View Full Version : Dry Plates

9-Feb-2009, 10:17
A friend brought me some dry plates. We want to scan them. I have an Epson 750. I've never used dry plates before. These are in a box dated 1938 but I suspect that the plates may be quite a bit older. Lots of horses and no automobiles. The box is Wratten and Wainwright Panchromatic 4x5.

I don't want to take a chance on ruining these. They've been stored in the box in a dark basement for the last 50 years or so. Is there a danger of damaging them with the scanner? Are there any precautions I should take? How can I clean them safely? Is wet-scanning with Naptha safe?

Any help would be appreciated.

10-Feb-2009, 08:51
Hi Jehu,

I'm in the middle of a big dry plate scanning project, so I can help a bit.

First, I'm very conservative when I handle the old darlings. I wear cotton gloves even if I'm pretty sure the plates have been handled casually in the past.

I clean the glass side with lens cleaner and a soft cloth, but I only gently brush the emulsion side with an anti-static negative brush.

Place the emulsion side on the scanning bed. I have an Epson Expression 1680, and in the beginning of my project I tried any number of pre-scan adjustments, but I haven't come up with a one-size-fits-all rule yet. It's best to eyeball it and be prepared to try a couple of variations on any one plate to see what looks best. As often as not, I just do a straight scan, at 720 dpi, and 48-bit color depth. It ends up a big file, but I know all the information possible is there. Then I go into Photoshop to finish up the work.

A flatbed scan works great with the thinner plates, but you'll run into problems with the denser ones. Those, I put on a light table, emulsion side up, and photograph with a Pentax K20. After the file's in the computer, it's the same Photoshop steps. I've actually come to like the looks of the photographed plates better than the scanned ones. They look more like a print from the darkroom.

Any plates that are really dense, you probably will have to take into the darkroom. I haven't found a plate yet that's too dense to enlarge on variable contrast paper with some burning and dodging.

Have a great time! Every plate is an experience. I got a box of plates from a family's vacation (about 1910). I fell in love with every member of that family. It's almost as good as a time machine.

Here's a link to some more info. Illustrations of the different reproduction techniques start about halfway down the page.