More Wet Plate Progress: Even Development at Last!

March 13, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

ReneeReneeVoigtlander Petzval 364mm f/4.7 (1865) 15 second exposure

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in how I develop my wet plates. Before yesterday, I was using an 8x10" tray under my plate when I poured my developer. This caused me to spill and to be hesitant with my development pours, for fear of spilling. I switched to a 16x20" tray, which makes me much less concerned about spilling. This allowed me to focus really intensely on getting a steady and even developer pour on this plate. It worked! The second tweak to my process involves the amount of developer. Previously, I had been using ~20mL of developer, which just wasn't enough for me to get an even pour at my current skill level. Now I'm using 50mL of developer and sort of "brute forcing" an even steady pour with more than enough developer. This is something I'll want to tweak as my technique improves, but for now I'm totally content to "waste" a lot of developer.

Why am I not at all troubled by wasting developer? Because I've switched to homemade sugar positive developer instead of the more expensive pre-made developer I had been using previously. It's dirt cheap and easy to make, and so I totally don't mind that my current pouring technique is wasteful. Here's the recipe I'm using:

Sugar Positive Developer

  • 1000mL Distilled White Vinegar
  • 20mL Grain Alcohol
  • 30g Ferrous Sulfate Heptahydrate
  • 40g Sugar
  1. Pour 500mL of the vinegar into a mixing vessel.
  2. Dissolve the ferrous sulfate heptahydrate into the vinegar.
  3. Mix in the grain alcohol.
  4. Mix in the sugar and stir until dissolved.
  5. Add the remaining 500mL of the vinegar.
  6. Filter (!!!) and use.

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This plate required a 15s exposure with my Voigtlander Petzval 360mm f/4.7 lens -- my collodion is ancient, as I mixed it back in March 2023. I'm *really* looking forward to getting fresh collodion (I use the Old Work Horse formula) in the mail: my exposures should be significantly shorter, the contrast should be higher, and I'll stop getting these horrible white splotchy marks around the site of my collodion pours.

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Also, I need to stop injuring the image by inadvertently touching it. I accidentally rub off the *extraordinarily fragile* wet collodion on many of my plates. There are so many places in the process where this can happen -- lifting the plates into and out of the silver bath and fixer bath, putting the plates into my plate holder. This process requires *a lot* of care. As a big clumsy oaf, I'm finding this challenging.


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