Up until today, all of my tintype efforts have been done using a technique called “wet-plate”. In this method, a metal sheet covered in black paint or enamel is coated with a mixture of a collodion solution and bathed in silver nitrate and is then exposed in a camera and put into the developing chemicals while still wet. Because the chemicals on the plate must not dry out through the exposure and on into the developer, the wet-plate photographer must have a darkroom in close proximity to the camera at all times. So hiking, road trips, or unpredictable situations are all very difficult at best.
But another tintype technique exists called “dry-plate”. In this technique, the emulsion is contained in a milky substance that is allowed to dry to a rubbery finish on the plate. That plate can then be loaded in a plate carrier and left for later use. With dry-plates, tintype photographers can get far away in distance and time from the darkroom to get shots not otherwise achievable. Another difference with the dry-plate tintypes is that, unlike wet-plates, dry-plates are developed in standard film photography chemicals.
So last night I coated some plates in dry-plate emulsion and left them to sit overnight. The emulsion is called AG-Plus and is made by Rockland Colloid.
One of the first things I noticed with the AG-Plus is that, with even the slightest agitation of the bottle, bubbles form in the emulsion that become holes on the plate when the emulsion is applied. This can be a problem because the bottle has to be warmed in hot water before application. Just the motion from the bobbing of the bottle in the hot water made the bubbles.
Another thing that I noticed right off the bat is that the dry-plate emulsion does not apply as easily as collodion for wet-plate. For wet-plate, I pour a quantity of collodion onto the plate, roll it around until the plate is completely coated, and pour the excess back into the bottle it came from. The collodion has a tendency to grab at the edges and not spill off the sides. This cannot be said for AG-Plus which just launches off the edges, leading to a bunch of waste. In the instructions, the user is told to spread it with a finger. I tried this and it created finger-width lines throughout the emulsion on the plate.
But, I wanted to try out the AG-Plus, so I left it to dry onto the plate for next-day use.
After breakfast this morning, I loaded the AG-Plus-coated plates into a plate carrier, loaded the Jeep, and headed out to the outskirts of the nearby Lost Creek Wilderness. I took my Jeep to a nice hilltop that looked across a valley to the wilderness area and set up my Burke & James camera. It was a clear and beautiful morning and the views were outstanding. Here are some pictures of my camera on the site.
I shot two tintypes, one exposed for ISO 1 and another for ISO 0.75. I enjoyed a little more quiet time there with coffee, and then I packed up and returned home.
As per the instructions, I poured out paper developer, hardening fixer, and water into separate trays. Then I began the developing process.
Both plates came out completely black.
I couldn’t imagine that I’d completely underexposed both shots, and I knew that I’d used my developing chemicals exactly as described in the instructions.
I gave the plates a close look to see if I could find any hint of my image. I discovered that, after developing, the emulsion became a gelatin-like layer that could be carefully peeled off the plate. In the peeled layer, I found the image. Apparently, unlike wet-plate tintype where the image turns light-colored on a black plate, my dry-plate image had turned black. So I should have used a white plate. Luckily, the plates I use are black on one side and white on the other. So after I discovered my mistake, I reapplied the emulsion to the white side of the two plates, and they’re drying as I type this.
Given that both wet and dry plate tintypes use silver halide to create the image, using a white plate instead of black seems counterintuitive to me. So I’ve written the Rockland Colloid folks to ask if I’m all screwed up.
So attempt #2 will take place tomorrow morning. Hopefully I’ll meet with more success.