Wet Plate: Collodion Contamination Breakthrough!

June 06, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

The following three photos show a really stubborn problem I've been unsuccessfully trying to fix for the past three months. Turns out, I was causing this problem by introducing contamination into my collodion stock bottle.

img20240414_17414751Collodion Contamination 1Collodion Contamination Example 1 img20240409_13130779Collodion Contamination 2Collodion Contamination Example 2

img20240511_16030260Collodion Contamination 3Collodion Contamination Example 3

So, I've been struggling with a really frustrating problem with my plates. Not every time, but really frequently my plates would have a horrible "blotchiness" right where I start my collidion pours. My mentor called this problem "veiling," but the normal trick to fix veiling (very gently rubbing the plate after its fixed with a wet cotton ball) wasn't working. I've been banging my head against the wall trying to troubleshoot this problem, which was ruining something like 80% of the plates I made. 

The biggest clue I had when troubleshooting was that the blotchiness always appeared on my plates right where I started my collodion pours. The blotchiness wasn't evident on the freshly-poured plates, and didn't show up until the development step. I experimented with my pouring technique -- I tried pouring more slowly, more quickly, more forcefully, and more gently. Nothing worked. I tried using different collodion recipes, but nothing would fix this issue.

img20240601_16111575Father & Daughter PortraitFather & Daughter

After two months of frustration, I *finally* figured out what the issue is: contamination in my collodion caused by draining my plates directly back into my collodion stock bottle, instead of into a waste bottle. This was causing partially-dried collodion contamination to end up back in my stock bottle, and the partially-dried collodion contamination ended up on the next plate I poured.

I am SO FREAKING RELIEVED that I've figured out this issue. I shot seven plates over the weekend, and didn't have this blotchy contamination problem in any of them!

img20240602_15573419Collodion Portrait

I've still got a long ways to go before I'll consider myself good at wet plate collodion. But this is a huge breakthrough, and now I can focus on the other issues plaguing my plates.


Muse Collaboration: Suicide Girls Style 1970s Shoot with Mrs. Wilders

May 15, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

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I was privileged to collaborate with one of my favorite models, Mrs. Wilders, on a Suicide Girls-style shoot. I've been a fan of Suicide Girls since ~2005, and it has been a longstanding goal to get published on there. While we've decided not to submit this set to Suicide Girls, I'm really proud of how it turned out. The photography part of this photoshoot was the least challenging thing about it -- Mrs. Wilders and I put a lot of work into her costumes, and it was a big cash investment to rent an awesome 70s set. I was particularly proud of finding the *perfect* avocado & orange minidress for Mrs. Wilders to wear, along with a new old stock pair of 70s glasses frames.

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I've written about this previously, but it's so good to have found a few local models who are real creative collaborators. I still love booking the occasional traveling model who passes through my area, but it's a lot more work to come up with a shoot theme, find a location, procure some good outfits, etc. than it is to do the "naked lady standing somewhere and turning in a circle" thing.

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We ended up shooting three photosets with three different outfits during the two hours we had rented the studio for. Mrs. Wilders has posted the first set on her Patreon, and will be posting the other two sets there in the future. If you'd like to see these full sets, please visit Mrs. Wilders' Patreon page and become a subscriber! I subscribe myself, and it's a lot of fun to see other photographers' work with a model I love.

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I may be revisiting the 70s set with another model in June or July -- the outfits are so good it'd be a shame not to use them again. In that event, I *will* be trying to submit them to Suicide Girls!

DSCF5288DSCF5288 I spent a lot of time trying to get the perfect look with these photos. If anyone is curious, I got this warm/soft/grainy/vivid look by using Fuji's Velvia film emulation mode on my X-T5, changing the white balance to give it a warm vintage feel, and adding grain to make the shots look like they were taken using daylight negative film with indoor tungsten lighting. All things being equal, I'd still prefer to shoot film exclusively. All things are NOT equal, however, and I have no regrets using digital exclusively on this shoot.


Muse Collaboration: Suicide Girls Style Shoot with Alice Crowe

April 27, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

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Alice Crowe, my favorite model, and I decided to try a "Suicide Girls" style shoot. Suicide Girls pretty much invented the "alt-model" genre, and it has been a goal of mine to get a set published there. (Foreshadowing: There's more on this to come in the future.)

Suicide Girls has a pretty distinctive look: Soft even lighting, razor-thin depth of field, and a progression of shots that has a theme of some sort.

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I rented a neat location through Peerspace.com for the shoot based on some really amazing photographs of the location's interior. Unfortunately, I realized as soon as I got there that there were several neat shooting spots, but each of them had a different type of lighting. The best lighting in the location was in the stairwell: it was north-facing light into a dark interior, which leant itself to chiaroscuro. The best looking furniture, etc. was lit by a mixture of natural light and dim tungsten bulbs. Ah so.

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I classify this as a Good Problem to have: I had two distinct looks with gorgeous lighting, but no way to put them together for a unified-theme set of 30 or 40 photos. So, they weren't suitable for a Suicide Girls set. So it goes. They are, however, wonderful photographs on their own. I just need to present them as two separate sets so that the lighting differences aren't so obvious.

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In any event, I've been so frustrated lately with wet plate (blog entry forthcoming) that it was really fun to just "Push the Easy Button" and use my digital rig: A Fujifilm X-T5 with Fujinon 50mm f/1.0 and 35mm f/2.0 lenses. This is a great setup for my photography, although I am really starting to lust after the Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8 zoom. I spend a lot of my time scooting around on my knees and butt, fighting with my tripod, and tripping over furniture on shoots. Having a zoom lens would make life a lot easier ... but it'd be hard to go from f/1.0 and f/2.0 to f/2.8, especially on my X-T5's crop sensor.

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I've always wanted to have a Muse: A real creative partner who would bring her own inspiration and ideas to our collaborations. 

I've shot Alice Crowe three times now. I'm having so much fun collaborating with her -- together we're working on a shoot concept that I'm really excited about. She's a really cool person with great taste in music, too. This is all to say that I'm having more fun with my art now than I have in years. I've found my Muse, and I'm delighted.

Don't get me wrong: I'm still stoked to have good relationships with Morgan Wilders and Lorna Lynne, and I'm still planning on booking other freelance traveling models as they pass through the Sacramento area. But there's something pretty special about having a trust relationship with a Muse!

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(This is an example of an image that was only possible to make because of trust between photographer and model.)

 


Cyanotype Experimentation

April 17, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

img20240409_13045268Towers of Ivory. House of Gold.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to take a dedicated Alternative and Historic Photography class from the world-class Cosumnes River College photography department. I had always been fascinated by alternative photographic processes -- there was something exotic and exciting about all of the chemistry and process names I just loved. While I experimented with several different processes, I really fell in love with cyanotype.

IMG_0268Digital Negative on Paper Coated with Cyanotype
Here's the beginning of the print: a digital negative on top of paper coated with cyanotype prior to exposure.

IMG_0268Digital Negative on Paper Coated with Cyanotype
Here's the exposed cyanotype prior to development in water. I think this stage always looks cool.
IMG_0268Digital Negative on Paper Coated with Cyanotype
Here's the finished print with added gold leaf.

Cyanotypes are, in my opinion, underrated: They're gorgeous in blue but flexible enough to tone, relatively non-toxic, inexpensive, and fast. Especially after banging my head against wet plate, it's a relief to be able to produce prints using a process that Just Works.

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Here's a cyanotype print split-toned with tea (earl grey, hot) and gilt with 24k gold leaf.

I had been curious about using gold leaf to accentuate prints for some time -- I was actually planning on teaching myself the "platinum/palladium on vellum with gold leaf" process. I actually bought all of the chemistry and supplies back in 2019 right before I went into the creative coma from which I've only recently emerged.

Applying gold leaf feels sort of like magic. It's fun to work with real metallic gold hammered thin. The process for applying gold leaf to a print sounds relatively straightforward, but it's definitely one of those "harder than it looks" skills.

IMG_0243St. Cricket

In a nutshell, one:

  1. Applies a gold leaf size to the print where one wants the gold to stick.
  2. Waits for the gold leaf size to dry.
  3. Gently applies the gold leaf using a brush.
  4. Gently brushes off all of the extra gold leaf that didn't adhere to the glue.

IMG_0279Mikhala

Here are my tips for gilding a print -- maybe they'll help someone.

  1. I use "Aqua Size water-base Gold Size" from L.A. Gold Leaf Wholesaler in Azusa, California. I apply it in a single coat using a size 000 miniature paint brush. A second coat of the size is usually not required, and it can actually detract from the image if it makes one's gold lines too thick.
  2. Wait for the gold leaf size to dry. Seriously, it takes longer than it looks like it should to get to the correct level of tackiness. The size instructions state that "Proper tack will develop in 25 minutes at normal humidity and hold this tack for 24 to 26 hours." I'm not that patient, so I've found that 10-seconds with a heat gun gets the size to the correct level of tackiness quickly.
  3. Gently apply the gold leaf using a brush. The key here is being gentle enough. I first tried rubbing the back of the gold leaf paper firmly with my finger, but all that will do is mash the gold into sticking to the subtle texture of the unsized paper. I use a large soft drybrush (like a makeup application brush) to apply the gold leaf. I do it firmly enough to ensure that the leaf has been pressed into the tacky size, but not so firmly that gold adheres to incorrect locations. This is definitely something that takes practice.
  4. Brush off all of the extra gold leaf that didn't adhere to the size. Here, I'm less gentle. I'll actually "scrub" the extra gold leaf off of the print. This makes an unholy mess, but the end result is worth it. This video shows the process: Removing Excess Gold LeafVideo depicting the removal of excess gold leaf from a print.
  5. I've been having so much fun printing cyanotypes that I've reorganized my portfolio to feature them more prominently. I'm still enjoying the wet plate process, and I still dig shooting psychedelic 35mm film, but I feel like my gilded cyanotypes are the "Best" creative work that I've been producing lately.

Alice Crowe: Kolor & Monochrome

April 03, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

actrichromeAlice Crowe Trichromie No. 2

While I've been really enjoying learning wet plate collodion, I haven't stopped shooting 35mm and digital. I don't plan on stopping any time soon. For 35mm, I still adore using my ancient Minolta SRT-101 body and Minolta Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 lens. I've owned the slightly faster 58mm f/1.2 before, and I don't think that its extra weight, price, and speed justify its significantly higher price. I also find it hard enough to focus at f/1.4 -- shooting at f/1.2 was frustrating as hell.

For nudes and portraiture, my longstanding preference was film over digital. It still is, but I've been shooting more digital lately. This would have been Big News in 2012, but I can confirm that Fuji's film simulations are pretty solid. I can't make myself shoot JPEG exclusively, but I have found that my X-T5's in-camera rendering in the Astia and Neopan Acros modes is at least as good as my manual RAW processing. Specifically, I've actually been blown away by my camera's "Neopan Acros + Green Filter" film emulation mode. It's fucking incredible. It's so good that I don't see myself shooting black and white 35mm again. I'm less impressed by the camera's Astia mode, but it's still at least as good as my "vanilla" color RAW processing. I just don't like shooting "vanilla" color as much as I do shooting either black and white or the psychedelically wonderful Revolog Kolor film. I've programmed in a "JPEG recipe" for Kodak Portra 400 that I'm looking forward to trying in good light.

Here are my favorite shots, and some notes, from my recent second photoshoot with Alice Crowe. 

img20240331_08210142Alice Crowe Revolog Kolor 1
File this under serendipity. I missed focus on her eyes, but the soft effect gives the image a dreamlike quality I like.

img20240331_13180936Alice Crowe Kolor No. 2
Sometimes the Kolor film is wild, and is exactly what I'm looking for.

DSCF0181DSCF0181 This isn't film, but it's at least as good as real 35mm monochrome film. And my Fuji X-T5's eye detection autofocus makes this a hell of a lot easier to shoot with a 50mm f/1.0 lens!

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