The difference between wet and dry plates?

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by jdrose, Aug 22, 2007.

  1. What are the physical differences between the two? What were the logistical
    differences? Was there any difference in resulting image quality.

    I went to a lecture on pioneer western photographers and the speaker said many
    western photographers "endured" wet plate technology. He did not elaborate. It
    does not seem possible.

    Collidion is used at my work, and I can say that it is a nasty material. that in and of itself makes it something to endure...
  3. The wet plate had to be immersed in the sensitizing solution, then exposed and developed while still wet (damp?). So logistics were very difficult for the field photographer, who had to transport a portable darkroom. Plates meant glass, which meant weight, bulk and fragility, also a concern for the field photographer. Some photographers achieved remarkable prints, even of quite large size, despite these obstacles. Since the printing processes were by contact, large prints required large plates, and large cameras.
  4. The difficulties these early photographers overcame to create their images never ceases to amaze me. Here is an interesting reconstruction of a wet plate photographer at work. His assistant on the left is working at the portable darkroom preparing plates and processing them. This is a nice calm woodland setting but imagine doing this in a war zone as Roger Fenton and other first war photographers did in the Crimean war 1851-56.
  5. The photographer had roughly six minutes (plus or minus a few depending on humidity and
    temperature) between sensitization in silver nitrate solution and development. With studio
    portraiture this is no problem, and the result is almost as fast as a polaroid. On the other
    hand, for a landscape photographer this meant that the studio had to be brought into the
    field. It was more likely the the mules and assistants "endured" the process more than the
    photographers. Dryplate and the earlier Daguerreotype process had a much longer time
    between sensitation, exposure, and development.
  6. Another difference was apparently that the wet plate photographer could be identified by the black stains on their hands while the dry plate man was clean. Certainly the unrestored wet plate cameras I have seen looked pretty grubby. But then again maybe it was the assistant who had the black stained hands and the main man stayed clean.

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