Posts By Brad Moore

Photo by Jason Menon

Wet Plate A Hundred And Sixty Six Year Old Photo Process

Number one question I get on a weekly basis.. What goes into a typical wet plate shoot? Well, I’m about to walk you through what wet plate collodion is, and what I do when I setup to shoot on location.

Photo by Luis Velez

To create an image, I hand pour the emulsion (collodion) into a pool on a glass or black aluminum plate, then carefully move it around until its evenly coated. The excess is drained back into the bottle. Next, I lower the plate into a silver nitrate tank and let it sit in there for three minutes while the chemical reaction takes place. Once it is time to take the plate out of the tank, it has essentially turned into a sheet of extremely slow film.. In my mobile darkroom I place the plate into a custom holder so that it can then be loaded into a view camera and exposed.

After the plate is exposed, it is taken back to my darkroom where it is immediately developed and stopped with water. Once developed and stopped the image is no longer light sensitive and can be taken out of the darkroom into white light. The image now looks like a blue negative. The final chemical step is fixing the plate. This turns the image from a negative into the final positive form. Later on the plate is washed with water, dried, and varnished with shellac.

Photo by Justin Conant
Photo by Jason Menon
Photo by Jason Menon

Okay, so now that I have filled you in on some of the technical aspects of how each plate is made, I will go through my setup for an on location shoot.

My most recent project, called “Stillwater,” is a documentary project that explores the heavy rock community through wet plate portraiture. Most of the time bands have very limited time when it comes to their schedule. So to create work for this project I meet bands at the venue to make their portraits. My car is loaded to the brim with strobes, stands, power packs, 11×14 view camera, beauty dishes, and some other miscellaneous equipment. I unload all of my equipment, and set it up in the venue.

Once it is set up I will go out to my car and then set up my mobile darkroom in the trunk of my car. This whole process usually takes me an hour and a half to two hours… After both of these are set up I can start to shoot. Each portrait takes me about 20 minutes per shot which includes the plate prep time. So there is no room for error… I only have time for one shot per person, so I have to be very mindful in each aspect of the process.

Photo by Jason Menon
Photo by Jason Menon
Photo by Dave Bichard

The number one issue that I ran into when I started this project was trying to figure out how to make these images without available light. I learned how to shoot wet plate with using the sun as my light source. However, most bands arrive later in the day and by the time I get set up, it’s dark outside. So, I implemented the use of strobes to make my exposure.

Wet plate is not that light sensitive; the working ISO is around .5 to 1, therefore you need A LOT of light. About 12,000ws for 11×14 plates, and 7,200ws For 8×10 plates. So my favorite tool to increase my output is the Profoto twin tube heads. This allows me to combine my 2,400ws Acute packs into one head with an output of 4,800ws. I am constantly changing my lighting setup. However, my most recent setup has been implementing two Profoto soft light silver beauty dishes for my key light, above and below my subject. As for the rim light I use a Profoto magnum reflector. These tools help me achieve the maximum power output that I need for my images.

Photo by Jason Menon
Photo by Jason Menon
Photo by Jason Menon
Photo by Dave Bichard
Photo by Dave Bichard
Photo by Dave Bichard

It has been a long journey from when I first started working in this medium to where I am now. I encourage people to try out wet plate for themselves. However, it is a long learning curve that requires patience… Just be prepared to make a lot of bummer plates before you make any good ones. That’s part of the fun of the process, and it’s that much more rewarding once you make a plate that you are proud of.

You can see more of Matthew’s work at MatthewDeFeo.com, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Landscape Photography: Preplanning and Post-Processing with Richard Bernabe
Take your landscape photography to the next level with Richard Bernabe! Join Richard in Cape Hatteras as he photographs the beautiful Outer Banks while demonstrating how the decisions you make in the field will impact the tools and techniques you can use in your post processing. This class is all about how you can bring your field work together with your post processing, so that you are capturing photographs that allow you to get the most out of your workflow. Over the course of several days of shooting Richard teaches you how to capture and process images involving exposure blending, correcting perspective distortion, removing lens flare, increasing depth of field with focus stacking, and much more. Each lesson on a specific capture technique is paired with a lesson on how to process those photographs using Lightroom and Photoshop.

In Case You Missed It
Take a photographic road tour through the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway with Richard Bernabe and learn how to master an array of compositional tools for creating more dynamic landscape photographs. In this class Richard uses the stunning mountain scenery of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway to share his landscape photography thought processes and show you how to create more compelling landscape images. From sunrise to sunset, and grand landscapes to cascading waterfalls, Richard demonstrates techniques and tools that you can start using immediately in your work, as well as the gear and camera settings he uses in each of these situations.

Follow Your Intuition

How many times in a day are you faced with having to make a choice? What time do I need to wake up? What should I wear? What should I eat for breakfast, etc…. That’s within the first hour of the day. Everyday we have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions. How do we know what to do, which path to take?

As an Artist, the decision making process is amplified. As we walk through the creative process we often second guess ourselves. What lens should I use? What background do I put my subjects in? White or black dress, hat or no hat, etc… The list of creative options goes on and on. Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed?

On one hand the creative process can be the most exhausting, nerve racking experience an Artist has to go through. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could make a creative decision knowing that you are 100% right every time? I’m going to let you in on a secret that will revolutionize your photography.

First, have you ever watched American Idol, the X Factor, or one of those types of shows where the judges give advice? What do they say over and over. “Take a risk and be yourself.” “Do what feels right, and let it all hang out.” You see, originality will always trump those who copy. When you copy someone’s artistic vision, you will always blend with the masses because there is a line out the door of copiers. If you be yourself, you will stand out from the crowd.

So, how does the creative process work in the real world? For starters, there is this annoying voice that seems to chatter over our shoulder as we come to a crossroad and have to make a creative decision. It goes something like this, ”Are you sure you doing it right? Someone’s not going to like what you’re doing,” and it goes on and on. You start to think about your photography teacher and what he or she would say. And of course there are your friends, colleagues, not to mention the social media crowd. All this chatter is playing inside your head as you are trying to figure out which modifier you should put on your strobe.

Since you were born you have been practicing one thing over and over. From what shoes to wear to what music you listen to, you have been formulating what you like and dislike. It turns out, you are pretty good at it. You have a personality, temperament, history of years on this planet, that all play a factor in your decision making process. It all feeds into your intuition and is the culmination of who you are. It’s your uniqueness.

I have a quote that I repeat over and over to my workshop attendees, “You are unique, one of a kind, there is no one on the planet just like you.” This thing called your intuition is the ticket to you being a creative force. If you are in sync with your intuition, it will never lead you astray. NEVER! How do I know that? Because Art is the manifestation of self-expression. The creative process should be driven by the very core of who you are. No one should be able to tell you you’re off track.

The problem with most Artist/Photographers, is we never really trust our intuition and are constantly being swayed by other’s opinions. Often our creative process lacks the skill-set to compete in the marketplace. If you want to be a world class violinist you have to practice your craft six to eight hours a day. Just ask one. It’s no different in photography. The best photographers in the world out practice 99.9 percent of all other photographers on the planet. They take a risk by following what comes natural, their intuition.

When I set up my lights and build a portrait, how do I know I am on the right track? When it feels right! That’s right, when my intuition, my feeling and my emotions tell me it is right, I can’t go wrong. Because I end up with something that is unique that fits me to a T. A flash meter will never tell you where to put your lights, or what modifier to use, or how far you place it from your subject. This is reserved for the creative mind and falls on the shoulders of your intuition. Stop listening to the chatter of other’s opinions and follow the single greatest asset you posses as an Artist, your very own intuition.

You can see more of Joel’s work at JoelGrimes.com, and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

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