[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Montage of images and link description. The Wizard of Photography Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
Color Process QTVR Tour Kodak Music Finalshot Entrepreneur

Wet-Plate Photography

The wet plate photgrapher needed a strong back if he went into the field Let's imagine that you're hiking with friends to the summit of a nearby mountain or hill, and you'd like to capture the excursion on film. Today, you would just need carry along a small camera -- the kind that you send back with the film inside would work just fine. But what about in times past? Well, it turns out that you could have done the same 112 years ago with your Kodak camera, which you also sent back to the factory for processing (although the original Kodak camera was return to you with new film loaded).

But if you went back more than 112 years -- to, say, 1880 or so -- the story would be quite different.

The wet-plate photgrapher on the road. For one thing, you'd be dealing with heavy glass plates. The camera, too, would be heavy, as well as bulky. And chances are you'd be working with wet-collodion plates, which would mean that, in addition to your camera and glass plates, you would also need to carry on your back a complete darkroom, with all its chemicals, and in your head a fairly in-depth knowledge of chemistry.

As if all of that wasn't enough, every time you decided to take a picture, you'd have to set up your darkroom tent, prepare a glass plate, then expose and develop the plate while it was still wet.

Inside the darkroom with the cover removed For a detailed description on how to make pictures using the wet-plate process, check out the following step-by-step instructions. When you're through, you'll know what's involved in making a collodion negative.

start here >> Step 1: Coat with Collodion
Step 2: Dip in Silver Nitrate
Step 3: Plate to Camera
Step 4: Expose
Step 5: Pour on Developer
Step 6: Fix the Plate
Step 7: Wash and Varnish
Step 8: Make a Print

All line art courtesy of Scully & Osterman

QTVR Tour | Kodak Music | Wet-Plate Photography | Color Process | Final Shot | Entrepreneur

The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide
The American Experience | Kids | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe

©  New content 1999-2000 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: