Photography, Fine Art, Wet Plate Collodion, Alternative photography

Archive for the ‘Wet Plate Collodion’ Category

Kaolin, the best friend of a wet plater and his wife

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This post will be more Tips&Tricks kind of content, but I’m already uploading new video, so although my audience are not only wet platers, please bear with me.

This tip is not the basics of wet plate collodion photography, it’s a tip that might save a month of your life and potentially a lot of money. It’s a technique that you do not need to use very often, but if you do need it, it’s your only friend, it’s an emergency exit. What do you usually  do when your silver bath is contaminated and it fogs like English morning? You sun it, right? If that doesn’t work, you add baking soda and leave it for a long time to settle down, I prefer not to wait that long and I rather add baking soda so the pH is about 5-6pH and then I boil it, so 2/3 of water evaporates. Then I add water, filter it and sun it again for a day or two. Then I have perfectly pure silver bath with which is a joy to work.

Last week I’ve done all of the above, but after filtering silver bath still looked muddy. Strange, strange, very strange, I thought. What do you do when you see something like that? I know what you’re thinking and you are WRONG, you do not publish it immediately on FB with a caption: What’s that?!? NO, that it’s not how you do it! You go back and investigate what went wrong.

I cleaned the pot to see if the coating of the pot chipped off somewhere and UAU, it was a massive corrosion and the metal part of the pot was in contact with my silver bath. Do you know what metal is a developing agent in a wet plate collodion developer? It’s iron, a sulphate of iron! So that means the silver bath reacted with the pot and it contaminated throughly!

In this case, all the sun in the world will not help to clear the silver bath, so you need to call special forces, you need a bad-ass called Kaolin! It’s a fine powdered clay, that is used for china making. It is known to bind on itself all sorts of stuff, but in our case, it will clear the silver bath.

So I’ve added few spoons of Kaolin and the cleansing started immediately. After a minute it was much much better. I left it sunning for a day, so all the clay sedimented down and clear silver was ready for more wet plate photography. The contamination of the silver-nitrate with iron took a fat toll, but at least I saved the remaining silver. If I wouldn’t had kaolin, I would have to dispose it.

Talking about disposing silver-bath. Mark Osterman told me, that when he started with the wet plate collodion process in 90’s it was a habit that photographers were using silver bath until it got contaminated and then they disposed it and mixed it fresh! He have learned from ancient books about sunning, baking soda, boiling, kaolin and all this witchcraft that we do today. I can imagine that us wet platers hurts the thought that we would need to mix new silver-baths every month or so, but there is one nice method how they’ve disposed the silver bath. They used it for painting of wooden fences and apparently it offers fantastic protection! I also read in Osterman’s Collodion Journal that silver nitrate was popular for dying hair. Imagine how permanently black hair were! My hair is getting kind of gray, I might spare some silver nitrate :-)

Back to the topic. Kaolin can be used also to clean your silver bath during wintertimes, when there isn’t much available sun, I use it to cleanse my silver bath for albumen printing. The only way to get albumen out of your silver bath is, you guessed it correctly, Kaolin! I also used a table spoon of kaolin with some baking soda to help my digestion problems. Seriously, it really helps! This is pure classic medicine, it’s not alternative mambo jambo! But all the methods above are alternative usage of Kaolin. Today it’s mostly used in beauty saloons, for facial masks, since it also cleanses skin. So the bottom line is the same as the title:
Kaolin, the best friend of a wet plater and his wife!

PS: Last but not least, this blog is supported by crowd founding. Thank you for the support. My page is HERE.

Written by Borut Peterlin

19 November, 2015 at 17:58

Topshit photographer’s journal – July, 2015

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Dear topshit readers,
Here are some updates. I’ve just came back from family vacations and I don’t have a habit to post that my house is empty. Not that is anything to steal from it, but still.

What do you do for a living people are very frequently asking me. Hm… Not so easy to answer. Well, I do have two regular clients that all together make three to four monthly salaries per year but everything else is freelancing. I’ve been fortunate enough that I’m freelance photographer from 1998 and ever since I have burned only handful bridges, so people know me and I do not need to promote myself as a commercial photographer. The other Friday it was a crazy day. Three clients wanted to do the shoot in one day. Good, three flies in one stroke.

In the morning it was Janez Bršec, a poet. He wanted that I make a portrait of him for a cover of his book. I’ve done as he imagine it, but then I’ve made one more as I’ve understood it. He picked my version :-)

Next it was Corcoras quartet with and without actor Branko Jordan and then a solo portrait of Branko Jordan. At 3pm it was really hot, but we’ve met beside a river that offered some fresh breeze. I didn’t had any problems, aside some oyster stains on the edges, which I like in the first place.

The last shoot was in Ljubljana, that’s an hour drive from where I live. We started at 7pm and finished at 11 pm. Maja Smrekar is a contemporary artist dealing with futuristic visions of humanism. Or at least that’s my interpretation of her work. Nevertheless she explained me her new project. It’s a survival kit for 21st Century. It has many features, it could be a weapon, a tool, or protective gear. So my task was to illustrate her using the set. I was using Balcar studio flashes, a Profot Flash Feeder, some “nothing special” gadgets, excellent Nikon D4 and three lenses. Interesting thing is that the last picture was taken almost at midnight with full moon behind. I had to illustrate that the kit has also a feature to offer a shade, so I’ve used the moon as futuristic sun. I was asked if I could have a workshop on these kind of creative lightning, but with – pardon my French – digital photography. Of course we will, stay tuned.

Written by Borut Peterlin

14 July, 2015 at 00:17

Wet Plate Collodion Safari

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Video Collodion Journal, Vinica, Slovenia, 2.7.2015. This time I didn’t had perfect plates. They were OK, but it could be better so I finished the day in the river :-)
PS: One more space left for Collodion Photo Safari, 29th of Jully – 2nd of August 2015.—Negative-&-Printing/1/

Topshit photography journal 16th of June 2015

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Tomorrow is a big day. I’m almost finished with my preparations for Vienna Photo Book Festival . I’ve cashed in all my chips and now it’s time to go. I’m going to Vienna with a Land Rover, my old-timer. Today I’ve bought Hi-Lift Jack and I’ve sorted the bed in my Land Rover. As a huge fan of Top Gear, I’m planning to do Topshit Gear Special and I’m planning to record my trip as I do, with emphasis on photography and art. The book Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is my inspiration.

I’m not doing this just for the fun of it, but I’m celebrating a new milestone in my photography path. I finally reached the destination after four years of intensive work. Six years or so I’ve seen an exhibition of Sally Mann in London Photographer’s Gallery and I’ve decided there on the spot I want to learn this witchcraft of collodion. It took me more then a year to find Miša Keskenović, who introduced me into the craft and another year to have met Mark Osterman in person. At George Eastman House I’ve seen original albumen prints of Eadweard Muybridge, France Scully Osterman, Mark Osterman and many others. I knew that I want to make a project with it. Albumen print process is in principle very simple process, but if you want to have rich tonality with clear white highlights and deep blacks, it’s very difficult. On top of everything I see my future artwork only in wet plate negative, that is much more difficult to do, then ambrotypes or tintypes.

Practitioners of wet plate collodion process know that the most difficult thing of all is the workflow. It’s one thing to make a good plate (either positive or negative) and it’s completely another thing to be able to do it in whatever situation it is. I bought the Land Rover so I could perfect my workflow and master the process so well that it becomes intuitive and I can focus on the photography itself not thinking on the process.

In the road I’m taking I’m celebrating that. I’m celebrating the past four years of learning and tackling the process and now I feel the process is very natural to me, I’m relaxed and I have plenty of energy to focus on the aesthetic and art. In this road I’m celebrating the fact that I’m making prints that are the best prints I’ve done. I love them so much, I can’t stop looking at them. I know I’ve reached the milestone of learning the craft. Now I can fully focus on my art, on the concepts, on ideas I want to share through the medium of photography.

Here are some random images I’ve done lately. Captioned.

Two collodion workshops in the centre of the world!

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Ciao tutti,
here is a video on location scouting around my town of Dolenjske Toplice, Slovenia, EU. I’m planning to make two collodion workshops, a basic and advanced one. Please check the link on my site for detailed program.

I’m embedding also a video from the workshop that I had in Berlin, about a year ago where I’ve explained the content of the workshop.

Vantage point in photography / Wet Plate Collodion & Salt Print Process

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Salt print toned with gold, format 10x12" (25x30cm).

Salt print toned with gold, format 10×12″ (25x30cm).

In this video I’m presenting my creative process how am I approaching a motif conceptually and also physically. Wet plate collodion is so slow process that an hour or two of thinking is nothing in comparison how much it takes to make one photograph.

Before I start making an image I always play a devil’s lawyer with myself asking myself annoying questions; Why are you photographing that? Who have done that before you? Are you adding something new and fresh? What would Ansel, Edward, Josef, Sally, Mark & France and others would say if (when) they will look at it? Is it worth it? Don’t you have something better to do?

If I successfully manage to defend a concept, only then I start with preparations for the shoot. And this was the case also with this tree trunk. I’m running every day trough this forrest and I have a long list of trees, valleys and few roots that I need to photograph.

In the video I haven’t talked about technical details, although I did left few educational tips. Like pouring collodion. Please take a look three small details. First when I pour collodion, I tend to make a perfect circle in the middle. That means my plate is levelled and I can pour a lot of collodion on the plate. Then I slowly, very slowly move collodion from edge to edge and on the end I slowly pouring collodion off. Yes, you got it, the key word is do it slowly, no need to hurry. This is the speed I usually do it indoor. Outdoor it’s usually drying faster, but that day was pretty cold and my collodion for negatives has more alcohol solvent then ether solvent ratio, because alcohol opens collodion pores and allow more silver to bind, causing denser negatives. That’s just the opposite that you want for ambrotypes.

Nevertheless the negative that I’ve got was very thin and almost an ambrotype. I’ve done everything correctly, but the day was cloudy and in the forrest there was very diffused light. I’ve exposed the plate correctly, meaning that my blacks didn’t had any information, but although I developed for three minutes, the negative was still very thin, almost ambrotype like. This is what Mark Osterman calls a foundation negative.

The mistake photographers often do is that they add another one or two exposure values and when they develop a plate, the negative looks much better on the first glance. Whites are dense, middle tones are denser, but blacks are gone! If you overexpose a negative, blacks are not empty, but they have information, meaning that blacks aren’t black anymore but they are dark grey! Now, if your blacks aren’t black, you can’t redevelop! Let me explain why.

Redeveloping is a process that is done at home and it’s done after fixing. Let me describe the process in plain language. When you develop a wet plate collodion negative you get three things. Glass plate, collodion layer (a binder) and you have a thin layer of silver on top. This silver is not mixed with collodion, it’s suspended on top of the plate. That is the condition that you can treat the silver with iodine, making it sensitive to light once again and then you apply developer containing fresh silver that will be bound on the foundation silver that is already bounded with collodion. What happens now? Highlights that have a lot of silver in the foundation negative will attract much more silver then middle tones that have less silver then highlights. Blacks do not have any silver and therefore will not attract no additional silver. Redeveloping process is building silver layers and that means that you are gaining contrast and density of a negative. This redeveloping process can be done for very long time and you can build a bullet-proof density of a negative.

And that is what I was after! All my wet plate collodion negatives have a bullet-proof densities. It took me literally two hours of redeveloping that I gained the sort of density I wanted. Usually it takes between 10-30 minutes, but this is an exceptional case. The foundation negative was very thin, so it catches only little silver from the redeveloping and the second reason was that I wanted to make this right, so I was adding very little silver and slowly and gradually building up the contrast. If you do it too fast, you may get pinholes in the negative. Second version of this negative I’ve done it faster and it took me only half an hour.

The end result, presented here, is a salt print toned with gold. Salt Print process was invented by Henry Fox Talbot in year 1833 and publicly announced in 1839. In principle it’s very simple process, but if you want to make it right it’s very challenging indeed. Salt print process is the printing process with huge tonal scale. Correct me if I’m wrong but only carbon printing process has a wider tonal scale. And this wast tonality range is the cause that the process demands a negative that could match the same tonality range. By my humble opinion wet plate collodion negative is far far the best negative for print-out-processes (POP). Digital negative simply can not match the density necessary for full tonality spectrum. Simply, a thick layer of silver has much better quality in blocking light then a layer of inkjet dye. Salt print process is like a train, you can lean as much as you can toward left or right, the train will go where the tracks are laid. And the salt print process is the same, it will be as good as the negative is.

Anyhow here is my salt print and you be the judge of my vantage points on the photography, either is that conceptually, aesthetically or technologically.

The print and the ambrotype is for sale, please email me on for more details. Thank you for your attention!

Book dummy The Great Depression by Borut Peterlin

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Huh, I’m really happy today. I’ve shipped my book to The European Publishers Award for Photography . This is one of the most important photography awards in Europe and I’ve sent my dummy books before, but this time I’m really happy, because I know I’m sending something I truly believe in and furthermore I know I can not make it better. I, personally, did my best in making this book. I was contemplating a lot and I’ve made several versions, changing design, changing format, printing materials, rhythm of the images in the book, number of pages, select out certain images that I really love and so on. Now I feel very content with it. I can not make it better. I am not saying it can’t be done better, but I can not do it better. You may compare this version of the book with the version I’ve brought to Arles Festival and you will notice the difference.

This project The Great Depression was also shortlisted for European Month of Photography Arendt Award! It’s huge honour to be short-listed among few hundred photographers that exhibited in different capitals of Europe. The short list of only five photographers was chosen by the jury of curators and it’s not the kind of competition that you can apply to. I will be exhibiting in the exhibition space of Arendt & Medernach’s headquarters in Luxembourg from 22 April 2015 onwards.

Let me take the opportunity to announce few more news. A week ago this blog reached 500 followers on platform and this week is already 535 and if I count several thousands followers on Twitter and Facebook, it’s huge crowd, so I don’t want to waste your time, so I will write more information in one post.

At the end of the May I’m visiting also Photography festival in LODZ, Poland where my project The Father’s Tale is a finalist for the Grand Prix Fotofestiwal 2015 award.

If you are from USA, you can see my work on two locations.

As I was posting already, a triptych The Different Same is exhibited in the Mariani Gallery from January 20 – March 4, 2015. The address is University of Northern Colorado, Mariani Gallery, 501 20th St, Greeley CO 80639, USA

From 21st of February until 4th of April, you can see the albumen prints bellow in Los Angeles, that’s St. Tammany Art Association, Antiquarian Image Exhibition, 320 North Columbia St., Covington, LA 70433.

Great Depression – a project by Borut Peterlin from Marcos Núñez Cid on Vimeo.


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