I became interested in the collodion wet plate process (also called tintypes) after seeing a series of portraits of celebrities by photographer Victoria Will. The incredibly unique result of the wet plate process was extremely appealing to me, and I ended up diving head first into the world of collodion wet plate.
The process, which originated during the mid-1800s as a means of developing an easier alternative photo process, is a tricky one which requires careful planning in order to be successful.
Instead of using film and paper, wet plate collodion uses pieces of tin and emulsion poured on top (hence the name tintype). The emulsion, when bathed in silver nitrate, acts as a substitute for film and is actually much less sensitive to light (around 1-3 ISO). This can both simplify and complicate the process in that while developing, you have less of a chance for light leaks or accidentally exposing the tin to unwanted light, while the photographic process requires longer exposure times and much more light in order to get a proper exposure.
The process is also quite different than film because you have to prepare the tin and pour the emulsion, expose the tin in camera, then develop the tin immediately before the tin dries, which is what gives the process the “wet plate” name. It's a process that is rather hard to make portable, as you need a darkroom with you wherever you decide to photograph.
Photographer Markus Hofstaetter recently had the opportunity to photograph a series of wet plate portraits in a historic photo studio (c. 1881) located in the Czech Republic and he’s made two very interesting and informative videos about the process. In them, he describes from start to finish, how he travels with collodion chemicals, his set-up process and developing process. The videos, both filmed as 360-degree videos, to both learn about the process and enjoy the surroundings of the historic photo studio, give great insight into the entire collodion process for anyone interested in diving into alternative film processes.
To learn more about Markus and the specific equipment he used, check out his blog post on the topic.