Daily Inspiration #346 by Jordan Dickinson – Wet plate collodion

Hi again Steve,

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in contact, but have been busy “exploring” photography in a new sense.  Although my love for all things Leica has not faltered, I have decided to stray from the digital realm, and even the film realm in order to pursue a medium that has drawn my gaze like no other…wet plate collodion.  This process (from around the 1850s-1860s) has eaten up months of time, and money, collecting equipment from the 19th century, chemicals, and instructionals, which have been difficult in a way that has been shocking to someone used to the immediate/semi-immediate availability of other photographic needs.

In any case, it’s been about 3 months since I’ve taken a short class in wet plate collodion, and after getting my equipment together, buying chemicals, and finding a weekend to put the time in, I’ve finally produced my first image (my girlfriend Catherine who is very patient with my experiments). I find this process supremely rewarding, and ridiculously infuriating in terms of issues that can arise with chemical defects, bad pours (collodion), and the lack of exposure readings.  Collodion is essentially sensitive to an ASA of around 1 (yes, that’s a one), so exposure is a continual guessing game.  With all these potential issues, it’s amazing that images can be produced at all, but with a little practice and research, there is a way, so much so that there are people far more competent than I in this process.  With a little time and a lot of wasted plates, I’m hoping to at least get myself into the field a little more.

With the onslaught of new digi-cams, and film prices increasing, it has been nothing short of a revelation getting into a process that by its nature, is immune to the latest hype of technology.

Thanks Steve, and keep up the great work…


  1. though hast captured her soul…

    Ever tried Platinum printing? (rather than Silver for example) I saw some absolutely stunning examples in Aprils (or was it March) Black and White photography magazine (uk)

  2. Simply brilliant. I am not sure if it is the knowledge of the work you put into taking this picture or the picture itself that contributes the most to my appreciation if the picture, but I love it whichever it is…

  3. Great effort and an even greater result.
    Someone already mentioned Sally Mann
    above, for those not familiar with her work please google her.
    I enjoyed your post and admire your compulsion and drive.
    Let’s see more soon.

  4. This is fantastic!! I would love to see more of your work. The clear difference between making a photo and taking a photo. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  5. Harry, by the above appreciative comments from the members of this site, it makes me happy to see that there are many people twho appreciate the value and uniqueness of that beautiful portrait. It goes to show that no Nocti Bokeh, Instagram App or Alien Skin “you push the button, we do the rest” can really replicate or replace the experience and intense intimacy that goes on at that “extended decisive moment” of exposure.

    Steve, well done and thank you for making your wonderful site so varied in content and for not only catering for the gear heads and tech freaks. Though I love and embrace all the modern candy available in these exciting times, it is great to see inspirational posts based on older techniques that raise operational questions and make us look at the deeper meaning of photography today.

  6. Nice to see you working in wet plate. For many in the Western US Quinn Jacobson (www.studioq.com) is a great source of instruction. He does good work, teaches workshops and currently has a major Wet Plate show in Paris, France.(Not Paris, Idaho or Texas)

    Keep it up. Many good Wet Plate artists of varying sorts. A lot of satisfation in the process as well as the final images.

  7. What a beautiful and engaging portrait – and what an amazing journey you have set yourself, Jordan.

    Recently I purchased a Watson & Sons full glass plate ( signed and dated 1886 ) portrait studio camera with a 360 brass lens and studio tripod by the same London maker in pristine condition. Amazing specimen of craftsmanship and presission for that era… the wood and brass work is exquisite. Initially thought of a conversion to 5×7 negative back, but decided to not mess with the original design and construction. My research led me to a Sally Man documentary whose work I have always admired. I am on the verge of beginning a similar journey as you to further my portrait studies and research into what a portrait is and means.

    What attracts me to this old process is the actual “taking” of the images with such equipment and long exposures – not only the physical materiality or textures of the results. I am interested in the way that the sitter reacts to the slower operation by the photographer and of the unusual gear and of course the “stare” or “gaze” that takes over the sitter’s face as they have to hold still for up to a minute exposure time – hence that “deeper look” that is often seen in these types of portraits – something that you too have captured in your beautiful portrait.

    I would love to hear more about your actual shooting experience ( the camera and specifically the lens you use ) as well as the experience of your beautiful girlfriend as the “sitter” and collaborator in the portrait… we often forget that a portrait is a collaborative experience between the taker, the sitter and the audience.

    Thank you very much for sharing

    • Perfectly said, Jorge, about the sitter and the photographer ‘collaborating’ on a picture that takes 60 seconds or more to take. I love this portrait, (not least because she’s a lovely girl), but because it looks like photography. I’m not sure our conscious striving towards perfection is really getting us anywhere. To take a picture with the character and, well, soul, that this one has with a modern digital camera would be almost impossible. I suppose a Photoshop genius could do something by ‘degrading’ a perfectly good image file, but you still wouldn’t have had the interplay between photog and sitter for that minute.
      I love it.

  8. thanks everyone for the support. I am still struggling very much to get myself more efficient and technical proficient in this process. Among other things, attaining a sharp image without a head brace is proving difficult, as you can tell from the image above. My next complaint, however minor, is the difficulty in digitizing these images. I’ve found scanning as a reflective image is showing a ton of dust, and it’s painstakingly frustrating to have to remove it. I’ve heard others are photographing their plates with macro lenses, which might reduce the dust, at least somewhat. In any case, I have a ton to learn, and yes there are plenty of amazing wet plate artists out there. A few, here in Denver, have been immensely helpful in getting me going (Chris Perez, and Quinn Jacobson), so to them, I am highly indebted.

    Thanks very much everyone for your support, and thanks Steve for featuring my image!

  9. Beautiful image but hate to say it doesn’t sound very “green”. What do you do with the used up chemicals?

    • Somehow, I reckon ” the planet ” may just survive Jordon’s chemicals. It’ll be a close run thing of course, but I’m betting we’ll pull through. Perhaps we could set the EPA after him to bring the inner warm glow of self-righteouness that only a “Green” can know (like wrecking the environment with execrable wind “farms”).

      Go for it Jordon and never be put off by the nitpickers, naysayers, or eco-loons. As for reporting to Mr Samuels about what “you do with the used up chemicals”, ye gods!

      Great work, and I think a lot of photograhers and viewers understand the effect you’re after.

    • James, if being against dumping toxic waste into the soil and watershed makes me an “eco-loon”, then it’s a label I wear proudly. Mr. Dickinson’s photograph is very nice, but I see nothing that justifies poisoning the environment in name of his craft.

  10. superb image. Got me wanting to hit the darkroom again. Darn! Just when you think you are out, they pull you back in!

  11. If anyone needs more inspiration beyond Jordan’s post, check out this mind blowing work with large scale wet plates (shot out of the back of a delivery truck). Simply amazing.

    Keep it up Jordan!


  12. Wow I have been researching this process all day then I come over to Steve’s site only to find this article! I want to do this so bad it hurts but I fear the cost and time won’t allow it. I’ve been shooting medium format film for about 2 years now and love it like nothing else but the images from these wet plates are absolutely breathtaking!

  13. I just don’t understand why…..and I don’t care either!!

    This would no doubt be the reaction of most people. I have to say I’m not sure what I find more fascinating, the process from a bygone era or the fact that a love of photography can get us doing these seemingly absurd things.

    Time consuming, expensive and irrational it may be, but its also fantastic.

    Good on you. Jason

    • Well, it’s magical ..you pour solution onto a piece of glass, and you can capture the visible world with it!

  14. Well done for taking it on – it’s always intrigued me, too – but I decided to first try my hand and classic dark room printing before venturing further. Would be lovely to see your progress – do you upload the pictures somewhere? And how do you digitize them – do you scan them or photograph them?


  15. Hmmm. My crystal ball tells me it won’t catch on. and it won’t be long before someone realises life could be made a lot easier if a method could be found of using a dry emulsion on a plate, or even a roll of transparent flexible material. And someone is bound to find a way of making the capture device much smaller using said flexible material. And you never know, someday it may even be possible to produce images without using any of this stuff. But my crystal ball gazing could be completely wrong, and this thing called “photography” won’t go anywhere at all.

    Just to see if I was misguided, I wrote this in 1859. lol.

  16. Dreamy, Ethereal, and Quite Beautiful.

    Keep it up, sir.

    Your trials and tribulations certainly puts my ‘difficulty’ making sure I use the IR lens marking when shooting Infrared Imagery with my M8 in a whole different light!
    Richard in Michigan

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