On the way back from a night at Lake Pedder Wilderness Lodge, the road soon begins winding through a sparse open landscape of low-lying jagged mountainface and seemingly bare wetland. We pulled off the side of the road and down a little dirt track into a swampy marsh of burnt trees and rocks. After taking a nice digital photo of Lauren and her guitar I pulled out the 11×14 camera and spent about 20 minutes trying to find a nice composition amongst a tuft of dead trees. Once setup and my chemicals all ready I began the process of pouring a clear glass plate to do a steptest (1st mistake).
My widest lens that covers 11×14, a 360mm f/6.5 Nikkor-W, was stopped down to f/32. My steptest was done at exposures of 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 and 256 seconds. On the clear glass, the correct exposure with 16 seconds of development seemed to be in the area of around 128 seconds. A pretty long exposure by my standards but the collodion is starting to get pretty old and thus quite slow. The light was dreary, grey and heavily overcast. Perfect wet plate conditions.
Confident with the steptest on the clearglass I then pulled out one of the few remaining 11×14 aluminium plates I have left. I poured a plate, sensitised it and put it in the camera to make the exposure. I got back to my van and developed the plate. Once in the fixer the image began to appear on the plate.
While the plate is most certainly an image, I am not entirely happy with it (and consider it a ‘fail) for a number of reasons. The first reason being that I wish I had shortened development time and lengthened the exposure. I believe that had I overexposed and underdeveloped I would have been able to bring more detail out in the foreground or at least reduced the contrast.
The second and biggest killer for me is the whispy developer streaks still left on the plate. I can put this down to two things perhaps;
- Plate angle too slight when I’m pouring the developer, so the developer perhaps hesitates as it flows over the plate.
- Stopping the development not evenly enough, but I have been conscious of this and do my best to ensure this is not the case, so reason 1 seems more likely.
Apart from that I am very happy with the overall evenness of the development from top to bottom, there seems to be improvement in that respect. I am not overly concerned with the messiness around the edges as that is reasonably negligible. Although I am not on of those, dare-I-say, ‘lazy’ wet-plate shooters that ’embraces the flaws’, I still accept that I am relatively new to the process but am striving for ‘perfect plates’ and constantly trying to improve my method. So long as I have a consistently clean bulk of the image I am happy to ignore messy edges (that traditionally would have been covered with frames anyway)
I should also probably try and not let there be any difference between my test plate and my actual plate (clear glass vs aluminium). I should make both the same so the results are more consistent and predictable. Clear glass is particularly tricky out in the field because it’s hard to get an honest rendering of what the final image will look like. A correct exposure might seem overexposed with light pouring in from around the edges of the glass ‘fogging’ the image.
I would have tried to make another plate but Lauren was tired and hungry and we were running out of time so we had to move on. I am determined to get this exposure right so will head out there again when I get home from sea and try and make a ‘keeper’.
For the record, composing on the Chamonix 11×14 is tricky in a weird way… the ground glass is nowhere near as bright as my Tachihara 8×10. I’m wondering if it’s because of light fall-off from the lens but I can hardly see that being the reason. Not really an obstacle just another bump in the road of the whole process.
For the record, here is the digital image I made of Lauren. I am really happy with it.