Dry: the 2023 Update

This one is especially for Dean who very kindly enquired as to whether there would be an update on my “Dry” adventures.

My experiments with dry glass plates began in 2021 and whilst I did expose a few plates in 2022 I didn’t post about it at the time. One of the last things I commented upon in my series of posts in 2021 was how “dry plate season” in the UK could be said to extend from March to September. Having missed the bluebells this year due to poor diary management I was determined not to miss the, admittedly larger, window of opportunity for dry glass plates.

First off was a trip into Halifax with the Chroma Snapshot 5×4 camera and a bag of film, paper and two glass plates. I noticed the expiry date was March 2023 but was hopeful that there would be plenty of latitude especially as I was only seven weeks past the date. I must go and check the dates on the other twenty plates whilst I remember!

With an ISO of just two I knew I’d need a tripod so I followed my usual pattern. Find the composition, tweak it and then expose a sheet of film. Without moving the camera I then popped in the plate holder and photographed the same scene with the dry glass plate.

Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f32 | 60 seconds

The first composition (above) required an exposure time of sixty seconds and as can be seen there appears to be a light leak to the right of the plate which runs top to bottom. I suspect that some stray light entered through the side of the holder during the sixty seconds the dark slide was out. An easy enough thing to remedy for the future by shielding the holder during the exposure. Light leak aside I was very pleased with how this one turned out.

Development of both these plates was using the tried and tested routine in the darkroom that I developed back in 2021. Tray development in HC-110 (1+31) for five minutes followed by stop and a four minute fix before washing. I’m lucky that I can create a workable darkroom space in a few minutes but whilst stood there I did wonder if I could tank process the plates using the Stearman 5×4 tank I develop sheet film in.

Just about to go into the wash … these plates are things of beauty in their own right (excuse the pink porcelain)
Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f32 | 16 seconds

I came away from the trip with two exposed plates which both produced lovely images as you’ve seen. There were two more plates left in the box and I vowed to use those this week too. My opportunity came two days later.

The location for the second pair of dry glass plates

I took my tripod, the Chroma Snapshot and the final two dry glass plates from the box and headed to a location I’ve photographed many times as it’s on one of my regular walking routes. Tripod up, camera in place, composition sorted, exposure checked and dialled in … where the heck is the cable release? Sixty second exposure, no cable release and no T-mode on the lens. I swore quietly. And held my breath for sixty seconds as I held the lens open in bulb mode.

Back home it was time to develop the two plates. I was using a new double plate holder this time, one I bought with adapters for developing tintypes, and included with the holder were two plate holders for use in the Stearman 5×4 tank. It was therefore time to try tank development. I figured that as the plates were potentially spoilt by my lack of a cable release then this was a perfect opportunity to try a different way of developing.

One of my aims back in 2021 was to produce a standard development process that could be repeated and thus ensure greater consistency and a greater chance of success for each plate. I am not a fan of development-by-inspection but it came in useful when I was first experimenting and after some trial and error I came to use a fixed five minutes immersion in HC-110 for tray development. It was logical therefore to use this as a starting point for tank development and to also use the same agitation regime (initial thirty seconds then ten seconds every minute). The plate holders were easy to load and sat nice and snug in the Stearman tank. I was then able to turn the lights on and take the plates downstairs to develop in the comfort of the kitchen.

Long story, short. It was a success, I followed my usual tank processing workflow including washing and brought the processed plates back up to the bathroom for drying. I made one small change and substituted water for the usual acidic stop bath but otherwise proceeded as if it were two sheets of Fomapan rather than two glass plates. A quick look with a loupe suggested that the dreaded camera movement had been avoided too so I was a happy boy. Not only could I develop two plates at a time in the tank but I now had two working dry glass plate holders to double my productivity in the field.

Contact print hanging to dry

The ultimate aim for me is to print some of my negatives in the darkroom and I felt a good place to start would be to contact print a couple of the glass plates onto photographic paper. I was well pleased with the outcome (above) and will look now to create a 10×8” print with the antiquated enlarger that occupies one corner of my darkroom. More on that in due course.

Digitally scanned: Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f16 | 20 seconds
Digitally scanned: Chroma Snapshot | 65mm lens | f32| 60 seconds

So, there you have it, an update on my dry glass plate adventures. I’ve four more plates loaded ready to go so watch this space!