Making glass plate negs

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by jim_gardner|4, Apr 19, 2010.

  1. A dealer I know has a lovely old camera for sale that I believe was made to take glass plate negs which I may be tempted to buy at the right price.
    The thing is I like to use the cameras I buy but I have no idea how to make glass plate negatives, what process would have been used or even if it is still possible to get the chemicals needed (in the UK)
    Is any one out there doing this and if so, what are you doing and how are you doing it? If so, what are the results like?
    Many thanks.
  2. Not for the faint at heart, but it is possible, and still being done -- see (just as an example) the website of the Osterman's ( for details.
  3. As an alternative you could try a piece of sheet film cut to size with the appropriate sized piece of glass behind it.
  4. It would depend on the what sort of glass plates. Earlier cameras might have been fitted out for wet plate (as for collodion) photography, later ones for dry plate, and later still for sheet film.
    Wet plate photography is fairly complicated, even though there is a modern process thats safer than the original. Just as well, as the original chemicals would probably be illegal now.
    Most plate cameras would have come later, say about 1890 through to, well, through to now really, and used the dry plate process. You could buy packs of plates, probably a box of 12, all ready to use. You still can on ebay, and some of them still work. You can make your own dry plates, if you've the time and patience, or you can pack out the holders with card and use film instead.
    There isn't any real difference between a dryplate camera and a sheet film camera, of the kind used by press photographers for many years. Many of them can take either a plate holder or film holder, and some of my plate holders have metal sheaths inside so you can use them with sheet film instead of glass plates. My sheet film holders are the same external dimensions as the plate holders. However there have been many plate sizes and styles of holder, so if the camera doesn't come with the holders, it can be difficult finding the right ones.
    The equipment needed for development can be a bit different (you can't bend plates like you can bend film) but the chemicals and process for developing dry plate are the same as for modern film.
  5. Sally Mann does wet glass plate photography.
    Google her. Beautiful photos.
    I have always wanted to try it, but never got around to it.
    All I know is you have to coat the glass, it goes into the camera while
    it is still wet, take the photo and it has to be developed immediately before it dries.
    I watched a program on Sally mann and she had a glass plate lab set up in the back of here SUV.
    You can get the chems in the US, but not sure about the UK.
  6. Plates can still be bought, coated with modern emulsions, like Tmax, or Hp5+. These are dry plates, as opposed to wet plates, and the difference is huge. Glass plates coated with modern emulsions are exposed and processed much like their film counterparts, except that the plates require plate holders instead of film holders, and one can't process a plate in a jobo. Wet plate is a much more demanding process, and the equipment is different, too. A wet plate holder is different than a plate holder. There are still many cameras and accessories around from the glass plate era, fewer from the wet plate era. This is an important distinction to make. Good luck, and enjoy!
  7. There's really no source of new dry plates anymore that I know of. There are some very dedicated folks making their own emulsions and coating them on glass plates, both Colloidon, and normal gelatin emulsions.
    If the camera is a dry plate camera, and comes with plate holders, you buy "film sheaths", which hold a sheet of film, and are stiff like a plate of glass, and use them to load film in the plate holders.
    This is what I do with a Pony Premo No. 4.
    It takes some patience to find the right size film sheaths on eBay, but it can be done.
    Note that if the camera isn't 4x5 inch, finding the film sheaths, and film to go in them, will be rather more difficult.
    In some cases, a 4x5 plate camera can also take modern film holders. But you may need to adjust the ground glass location to get accurate focus, the old plate holders weren't standardized from brand to brand, and varied in the distance between emulsion and the face of the holder.
  8. Thanks for all that great information, very interesting. I will admit straight off that I checked out the links and it does seem like a fairly difficult process that may mean quite an investment in chemicals.

    From what you have all said, I think the camera was made to take dry plates as it has film holders with it. If I did buy it I think I would try cutting some film to size first or maybe get some glass of the right size cut and coat it with a readily available liquid emulsion.
    I will certainly let you know if I buy it.
  9. Check out The Light Farm for photographers producing their own emulsions.
  10. I just inherited a Cycle Wizard w/ Bausch and Lomb lens by Manhattan Optical circa 1904. It was stored in the original case with three 4x5 glass plate holders so everything stayed remarkably pristine. After a good lens cleaning the movements are near perfect. I intend to put this camera to use. My son, who works for an auto body repair shop, said the PPG glass salesperson might be able to supply photo quality glass (Kodak specs) that I can cut to size. I'll post any updates

Share This Page