Create Digital Wet Plates by Shooting a Photo on Your Computer Monitor

We’ve shared some interesting digital to analog conversions here in the past (e.g. printing iPhone photos using an enlarger), and here’s another one: create a digital wet plate by shooting a photo displayed on your computer monitor.

Wet plate collodion photographer Tony Richards recently saw this idea being mentioned online and decided to give it a shot. He pointed his camera at an image on his Apple iMac screen, and eventually got the wet plate seen above.

Here are four portraits from an older digital commercial shoot Richards did:

…and the wet plates that resulted (flip the photo on your screen if you’d like it to come out correctly):

The quarter plates were all exposed for 30 seconds at f/4, some on black glass and some on Trophy Aluminum.

Here’s another attempt using a landscape photo of a building:

Seeing how well the “digital plates” turned out, Richards has begun offering this “Digitype” service as part of his photography business. Simply send him a digital photograph, and he’ll covert it into a bespoke tintype or ambrotype. He’s charging from £35 (~$57) for a quarter plate to £75 (~$121) for a whole plate.

We recently featured a different way of creating a negative prior to a wet plate. That negative was more literal: photographer Borut Peterlin shot his photo on a large format film camera and then printed the wet plate in a darkroom using an enlarger.

Update: Another photographer to check out (the one who inspired Richards to do this) is Gerald Figal

Thanks for sending in the tip, Sam!

Image credits: Photographs by Tony Richards and used with permission

  • Gerald Figal

    For the record, I am the person who first did this process, as Tony acknowledges on his blog. He got the idea from me and he ran with it with my blessings. I just want to see due credit given to the source. And also for the record, I think these particular wetplated digital shots Tony did are fantastic!

  • John Milleker

    I always found 72dpi too low for the detail necessary for photo paper, let alone wet plates. When we do a digital conversion we convert the photo to black and white so that we can tweak the values to look as they should look and print them through our lab at 300dpi.

    On a large monitor and a smaller plate the 72dpi issue gets less and less apparent. These look great but very contrasty, get a digital file of a step wedge and shoot that. It’ll give you a starting point of how to lower your contrast to match the tonality of the plates through an LCD monitor.

  • Gerald Figal

    John–You’re right about the contrastiness. It’s something I noticed in my experiments and I haven’t pinpointed the reason, although it’s likely because of the quality of the monitor’s light. You’re also right about pixels not mattering on small plates. The weird thing is that I shot whole plates which when scanned show screen texture, but not on the actual plate to the naked eye. I might send you that step wedge if it would help reduce contrast.

  • Samcornwell

    A while back I was experimenting with mixing the old & new by reproducing the most reproduced image in the world on wet plate. The picture is of course the famous Windows XP backdrop called Bliss taken by Californian photographer Charles O’Rear. With regards to the landscape/architecture photo that Tony took at the bottom of PetaPixel’s post, I had a similar problem with the green in the image. The blue and white were also too similar to make a distinction on the plate. It’s nice to see Tony has perfected the process that many others have tried before him.

    On further thought, it may more successful to convert the colour image to black and white first to make it appropriate for wet-plating.

  • Gerald Figal

    I agree about converting to black and white first. I did one in color and it was even more constrasty.

  • Michael Zhang

    We’ve added in a link at the end. Thanks Gerald :)

  • Tony

    The reason I left the images as colour is I wanted to see if the digital images rendered the same as true life wet plate colours. ie reds and blues etc.

    In hand these look real sharp, no hint of pixel/screen resolution. I’ll do a high res scan of a plate to see if they have been captured in the plate.

    I’ll use a step wedge and produce a PS curve that might solve the contrast problem. At first I thought it was down to older collodion but later test plates I used a fresh collodion mix with the same results.

    Its been really interesting hearing peoples views about this technique, it will have its uses I’m sure. And I’m sure some purists will be tut tutting and shaking their heads. Each to their own I suppose.

    Its just an extra added tool for the experimental photographer….

  • Gerald Figal

    So are you saying that LCD light is more or less blue sensitive compared, for example, to CF bulbs?

  • Eric Omori

    No I’m just saying when I shoot wet plate I notice the blues turn white and reds turn black… I was just trying to say the photos above could be contrasty because they are more on the cooler side (the digital files that are being rephotographed)

    I don’t think I can compare a computer LCD screen to CF bulbs because there are many different types of kelvin temp

    I’ve tried photographing a photograph using wet plate and I found using strobes up to 4800w/s work perfectly.

  • Gerald Figal

    Thanks Michael! I appreciate the recognition–especially since I’m a PetaPixel junkie.

  • Gerald Figal

    Well, I did a few of black and white photos (scanned bw film negs) and I had the same contrastiness so I figured it had to do with the quality of the LCD light.