About the Process


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Wet plate collodion portraits on japanned iron (tintypes/ferrotypes) or glass (ambrotypes) are unique and stunning. Invented in 1851, the wet plate colldion process brought photography to the masses and was the primary photographic process used from the 1850s until the 1880s. It is the same photographic process that was used to document the U.S. Civil War and produce some of the earliest images of the American West, as exemplified by William Henry Jackson and Carleton Watkins.

Today, only a handful of contemporary photographers create wet plate collodion images, hand-mixing the chemicals necessary for each and every exposure. Fewer still japan their own plates for tintypes (ferrotypes), applying two coatings of the black laquer and baking it onto the iron plate.

Sitting for such a portrait is an experience in itself. I work with handcrafted cameras and antique brass lenses dating from 1860-1880. Depending on the available light, 2-10 seconds exposure time is common. When necessary, a cast iron head brace is used to help keep the sitter still. The natural pulsations of the body can cause it to move (in spite of the strongest will) sufficient to blur the image.

The wet plate collodion process requires photographs to be exposed in the camera and developed in the portable darkroom while they are still wet. The photograph can be seen a few minutes after the exposure has been made. For maximum permanence, the plate is rinsed and finally varnished to protect the delicate dried collodion and give a more durable surface to the thin deposit of silver that makes the image. (Caution should still be used to not scuff or scratch the image surface.)

While I primarily offer wet plate images at reenactments, living history events and festivals, location sessions are also available. A base set-up fee of $200 is required for on-location sessions within 50 miles of Williamstown, West Virginia. If you’re interested in an on-location shoot, please don’t hesitate to contact me.