Channeling Ed Ross: First Photoshoot with Wet Plate

March 09, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Lorna Lynne 2Lorna Lynne 2

I'll do a full post on him someday, but Ed Ross was a wet plate photographer who inspired me greatly. He was also kind, and when I reached out to him a few years ago asking some (in retrospect) stupid questions about his wet plate photographs he answered me with patience and encouragement. I regret that I was not able to meet him in person before he passed.

Today, a whopping seven days since I've started to shoot wet plate, I shot a model. These plates are objectively bad, but I can see the *potential* for my wet plate photography to be good with further practice. I'm not going to dwell on the problems (comets from a dirty silver bath, black patches from mishandling, a nice white blotch from letting my collodion dry too much before sensitizing it, subject motion from having really old slow collodion and long exposures, forgetting to recheck focus before exposing, uneven development, etc.), but instead I'm going to focus on what I love about these pictures:

1. Switching to a sugar developer formula from the normal positive developer formula, combined with being really, really mindful about my technique has made my development significantly more even than it was even a couple of days ago.

2. I didn't scratch any of these coated plates getting them into and out of my plate holder. I feel like I've mastered this thing that sounds like it should be so simple, but which is deceptively challenging for me.

3. Shooting against my house's stucco, which is what Ed Ross told me he did, has produced a lovely background.

4. I was able to varnish these evenly and without setting anything on fire.

5. Making these plates has made me even more in awe of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century masters of this photographic process than I was before. I used to appreciate a beautiful wet plate image for its aesthetics alone. Now I can see, and appreciate, the technique that goes into a quality tintype!

To reiterate, these are objectively bad plates. But they're *less* objectively bad than my work earlier this week, and I can see the potential in them -- I see that, with more practice, I'll be able to produce plates with the look that inspired me to want to start this incredibly challenging photographic process in the first place.

Lorna Lynne 1Lorna Lynne 1

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I have fresh collodion on the way from Bostick & Sullivan. These exposures were 20-25 seconds each, and fresh collodion should be much faster than my stale stuff.

I've blown through something like 30 8x10 aluminum plates this week. I need to research the cheapest and easiest way to make more.

This is a really low priority, but I'd like to start thinking about using strobes for faster exposure wet plates. I know that really intense strobes (~3200 ws?) are required, and it's going to be a long time before I'm able to afford them. It's just fun to think about.

Lorna Lynne 3Lorna Lynne 3


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