – we live, we learn!

At the end of the day (Kudos to Alice for her creativity and endless patience and to Jeremy for his hard work as ‘roadie’, ‘location sourcer’, photographers assistant’ and ‘site security’) we came away with a couple of nice plates. I was glad to find my latest wet-plate travel contraption of acrylic holders within a plastic container worked well and I got all plates home – wet and in one piece – to be rinsed and dried properly.

 

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Wet Plate Photoshoot: Bobby

Last Saturday, the 3rd of May 2014 was World Wetplate Day. No, I won’t be surprised if many of you missed it – it’s not exactly a national holiday and it won’t get you any time off work. What it did do, is provide thousands of photographers to re-visit old work or create something fresh in wet collodion techniques.

I had seen Bobby’s portfolio on Purpleport and asked him to collaborate with me on a wet-plate project. Our initial theme for the shoot would have been ‘angelic’ with a twist, but as Bobby has a wonderfully expressive face, a good sense of drama and a fantastic ability to hold a pose – it kind of went a different way altogether. The resulting plates fit in perfectly with the sense of depression and storytelling that we wanted to put in them.

For the last plate of the day I had Bobby hold up 3 dead wasps and I love the feeling of the surreal that it evokes. I will have to add that the wasps died a natural death and were found in our windowsills.

For these images, I used a 1000W Halogen lighting unit as a single bare bulb. The camera was set to F5.6 for 10-15 seconds. The complete blacking out of the background was surprising, considering I took these images outdoors and there was a big hedge quite close behind Bobby. The ‘splattered’ look in image no. 5 was due to a (lucky) chemical reaction, possibly the collodion reaction to the silver nitrate. The same effect is visible in the edges of other plates, but no-where as dramatic as in this one.

 

 

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