Another year, another wet plate

Even though I wasn’t officially a part of the class this year, I asked at the beginning of the semester to be included when they covered the wet plate process, because it’s a favorite of mine, also because we’d be working with the old (now retired) head of the photography program who is a wonderful lady and a lot of fun.

This was the first roll of film I shot through my new (2nd) Canon 7 with the Summarit.  I’ve wondered what an older low-contrast lens like my 1953 Summarit would handle a high-saturation film like Kodak Ektar 100, and now I know.  I’m working on another post about this so once I shoot that second roll of Ektar I have I will post more thoughts…


Our timings were off a bit, and with me being outside the entire time minding the camera, I couldn’t help troubleshoot, the result being that most of our plates were overexposed to one degree or another.  Thankfully, mine coming at the very end of the day, we were a bit more dialed in than when we started.  I scanned this plate and printed it at 4x5ft for my Advanced Photography project.  I’ve been holding these photos back for weeks now, meant to post them on World Wet Plate Day, but I forgot, too much going on.

Cyanotype onesies – Alternative Processes

So here are the final examples of the cyanotypes I did on cotton.  I never was able to determine why exactly they turned yellow, but I have ideas, and perhaps one day I’ll experiment more.


I tried washing the onesies beforehand, that didn’t work.  I tried washing afterwards in cold water, but they started to fade.  I tried prewashing cold without detergent for the last one, didn’t make a difference.  The only thing I can think of right now, is that I was on well water at the time, whereas the cyanotype solution was mixed on campus with city water, but aside from that, I don’t know what I did wrong.  Other people printed cyanotypes on cotton with no problem!  For the record, they were a gorgeous deep blue until I took them home and put them through the washing machine.

I snapped this just to have a record of it before I sent these off to my friends (and their new baby) in Boulder.

The first part of this post is here.

Joe’s personal Caffenol C-L recipe

For what it’s worth, this is my own personal recipe, I’m still experimenting with it, but I’ve been pretty happy with the results.  If I change anything, I’ll come back to this post.


For starters: I am using a Paterson universal tank.  I keep the 1liter water measure, because that will fill up that tank to the brim.  I fill to the brim because I’m using at least a semi-stand development method, and I want as little air inside the tank as possible.  My recipe is based on Reinhold’s, but converted to the American volumetric measuring system, and from doing some digging online and off, I’ve included a few other useful rules of thumb, like developing times.

Astro Beck (who is a friend of my Alt.Process instructor) told me that caffenol tends to “contaminate” plastic to some degree and exhausts fixer, et. al, faster than normal processes, so it’s best to have a tank and all other chemicals set aside exclusively for caffenol use.  If all you do is caffenol, I’m sure it wouldn’t matter, but this could be important if you’re still developing with other chemicals, or share equipment with someone who does.

I’m using the C-L recipe because I have found Potassium Bromide to be essential.  I know there are recipe/film combinations that work without it, but I shoot mostly Kodak film, and Kodak films tend to fog badly without KBr.

I’ve listed ingredients in the order that they should be added, usually mix hard and wait for the water to clear to see if more mixing is needed.  The KBr that I have is a combination of powder and large crystals.  The hard crystals are fine in the solution, but they need a bit of soaking before they’re ready to be crushed down, and then more soaking before they completely dissolve.  Coffee is last because you won’t be able to see anything after it’s added.  Generally, I use water at around 70F (70 degrees Fahrenheit) though the original recipe calls for 68, as it takes enough time to mix that the water cools down (unless it’s Summer, then maybe it should be 66F…will experiment and check back).

Water (1000ml) – for two rolls, a full tank
Washing soda (3 1/2 tsp)
Vitamin C (2 tsp)
Potassium Bromide (~1/4 tsp) (KBr)
Instant coffee (8 tsp)

Water (500ml) – for one roll (I know, you only need 300ml, you could do a third of the 1liter recipe)
Washing soda (>2 tsp)
Vitamin C (<1 tsp) (a heaping teaspoon)
Potassium Bromide (~1/8 tsp) (KBr)
Instant coffee (4 tsp)

After all ingredients are mixed, let sit for 5 minutes (this is a good time to start presoaking your film as well).  After 5mins/when you’re ready, dump the water out of the tank and pour in the developer.  Here’s a good rule of thumb for developing times:

ASA100 – 15mins
ASA200 – 30mins
ASA400 – 45mins
etc.  Every extra stop, add 15mins.

I use semi-stand development, which is something like 10sec immediately, then 5sec after that at 1min, 2min, 4min, 8min, 15min, 30min, etc.

This seems to work with all regular Kodak black & white films (I haven’t tried Double-X, etc), so it’s more a case of what speed you’re shooting at rather than what film you’re using.  Since you’re agitating much less, grain is reduced, and I particularly like what it does to Tri-X.

I’ll admit that my negatives look pretty thin using this formula, however, they are extremely low contrast, so no detail is lost.

I’ve found that adding more coffee will make the film develop faster, but mostly has the effect of making the highlights block up, so definitely go light on the coffee if you’re pushing film a few stops.

For more information on where I sourced my materials and how much I paid, click here.

(note: I forgot to transcribe my recipe before I moved, had to go back and get my notebook, so my last roll of film was just slightly off, as I went by new/different calculations)

Students conducting students

…it was a bit like a horror movie…

This was the first of two scoring sessions we did in film scoring class.  As one of the directors, I didn’t have much to do, and ended up taking pictures.  As I brought a quiet rangefinder that day instead of a noisy SLR, I felt more confident about taking a shot here and there while they were actually recording.  Having the drum set there helped me as well, I’m sure.

Off-topic, this is post #100, so I’m celebrating that milestone.  It’s only taken me the better part of 2 years.

Wet Plate Day picture – Alternative Processes

It’s been submitted, it’s up there, I’m happy to be among those who participated.  Check out the full gallery here.


The exposure was around 23 seconds, my instructor Carol pulled the trigger for me, but I was the one who came up with the idea, pose, the 2-tone background, and called the shots for exposure, so I’d say this counts as a true self-portrait, and I like it quite a bit!  If I ever wrote a book, this is the image I’d stick on the back cover.

I paid a bit closer attention to the lens this time, just to have the information.  It says: J.H. Dallmeyer, London.  U.S. Patent 1868.  I suppose going off the serial number would tell me exactly when it was made, but I’d guess sometime before 1890.

Community – short film

Sorry guys, I’ve had a busy few weeks completing final projects, writing papers, and all the other general craziness with finals week, plus playing a show Friday night.  Here is what became my final for my film scoring class, Community:

We did two video assignments in the class.  I wasn’t sure if the second was going to come off or not, but we ended up doing it anyway; we only had a week and a half to shoot, edit, and score the film.  Thankfully, the minimum running time was a manageable 1 minute, so I threw some stuff together using part of my final in my Alt.Process class (don’t tell the instructor!)

I was happy enough with my project that I entered it (unscored and not-quite complete) in my school’s short film festival, and competed against three other films in the Experimental Film category.  Needless to say, I didn’t win, but had fun being there again, and took the opportunity to talk a bit with some of the students and faculty in the filmmaking program.

The footage came from a roll of T-Max 400 and a roll of Tri-X shot at 800, and was developed in the Caffenol C-L recipe using my trusty Spotmatic SPII.  This was also the first time I was really able to put the 1.4/50 Super -Takumar through its paces and it performed really nicely, I think.  It was definitely nice having the extra 2/3 stop, as the light was quite dim in the room.  Unfortunately that lens has a screw loose (literally) and is in danger of falling apart at the moment, so I’m not using it anymore until I can get the thing fixed.

edit: Thankfully, it wasn’t that expensive (maybe $5 at Cameraworks), and the lens was back in commission 10 minutes after taking it in, so I used it a lot for black & white work over the next year.

Pinhole Day pics – Alternative Processes

It was cold and wet that day, a sprinkling of rain/snow (it couldn’t decide which it wanted to be).  I ran around town with my camera on a tripod and just started getting shots, really.  Thankfully, it all just comes off as mist and looks quite good.

I was out shooting on Pinhole Day with my Spotmatic body cap.  I ended up with five images that I really liked, it was a bit hard narrowing them down to one to submit to, and actually I read the rules wrong and ended up submitting all five.  Then later, I realized my mistake.  Anyway, there’s only one left, but it’s up there.  Click here to see my class’s group page at the gallery.

I used expired T-Max 100 that day, I don’t know if the film being out of date screwed me or not, but most of what I’ve found online suggested developing in Caffenol C-M for around 15 minutes, and it fogged my film!  Also, there are streaks which would seem to suggest too vigorous agitation.  This has definitely convinced me to stick with C-L for every film type, I don’t care how slow.

Happy World Wet Plate Day!

It follows quite close on the heels of Pinhole Day, doesn’t it?  Wet Plate Day has its own website, too.  Our Alt.Process class was working on wet plate/collodion all last week and the week before, so I thought I’d put some of the fruits of that labor up here:

Irvin1  Ian

This is a tintype portrait of me taken by my classmate Ian, and then one of him taken by me (obviously he did a much better job pouring his collodion).  We used my instructor’s reproduction Civil War-era 8×10 camera, but the plates were cut down, less than 4×5 actually.  The lens is a vintage brass one made in England in the 1880s and I’d say it still takes a damn fine picture.  I documented the process on Tri-X as well, so you guys get a nice behind-the-scenes look:

We’re back out there today doing more of it and I can’t wait to see what we get.

Pinhole lens vs. macro lens comparison – Alternative Processes

Yeah, I was sure there would be a big difference, I just didn’t know how much!



For reference, the top image was the 4/50 S-M-C Macro-Takumar, and the bottom with the pinhole lens which has a size somewhere between 1/3-1/4mm, giving it an effective f/stop between f/172-256. It was also my first time using T-Max 400, which I already knew was going to be way overkill for the pinhole lens.  I noticed that the grain was about the same size between shots on T-Max 100 and Tri-X, and I suspect that even Tri-X is overkill when it comes to sharpness, which means there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be using the fastest, grainiest film I can find!

At least the Caffenol C-L concoction I’m working on doesn’t seem to be hurting me any.  Yet.

This makes me really want to make another pinhole lens, with a much smaller hole…