Category Archives: images on glass and metal

making and using dry plates, and silver gelatin tintypes

long term goal

i have a hard time running out of film.

every time i get close someone i see on has some outdated film and i am a sucker for that stuff …  so i buy it.  i do my best to shoot it a lot .. i am getting low in my materials, thank goodness .. only a few 100′ rolls and maybe 50-100 rolls of 35mm film
maybe 50 rolls of 120 film a few hundred sheets (each) of 5×7, 8×10 and 4×5 film … it’s been my new year resolution for the better part of 6 years to run completely out of film and i might do it this year, and i can’t wait !

i have a dream that i can’t wait to act on … its a long term goal of not shooting film anymore, but only hand coated materials.  i’ve been using hand coated materials off and on, with limited success and off/on enthusiasm for almost 30 years … and i hope to run out of EVERYTHING so i can start making my own emulsions and  oating glass, metal, plastics and paper.

why would i want to do this?

i have a few reasons …

its not that i don’t enjoy using premade paper and film, its that they are too good .. as you might see from the photographs in this blog, and on my website and on imagekind i don’t really like “perfect” … unless its for a job, and that is what my client expects … otherwise i would rather have a few imperfections here or there and enjoy making it all by hand …


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limited success with home brew tintype developer

for a few weeks now i have been experimenting with various reversal developers to make

silver gelatin tintypes.  i abandoned my old stock of liquid emulsion for an unopened bottle

of liquid light i had bought maybe six years ago and never used.  i did a test coat on white paper exposed it in a camera as a paper negative and it looked great, so i figured i wouldn’t have much trouble coating metal and paper as tests as tintypes.  i followed the instructions on the rockland colloid site and coated thin, but my imges were barely visible.  im thining i’ll coat thick again.  i seemed to have the best of luck with thick coated plates since the emulsion wasn’t ag+ ,,,

i don’t have plates to post becausr, they are’t post worthy. …

i don’t plan on giving up my quest to make thest tintypes with less than wet plate danger

i have had my fun wi collodion over the years.  first as a college student, then afterwards, and while i don’t mind using it, i would rather use a less sensitive, material, and not have to cart my darkroom around with me,

i do know of collodion dry plates and could probably make them but id rather keep things simple and not deal with collodion …


more to follow  …..



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More tintypes

i loaded up a graflex series d plate holder yesterday
and filled it with 6 coated plates.  i exposed them heavily
hoping my dead emulsion would like extra light
and it did.  f3.8 @ an average of 3-4 minutes each exposure
noon-time-light ( heavy blue ) snow reflecting the light as well …

they were developed in my home brew reversal .. part coffee, part ansco130, part sodium carbonate, part magic
and i processed them this morning.  unfortunately i forgot the hardener in my old fashioned hypo, so some of the emulsion frilled and lifted
but i’ll re-use the plates.  the images were light, and some were coppery, and they are drying as i type this   …

i’ll warm up and pour some fresh emulsion in the next few days and see what happens next.  my developer works well ( tested it with regular paper )
it might just be my emulsion is old and not worth the bottle it is solidified in.

more to follow  …

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new dry plate tintypes

for a little under a year i have been playing with dry plate tintypes+ambrotypes.

my glass plate history began back when i was in a directed study photography class at tufts university.

the photography department ran out of numbered courses ( photo 1, photo2 &c  ) so after photo “5” i designed my own classes ( 2 directed studies  )  where i made and used old school silver emulsions.  i had bought a photography annual at a bookstore and thumbed through the pages and came up with what seemed like a simple recipe.  i bought silver nitrate from the photographers formulary ( i think it was them, it was a long time ago in 1987- )
and some gelatin and mixed up a batch in the middle of the night in our kitchen using pots + tools purchased at goodwill, so i wouldn’t contaminate any of our actual cooking tools …  it worked OK, i guess, it turned black in room light at least, but it wasn’t the best of emulsions.  rather than spend all my money on emulsion making stuff that sort of worked, i opted to buy rockland colloid’s liquid light.  it was already made and was a emulsion that worked …  so i started teaching myself the art of making dry plates  //  there was no internet or workshops or peer to peer groups back then that could help me learn.  it was all by trial and error and i eventually made
some great plates.  the next semester ( spring 1988 ) i continued with making giant glass images and printing them on photo paper.  it was a lot of fun, and some of my best images were made that year.  unfortunately, i have lost some of the giant plates ( i moved around a lot between 1988 and 2014 ) or they were damaged ( fell and broke into a thousand pieces ) but i never stopped making glass images.  between 1988+93 i made maybe 20  small images, and eventually i slowed down and stopped. until last year … now i have started to make bigger ones again using the rockland emulsion and their tintype/ambrotype kits.

thanks to the internet i have found a handful of people making their own dry plates ( glass negatives ) but there aren’t many who use this old process to make positive images.  most people who make tintypes or ambrotypes do the WET plate method.  they use collodion that has been treated with salts and then a silver nitrate bath, to sensitize the plate, and then a developer and cyanide based fixer ( or speed fixer if they want a colder toned image )  there are some great photographers who do this process seemingly effortlessly.  while i have played with collodion back in the day ..  not to make wet plates but as a potential material that the silver gelatin emulsion could stick to when i was teaching myself the whole dry plate process, not knowing then that if i waited for the collodion to DRY it probably would have worked, but i was using it WET still ..  hindsight is 20/20 it seems !  …  anyways …  instead of collodion and cyanide fixer, i opt to use the more finicky less popular dry plate tintype process. and enjoy it a lot …

after the 1870s when silver gelatin emulsion and dry plates became the new mode of photography, people devised a way to turn the images into a direct positive, much like photographers were doing with wet plate images …  singular images, no negative, and what appeared to be a positive.  street photographers started to use pre coated metal, glass and paper plates in cameras and process them in a special developer that both developed the image as a negative slowly and bleached it and fixed it and as a result, the processed plate ( glass, metal or paper ) was a direct positive.  sometimes these cameras  ( like the mandellette post card camera ) appear on ebay.  they have chemistry tanks under the camera.  the photographer stuck his arm in a long sleeve and took the exposed plate and dipped it into the chemistry and at the end into a bucket of water …
ive found recipes online in old journals ( much like the annual i got my emulsion recipe out of ), but i haven’t gotten great results from them.  the rockland kits come with a special tintype developer so i have used that until recently.  my developer went bad after the summer ( it doesn’t last as long as other paper or film developers ) so i had to try to concoct my own recipe.

first my developer was too strong and the reversal part was too weak and i got a NEGATIVE image on my metal plate.  at least i knew my emulsion was good, it was coated onto the plate in april !

then i did a very long exposure ( 4 mins ) on an dull overcast day and changed my developer a little bit and it worked pretty well.

i’ve got to tweak it a little bit more and hopefully it will work great.  it is pretty simple, based on a vintage formula but i add in my own little bit coffee developer
because, if metol or hydroquinone can do it, caffenol can do it just as well  …

strong developer no reversal

test image metal plate



successful reversed ferrotype

emulsion too dense, didn’t clear

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stack of dry plates

i have a stack of dry plates…

some were scanned, some were left out in the sun to make cyanotypes or lumen prints and some are being printed in the darkroom.
a few days ago at 9-30 i went into the darkroom and began making contact prints.  i stopped at about 1-30 to get to a pre-ordained appointment.

some of the prints i painted with watercolors, some i left as is ..


printed dry plate



printed dry plate


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a month ago we went on a safari

downtown, in the heat, and the midday sun.
we loaded the demlar box ( 4×5 plate camera )
some hand coated 4×5 dry plates
and some film

we had some laughs, took some snapshots
photographed some strangers even

and headed home

the plates were processed in coffee and ansco 130
this one was contact printed on old kodak polycontrast rc paper
i added some water color, and texture with paper towel
and then some extra contrast and extra colors with PS


saturday at india point

weeds danced in the lakes of summer sunlight


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4 glass plates … then 4 paper prints

the other day i processed a handful of glass plates.

i scanned them &c


photograms/ cameraless



yesterday i decided to make contact prints of the glass images.
they were thin so it took a little coaxing but they came out OK …


ilford paper

glass negatives contact prints


im getting more glass today …  i will probably coat them sooner rather than later.


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5×7 glass

rather than expose 6 5×7 emulsion coated glass plates as ambrotypes or glass in camera negatives
made contact prints and photograms with them.

2 bath developer.

1 bath fxer ( with hardener )

finished plates are drying now.

very little frilling, no sub coat ..


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more glass and metal coated

last night with the radio keeping me company
i heated emulsion and scrubbed glass and
coated 6- 5×7, 4- 4×5 glass plates  1 – 4×5 metal sheet, and 2 trimmed small ones for 35mm and MF.
they chilled and now are drying out in the dark ..

i hate waiting and wish SGE would dry out quicker, but it doesn’t …


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hand color, sun print .. half the dream

sometimes i run on inertia,
i just am on autopilot and don’t really stop and think
if i am doing something right or wrong &c.

the colors were added by me using a mouse.


glass plate sun print hand colored

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recent LUMEN prints from glass plates ( The Dream )

sometimes i put a piece of glass or something out in the sun, on a sheet of photo paper

i did this yesterday with some glass plates i exposed and treated last week ….


The Dream


while i lay still at night
on my back with my eyes closed
i dreamed …
i rode through the air on my horse
through the trees and the darkness to the light
there were faces there to greet me
people talked
and pointed
there was a sailor in a cap
watching as the people turned to leaves and blew away
i eventually woke
and wondered where i was.

( click on image to see the whole thing, the thumb nail is clipped )


lumen contact print from glass negative

sometimes i look at clouds, other times i look at prints

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coating plates … how to

i haven’t’ coated plates with hand made emulsion yet, that will happen soon enough …

but i have been coating plates on and off since the mid 1980s …

there are a few different ways to do this, some are easier than others

the first steps are all the same.

you have to wash the plate to make it chemically clean.  you can see if your glass sheet if clean by running water on it
if the water doesn’t “hang”  you are probably OK …  i wash my plates with a scrub brush ( plastic ) and washing soda.  i have a wood drying rack that i put them on so they drip dry.  i also just have them lean against the wall of the darkroom sink.

once they are dry you can coat them with a sub / or binding agent.  glass doesn’t really have anything for the emulsion to anchor to so an intermediary layer of something works.  depending on what sort of emulsion you are using you use a different binding agent …
i only use silver gelatin emulsions now, so my subbing layer would be  …  clear unflavored gelatin.  you can get hard bloom photography grade gelatin, its the same stuff used in the emulsion  …  or you can use cheap store bought knox gelatin.  i have only used knox  …  and it really never let me down.

i add a packet to warm water and let it dissolve.  then i pour it on the plate and put it someplace flat to set-up.  some folks put hardener in their sub layer, i have never done that.

anther binding agent could be clear poly urethane.  i have never used it  ( min wax ) but some do and they have had successes …  others suggest that it might yellow over time.  i’ve never used that so i really can’t comment.

i do know what DOESN’T work …

albumen doesn’t work
collodion ( either photographer’s collodion or pharmacy “flexible” ) doesn’t work
rubber cement doesn’t work either

as i write this, i realize i only used the albumen and collodion when they were not fully dry.
i have never tried to use them when they were dry, and knowing that there are collodion+gelatin emulsions that exist
i haven’t heard of a albumen gelatin emulsion though …

so i guess the jury’s out still on albumen and collodion …

once there is a sub layer there are a few different ways to coat the plate.
FIRST  …  you have to warm your emulsion and turn it into liquid.  i used to heat up a whole bottle and pour it off
but since then i have learned to squeeze out some emulsion into a warming container and have a small amount liquify.  heating and jelling
emulsion ( from what i understand ) can lead to a fogged emulsion.  once you have it in liquid form  …

one way is by total submersion into a tray of emulsion.  i haven’t done this, but from what i understand you can put some sort of covering on the back of the plate ( tape or something similar )  and dunk the plate in the emulsion, pour off the excess from a corner and put the plate someplace flat to even-out and set up.

another way is using a paint brush.  i like using japanese brushes to coat paper but they tend to leave brush strokes.  brush strokes on glass plates can be nice if enlarged on or shot through a camera, depending on the look you want …  i also like using cheap foam brushes.

this next way i was never able to do until this year, i always had trouble down the line and it never worked, but i have been reformed.

folks who write on and and mark osterman at the george eastman house have opened my eyes to another, easy and practical way to coat plates.  you need to have a warmish plate so i use a heating pad if my darkroom ambient temperature is coldish  …  and you need a cold level surface.  i use a pizza stone that cold from the freezer.
i have a small glass bottle i pour from, and another container to pour off / drain into.  i hold the plate level, and pour a large puddle of warm liquid emulsion onto it … and i tilt the plate to get all 4 corners ( like one would do if coating a wet plate ) …  and i use my finger to make sure
the whole plate is covered before draining it off into the second container.  after the plate is drained, i put it on the cold pizza stone to set the gelatin.  if the plate needs a second coat i pour on a second coat.  i usually coat maybe 4-10 plates at once, so by the time i am done with the last one, the first one can get its second layer.

i leave the plates flat and level to dry and after a day or so they are ready to expose.

when i process plates i use a coffee based developer and a strong developer.  i pretty much only use ansco 130, and use a 1:2 dilution to kickstart the development, and i put it in the coffee developer to finish.  i don’t rush it, and i agitate the tray  or with a gloved hand agitate the plate by rock it in the developer.  i don’t  use a stop bath but a water bath ( cold ) …  and while i never use hardener for any other process because it tends to be difficult to wash the emulsion and paper free of chemistry, i have a hardener fixer bath.

cold temperatures, an alkaline developer and a hardener in the fixer keep or help keep the emulsion from lifting off the plate.  in years gone by i would get perfect images on the emulsion, but they would lift off the plate, and wash off.  since i started using a cold stone, cold chemistry, alkaline developers and hardener i haven’t had this happen yet…

maybe  …  just a little bit, but not anywhere as badly as it could be.

5×7 and 8×10 glass plates on the horizon !

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dry plates … in color

color images made from dry plate negatives


hand colored image from hand coated dry plate


conimicut point

colorized dry plate

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hand colored work, from dry plates

i am kind of stuck in hybrid mode these days

part of me is stuck in about 1890 and the other part in 2013 ..

recently i have been hand coating metal and glass plates with liquid emulsion
some were exposed and developed in a special developer to convert the negative image to a positive
( tintypes and ambrotypes ) with wet plate images this is done with collodion spiked with certain salts
which then bind with silver nitrate and are developed …this sort of thing was invented in the late 1850s early 1860s …

what i am doing was invented 20 years later.  instead of the silver nitrate ( and salts ) being suspended in a slowly drying
celluloid ( collodion ) that needs to be processed into a photographic image right away when still “wet”, i am using the silver-stuff
that has been suspended in clear gelatin.  they are called DRY plates …  it is the same silver gelatin liquid that i coat on paper ..
the same emulsion you can make yourself if you want  ( it really is easy enough for a college student to do ..  i did as a 20 years old at least )
and it is really easy to purchase from a store in a bottle  ( liquid light, black cat, se-1 &c ) …
in around 1900 someone discovered a way to invert the image to make a positive …  street photographers capitalized on this making instant portraits and post cards  ( developing tank under + attached to the camera ) …  and you can still do this today with the rockland colloid tintype kit

that is what i am using at least because the recipe for the developer is an unknown …

some plates are tintypes i made, some ambrotypes

and some are hand colored ( using photoshop )



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success !

i made a handful of nice tintypes today, and ambrotypes using the dry plate method.
and  i am looking forward to making  photographs like this …  it took a lot of testing and tweaking on my end.

first i skimped on the amount of emulsion needed to make this work.  i have coated plates for years and i used to be able
to get a great image enlarging onto a skimpy skim-coated sheet of glass.  tiny bit of emulsion goes a LONG way …
…  not with this process !
i coated my plates with a THICK layer of emulsion.  i actually DOUBLE coated my plates.  once coat with AG PLUS  the emulsion that
is recommended to use for this process because of its silver content and probably because of its viscosity …  the second coat was with Liquid Light VC.
when the VC is heated it STAYS LIQUID for a long time, and it is easy to work with.  AG PLUS is thick but it also cools down fast and gets clumpy
it was all good though.

I am in the midst of making a cold bench / cold table that is flat  / level and very cold to chill-set my plates and make them even better.

when i can get the kinks out of this website i will post a few of my plates, but right now all i have are words to show for my efforts.


if you have any thoughts about doing this sort of dry plate tintype, it is worth the effort and time  …  and believe what rockland colloid says when they
suggest you use a lot of emulsion and rate it at about asa 1.

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