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Tracking down a Wet Plate Camera for a University Filmmaking Project

Hello everyone, I am a Kingston University filmmaking student in my third year and I am trying to track down a wet plate camera for my final project. We are making a film inspired by these portraits of hidden mothers. (linked below)

The film is about these beguiling sittings. We plan to shoot through the wet plate camera (almost using it as a lens/filter). We have worked in this way before, using through the viewfinder photography but with a Mamiya C330. Below are some stills from this work.

I was wondering if anyone had a wet plate camera they would be kind enough to let us take a look at it - to see if what we plan is feasible and possibly use it for our shoot. I am also quite keen on learning how to do wet plate photography (I’ve heard you can adapt an old Polaroid camera - any advice on this would be great.)

Please forgive my intrusion and thank you for your time and help,


Flo Wallace




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Comment by Peter Hamilton on February 23, 2017 at 20:07

Hi Flo

Is there any chance you can ask your college to invite a practitioner in wet-plate to set-up a workshop for you and your fellow students? This would have two advantages - firstly it would offer you and your fellow students the opportunity to acquire a new skill, and in your own case would help you with your project.


Comment by Flo Wallace on February 22, 2017 at 12:26

First off I'm completely humbled by the support and community that you guys have here. I really appreciate everyone's replies, you've all contributed greatly to my project. Thank you all.

Hi Tony,


I would love to do a course on wet plate but unfortunately it’s an expense I can’t manage right now. Thanks for the insight. 

I think it would be a whole camera although without testing things out I wouldn't want to rule anything out. I'll try and look into the "Petzval lens".

Your work has a lovely atmosphere to it - I particularly like the one with the scaffold set. Love the steampunk vibe too. Your camera is beautiful- you are very lucky.


Thanks for the help and advice,



Hi Duncan,


That sounds brilliant. Thank you so much for your help.





Hi Peter,


Thank you Peter for your reply. Spontaneous combustion – how Dickensian! Thanks for the forewarning - will bear in mind.


Thank you,



Hi R,


Thank you for the information, it is much appreciated. I had found a video on how to make a camera – and although I’m not shy to take on DIY, the work looked to such a high standard I was a little intimidated. The other snare is that I have quite little time and I haven’t fully resolved the project yet, so there’s still a lot of negotiating about what is achievable. However, as you point out, this is an option as the originals were fairly crude and I will investigate further.


I love Juliet Margaret Cameron and was lucky enough to catch her exhibition at the V&A last year, she is definitely one of my references for this project. Sally Mann’s work looks stunning and I can definitely see the parallels between Cameron’s little girl with the angel wings and Mann’s Black Eye


Thank you for this interesting direction.



Hi Tom,


Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. It is lovely that you are continuing the legacy and making such beautiful work with it 130 years on! X-Ray film is absolutely new territory for me to investigate - so thank you for the pointer. It really is lovely to hear the passion of practitioners and the care you take over these cameras. Thank you for your generosity. 




Comment by Brittonie on February 21, 2017 at 21:33

HI flo

email me

we'll sort you out. 

Comment by Tom Evans on February 20, 2017 at 13:43

Hi Flo

I own (and shoot with) an 1888 15x12" camera made by Chapman, with its original Dallmeyer lens and dark slides. You can see the camera and the first pictures made with it at We are planning more portraits in the spring/summer shooting season.

For practical and financial reasons, we are not shooting wet plate, but using x-ray film - which is very interesting to work with, due to its lack of red sensitivity - similar in that respect to C19 plates, although different in others. (The original owner apparently found the manipulation of collodion wet plates too uncertain and switched to much slower dry plates - as he was photographing locomotives for an engineering works, long exposures were not a problem.)

It is a museum quality instrument, as well as a creative tool for me, and fragile - so I am cautious. But you may contact me on


Comment by RJA on February 20, 2017 at 11:18

Hi Flo,

As Tony Richards says you could use any plate camera (bigger the better) to make the images as wet plate is a process not a camera - you could even make your own camera (in the 19thC they were very basic) as you are not, from your description, actually going to be using the 'process'.

I would advise a quick 'Google' - you'll get an abundance of info including YouTube vids - and it won't cost you 9k p/a.

There have been quite a few eminent female practitioners of the process - Juliet Margaret Cameron (used 15x12 inch plates), and Sally Mann, who uses a view camera from the early 1900s (see below), to name but two.

Good luck


Comment by Peter Hamilton on February 20, 2017 at 11:05
Wet-plate can be made on any large-format camera. However metal cameras may not always be suitable depending on the metals actually used in their construction. This is because the chemicals used in the wet-plate process can (if they come into contact with the metal of the camera) cause spontaneous combustion. Alloys containing magnesium are in particular susceptible to this. I have such a metal camera (an 8x10 Eastman Commercial View - of a type used post 1946 by Ansel Adams) and was advised never to do wet-plate work with it by another owner of one who had actually found his camera burning merrily away!
Peter Hamilton
Comment by dunk sargent kirkwood on February 20, 2017 at 10:50

HI Flo, If you contact me I can put you in touch with a wet plate imaging specialist in Peterborough who has offered to show you / provide a demo of a wet plate camera(s) ... he has several.


Duncan Kirkwood 


Comment by Tony Richards on February 20, 2017 at 9:19

Hi Flo,

There are several providers of workshops/tutorials in the UK, myself included.

Yes you can use almost any camera you can get the plate into the back of to make wet plate images. And there is the rub, most UK wet platers use Dry plate cameras or more modern film versions. Actual wet plate cameras are more of a rarity unfortunately.

Is it the whole camera you are looking for or do you just need to adapt something to pop the much desired "Petzval" lens onto?

Best wishes,

Here a link to my wet plate camera that I fortunate enough to own.

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