First 12×20 wet plate photography shooting… more problems!


I got the materials together and headed up to the lakes to try and get my first 12×20 ambrotype out of this new camera. Well… More hurdles and frustration.

I initially went there on my way up to visit my mum a couple of weeks ago. The dark slide in my plate holder ended up disintegrating as soon as the silver nitrate came in contact with it, seeing as the material is so old. I got another one made up out of colourbond steel by some steelworks in Devonport.

I tried to head back to the lakes again on my way back South but the roads were entirely iced over and my van was just not having any of the road.

I got home, put my chemistry together, re-cleaned the 12×20 glass plates again and found a quiet day to head up there last Friday.


The weather was just about perfect, save for the breaking sunshine. But there was virtually no wind, which is the biggest problem factor with this giant camera.


Scenery around the lake



Another ‘test shot/composition’ I took with my phone. I always try and do a couple of test compositions because often the phone camera (or ‘polaroid’) will do a much better job of showing the kind of composition I’m after than just the naked eye.


The lake is man-made, which was flooded to generate hydro-electric power at Waddamana power station.

I broke out the 11×14 Chamonix camera and made an 8×10 test plate. Test exposure determined around 4 seconds @ f/16.

I then set up the 12×20 camera and poured the plate. I think I did really well pouring this first plate. I didn’t end up spilling a great deal of collodion which was good.


I really wanted to try and re-create an black glass 8×10 ambrotype I made here at the same locatioj about 18 months ago:

I thought the wide panoramic format of the 12×20 camera would be awesome in the lake.

My initial setting up of the camera was hard work. It is a BEAST to compose with. Windy days is just next to fucking impossible. Next to no wind is needed.

Anyway, as I said I poured the plate and sensitized it in my giant silver bath.. loaded the plate into the plate holder and went to the camera. I stuck the plate holder in, removed the dark slide and made a 40 second exposure @f45. Here is the plate (just a phone photo of the plate sitting in the rinse tray):


20170824_182657 2

12×20 clear glass ambrotype  sitting in the wash tray(phone photo)

As you can see, the exposure was just about spot on, collodion pour was pretty damn good for this size plate and the development couldn’t have been much better. I ‘upsized’ my developer vessel to a small beer cup. I figured I will not take any chances with fucking up development with these huge plates, and it’s better and cheaper to use too much developer than risk not hitting some of the large surface of glass with it. This practice seems to pay off.

Unfortunately the plate is really badly fogged. I packed up, came home and lay in bed all night thinking about what the problem was. The exposure was right. The developing was perfect. There has to be a light leak somewhere in the process, either somewhere in the darkroom, the camera or the plate holder. I checked the camera and found no leaks. My van has never been a problem on 11×14 or 8×10. Granted, the larger 12×20 pieces of glass are gonna be bigger recepticles to any stray light inside the van but I highly doubt it’s the problem. Then I checked the plate holder. The top of the plate shows the worst of the light leak, it is more blown out and fogged. This was consistent with my testing of the plate holder light trap with my phone torch.


Sigh. Anyway, before I came home I ran around and shot a roll of pinhole photos with the 6×17 pinhole camera. I need to go in and pick up some fixer from the shop this week and start developing this film. I’m pretty keen to trade this 6×17 in for a 6×12 and also excited to receive the 6x6F later next week.

I went back out again on Friday to see if I could cover up the plate holder with the dark cloth when removing the darkslide. I made a couple more plates up towards Oatlands but they showed much the same problem. The light trap in the plate holders is really badly shot, so I’m going to have to either get that repaired or buy a whole new plate holder. The latter being really expensive no doubt as these size plate holders rarely come up for sale. This all is very frustrating but I knew when buying such old equipment that I would be running into problems like this. The positives I should take from this is that pouring and developing the large plates isn’t much of a problem. That all is very comforting. But it probably won’t be another few weeks before  I can succesfully use this camera to it’s full potential.

Also, I came home and decided to use this fogged 12×20 plate to see how the varnishing heat tank contraption goes. It went really really well. The plate varnished perfectly. More good news.




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