Wet Plate Photographs

Wet Plate photography for museums, historic houses and buildings and heritage organisations

 Wet Plate Photographs

Wet Plate photography and portraiture for Museums, Historic Buildings and Heritage organisations

What is Wet plate photography?

You probably have some wet plate photographs in your photographic collection. It was the most popular process of photography from the 1850’s through to the 1880’s. It involved pouring a liquid emulsion, a fantastical mix of chemicals, onto glass or metal plates, making them light sensitive and then developing them resulting in an image made of pure silver. It is capable of producing negatives and positive images - called Ambrotypes, or if on metal Tintypes. Ambrotypes and Tintypes are completely unique objects. They are beautiful, one-off, works of art that can not be reproduced or faked (even with Instagram) with any degree of authenticity. Don’t bother with the fakery - get the real thing!

Whilst this is a somewhat a forgotten process, there is a dedicated small following of photographers who still use this process. If you have not seen an ambrotype or tintype, seek one out! They are exceptionally detailed, ethereal images that have a material longevity yet to be matched by any other photographic process, including digital. They are exceptionally beautiful, with minor flaws and mistakes that add to their handmade, one-of-a-kind, nature. A true collaboration between science and art.

I can provide a specialised service producing ambrotypes and tintypes for the museum, historic house, or heritage organisations, both for your buildings and people.

Wet plate Portraiture

This was the most common form of wet plate photography during the visctorian period and produced vast numbers of portraits, carte-de-visite and family album images. Wet plate portraits are beautiful, magical objects, and sitting for one is an experience you will never forget. Far more detailed than any digital camera, I use a mahogany plate camera from the 1870’s (and a WW2 spitfire air reconnaissance lens) to capture every minutiae of the sitter in stunning silver (pure silver). Rendered through the Ultraviolet spectrum of light, a wet plate portrait will show you an image of yourself you will never see with any other form of photography. They are gorgeous, tangible, objects and look amazing displayed or framed. Sitting for a wet plate portrait is like being transported back in time, something I’m sure most museum professionals would appreciate. The process and the equipment is from the Victorian period but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a reenactment joke; What I produce is fine art portraiture, made using (arguably) the finest techniques photography has ever created.

The basic run through of the shoot -

My camera and I, along with my mobile darkroom, come to your site, set up and prepare for the sitter. Some tests plates are made to check exposure as this has to be done according to the light available , temperature, and numerous other factors. The sitter takes their place and the exposure is made… don’t move, it can be between 1 or 2 to 10 second exposure time. I develop the plate in the darkbox and bring it out so you can watch the fixing process. This is where the latent image, a blueish grey smudge, becomes the picture. It is a magical experience to see an image form in front of your eyes. I will then take the plate away and scan using a high resolution scanner and varnish using a fantastic smelling lavender based varnish, permanently rendering the image. The photographs produced in the 1850’s still look as sharp and beautiful today as they did when they were made, and provided some basic care is taken yours will too. I can accommodate up to 15 sitters in a day long shoot. I will then deliver the plates back to you, securely and carefully packaged to avoid damage, alongside your digital scans which you are free to use as you please, for marketing, your archive or collection or website. I do ask for any published or online use to carry my photographers credit.

Wet Plate photography of Buildings, Galleries and Museums

As above, I provide a specialised service for wet plate photography for historic sites, museums, historic buildings and galleries. This is an excellent and dramatic way of capturing your building and is something very special for your collection. Buildings appear magnificently in wet plate images. Sharp, tonally interesting, ethereal and immensely beautiful. I love taking wet plates of buildings as i believe this is the most fundamental way of capturing a moment of your buildings history and preserving it forever - and I do mean forever - wet plates taken in the 1850’s still appear as bright and sharp as they did on the day they were made. This is archival photography at its very best. Also, as the image is rendered in UV light, occasionally details unseen with the human eye suddenly appear, although I should say this is an exciting but rare occurrence, but you never know…

What to expect -

When photographing buildings, I will agree on the views you wish to capture prior to the shoot. We will then book a day to make the plates. If the weather or other environmental factors are against us, I will rebook that day close to the time of the shoot - a bright day during spring to autumn is best. If on the day of the shoot the weather is bad, I will attempt the process to see if it can work, if not I will rebook another day at your convenience, free of charge. Typically I will make between 10-15 images per day and aim to get as perfect an image as possible (see below). I will capture the images previously agreed, take the plates away for scanning and varnishing and return securely packaged.

Costs -

I charge for the shoot at my standard day rate (£350). Due to the inherent costs of materials and chemicals, each plate costs an additional £5-10 to make depending on size and material. I do not charge for test images or for any failed plates (see below). I will agree all costings before any shoot and strive at all times to provide a guaranteed delighted service for all my clients.

A Note on the temperamental Nature of wet plate photography

Wet plate photography is a mixture of science and art, and is notoriously temperamental. There are many environmental factors, alongside others, that can have a dramatic effect on the production of plates. The light, being sensitive to UV and insensitive to most artificial light, is the greatest determining factor of wet plate photography. Too little, or even too much, sunlight can cause a picture to be a failure, or have too many defects for me to give it to you with a straight face. Whilst I have lights which help deal with less than optimal light levels, they cannot produce images in the dark. Temperature also has a major effect on plate success. Too hot, or too cold, can be impossible to work with. Some days are perfect and many plates can be made, other days, for no foreseeable explanation nothing can be done. Therefore, it is best to organise a shoot to avoid the winter months and hope for a nice bright day. Obviously this is out of both of our control, so if a booking looks to be falling on a dull, wet, or day in which the process is not able to produce plates that I can proudly give you, I will organise another day’s shoot, free of charge, at your convenience. On those typical ‘British Weather’ days that are neither bad nor good, I will attend site and attempt to make plates. Many times a cloudy day can produce the best imagery. If it should fail, I will re-book a day at your convenience free of charge. I aim to give 100% satisfaction, and therefore will never palm you off with substandard images. That said, some minor flaws and defects in the process can occur. These are natural, unavoidable and even add to the beauty of the image. If you look at old Ambrotypes or Tintypes you can see these ‘flaws’ and hopefully you agree that they show the image to be a handmade original, one of a kind and not a fake Instagram filter. However, rest assured, I will never leave you feeling hard done by and will always ensure you are delighted with your photographs.