The Wet Plate Collodion Process

I work exclusively in wet plate collodion, the photographic process invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1848 and used extensively during the 1850s–1870s.  Faster and less costly than daguerreotypes, wet plate collodion photographs were extremely popular during the Civil War years.  If you are interested in 19th century history or pursue genealogy, you have likely seen and wondered at the amazing black-and-white images from this period.

The wet plate process involves pouring collodion (a syrup-like mixture of nitrocellulose, ether, and grain alcohol) onto a metal (tintype) or glass (ambrotype) plate, sensitizing the plate in a silver nitrate bath, exposing the plate (subjects holding still for 5–10 seconds), and then developing and fixing the image—all of which has to be done within 15 minutes, before the plate dries out.  From posing through exposing, developing, and fixing, each one-of-a-kind image takes about 20 minutes to create.  Additional time is needed to apply a protective coating (varnish) to the image.