Reflecting on my first efforts in the Wet Plate Collodion process I can clearly recall just how confusing and complex it all seemed to me. I mean the number of different ways in which it can go wrong, the number of things you need to pay attention to, is overwhelming at first. However, approached it like I’ve done with all photographic processes and that was with a determination to keep it simple. Simple for me means understanding the process start to finish. Wet Plate like most other photographic processes is about as varied as can be imagined. However I distilled it down to it’s fundamental essence and then got on with it.
Contrary to much good advice I decided that I’d proceed with wet plate negatives as opposed to ambrotypes or tintypes. Tintypes in particular are the recommended starting point as they just tend to be easier in terms of getting a successful outcome and less prone to and sensitive to the multitude of things which can run an ambrotype or negative into a ditch. Negatives introduce an entirely different layer of complexity and consideration with all kinds of techniques and processes for controlling density and contrast that can include re-exposure example.
In any event, my first efforts were crap. I was happy that I actually ended up with a negative on glass at all but they were far from what right looks like. I think that in one instance I managed to yield just about every thing that can go wrong in wet plate. I did all of my root cause analysis and managed to understand and learn to control, to the extent you can, for these errors. However, one thing continued to plague me. I had been using my trusted Pentax Spot Meter and Sekonic L-308S, combined with the exposure calculator I reviewed in an earlier post to arrive at an exposure for each plate. In almost every instance I was way off. I stuck with one lens and a pretty consistent development/wash/fix process and it was quite evident I was just way off on my exposure calculations.
Enter the FREE Pocket Light Meter app. I found reference to this app and downloaded onto my iPhone. Putting it to use I immediately saw the results. I was closer to right immediately which then gave me a clear understanding of the latitude I had for realizing my creative vision. Did I mention this app is FREE!!! Yes, it’s FREE!
What are you waiting for….get it!
Note. You do have to set the ASA to 1 (unless you know better for your particular work) and set the Exposure Correction to -2 2/3. Once you do this, you’re in business and I tell you it’s pretty spot on. I do recommend you use it along the same plane as your camera is pointed and that you approach your subject and move it across it a bit to try and ascertain a sense for the variance. Once you do that, it’s up to you, but you’ll be pretty much on the money.