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Thread: Waiting for collodion to clear, a few questions

  1. #1

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    Waiting for collodion to clear, a few questions

    As I get into wet plates, I've been doing a lot of reading on various methods and recipes. I'm thinking I'll use John Coffer's Old Workhorse recipe, as it is used by someone I know in my area who also does wet plate, but while reading through the recipe for it I was given, I came across a few things that raised questions. According to the recipe, after stirring the bromo-iodized alcohol mixture into the ether-collodion mixture, the collodion will become cloudy, and I must wait 7-10 days before using it, but that it will clear within a few days. The recipe also states though, that cloudy collodion can be used without noticeable problems.

    Here are my questions:

    Should I wait until the collodion is clear to use, or until 7 to 10 days have passed, or both? If cloudy collodion can be used without noticeable problems, why is waiting important? Also, "noticeable problems" makes it sound like there are some problems, but if they aren't noticeable in the image, what are they?

    Thanks for the help,
    Ethan

  2. #2
    Foamer
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    Re: Waiting for collodion to clear, a few questions

    I think it's more important to just get started. You won't be making any masterpieces the first tries anyway. Learning how to pour, expose, and develop should be your priorities to start. I use the "Old Work Horse" collodion premixed from B&S and have been happy with it. It's clear as soon as it's mixed.


    Kent in SD
    Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
    miserere nobis.

  3. #3

    Re: Waiting for collodion to clear, a few questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Ethan View Post
    As I get into wet plates, I've been doing a lot of reading on various methods and recipes. I'm thinking I'll use John Coffer's Old Workhorse recipe, as it is used by someone I know in my area who also does wet plate, but while reading through the recipe for it I was given, I came across a few things that raised questions. According to the recipe, after stirring the bromo-iodized alcohol mixture into the ether-collodion mixture, the collodion will become cloudy, and I must wait 7-10 days before using it, but that it will clear within a few days. The recipe also states though, that cloudy collodion can be used without noticeable problems.

    Here are my questions:

    Should I wait until the collodion is clear to use, or until 7 to 10 days have passed, or both? If cloudy collodion can be used without noticeable problems, why is waiting important? Also, "noticeable problems" makes it sound like there are some problems, but if they aren't noticeable in the image, what are they?

    Thanks for the help,
    Ethan
    Hi Ethan.

    You're encountering a problem that's not uncommon in wet plate photography documentation: the importance of the small details of the various processes. You can take any single piece of technical process information, and without much effort, find someone saying the complete opposite. Lots of "you MUST do this" VS "NEVER do this" stuff, referring to the exact same issue. Its easy to find documentation regarding the addition of Nitric acid to a virgin silver bath in which some practitioners say you should add a few drops to get best results, and others saying you should NOT do this, for the long term health of the bath. It can be very confusing for a new practitioner seeking to find definitive process information. In many cases, the various opinions are rarely ever completely right or completely wrong: most have to be placed in context to have meaning.

    Anyway, about your specific question: when making up a batch of Old Workhorse, it will almost definitely become cloudy when you add the salts to the collodion. Allow me to quote from Coffer's manual:

    "To avoid having to let the new salted collodion "ripen" for a couple weeks, where by a small amount of necessary free iodine is spontaneously released into solution, you can add a tiny fleck of pure Iodine Crystal about the size of a pinhead into it and stir till it is dissolved or you can add 2 drops of Tincture of Iodine to accomplish the same end. This will give the salted collodion a more yellowish reddish color, which is the sign of ripeness. Another option to this end is, if you have old ripe salted collodion on hand you can simply add it to the new batch. As little as 10% will do the job but up to 50% is fine too."

    "Be aware that new mixed collodion that has had a couple of days to settle out but is still somewhat hazy and cloudy can go right to work and function perfectly well. It is a modern day wet-plate myth that says it must be "perfectly clear" before it is ready for action. Don't fall for it!"


    My take on this is: its a good idea to allow ANY collodion recipe to sit for 3-5 days before using it, to allow it to ripen at least a wee bit. Brand new collodion tends to be flat (lacking contrast) and prone to fogging more than ripe collodion, so its in your best interest to give a new batch at least a few days to ripen. You'll find it easier to work with and more capable of producing good contrast than if you start using it five minutes after mixing.

    Note: making a collodion recipe that uses Potassium iodide will almost always result in some cloudiness when the salts go into the solvents. That is because Potassium iodide is insoluble in alcohol and ether - it will only dissolve in water, which is why the recipe for Old Workhorse requires a few ml of water to dissolve your salts in. When the salts solution is added to the solvents, the Potassium starts to precipitate out and the collodion becomes cloudy. Old Workhorse is a proven recipe that is known for delivering excellent positive images (not ideal for negatives, but it can make a good base negative that responds well to redevelopment). Does most of the Potassium iodide precipitate out of solution? I don't know. There are many highly recommended recipes that involve Potassium iodide, so it seems unlikely that you lose all of your iodide to precipitation. I've made Old Workhorse from scratch several times. In every case, the collodion has gone cloudy upon completion and remained cloudy for up to three weeks. I always allow it at least a week to settle before using it, because I know it won't have good contrast in those first few days. Remember that any collodion will improve with age (up to a point), rendering better contrast and tonality, so its worth your while to plan ahead, to allow a new collodion to ripen for a reasonable time before putting it into service.

    If all you have to work with is your brand new batch of Old Workhorse, and you are anxious to get started, then by all means, test your collodion to see how it performs. If you find that you cannot get a plate that has reasonable contrast, or a plate without fogging of the shadow areas, then you are going to have to give it a week before working with it. But if you are able to make good images with it right away, then go for it. What you will discover in the days and weeks ahead is that its contrast properties will change (for the better) and it will be easier to develop without getting undesirable effects like fogging.

  4. #4

    Re: Waiting for collodion to clear, a few questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Two23 View Post
    I think it's more important to just get started. You won't be making any masterpieces the first tries anyway. Learning how to pour, expose, and develop should be your priorities to start. I use the "Old Work Horse" collodion premixed from B&S and have been happy with it. It's clear as soon as it's mixed.


    Kent in SD
    What Kent says is very true, but you shouldn't compare the properties of brand new home-made Old Workhorse with the Old Workhorse B&S sells: theirs has been aged for weeks before you get it. In fact, the last time I bought OWH from B&S, I swear it had to be at least 3-4 months old by the time I got it - it was DEEP red, which indicates it has aged for a considerable amount of time. As I said above, a brand new batch of collodion might not give optimal image quality, and you may be more likely to encounter problems with fogging that you wouldn't experience with a well aged collodion. Of course, YMMV.

  5. #5
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    Re: Waiting for collodion to clear, a few questions

    The way I work now is I'm simply refilling my collodion bottle when it gets down to about 3/4 empty. This has been working well for me. I've never had collodion go darker than an orange. My bottle only holds 200ml so I refill it often. This way I'm working with collodion that averages a few months old.


    Kent in SD
    Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
    miserere nobis.

  6. #6

    Re: Waiting for collodion to clear, a few questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Two23 View Post
    The way I work now is I'm simply refilling my collodion bottle when it gets down to about 3/4 empty. This has been working well for me. I've never had collodion go darker than an orange. My bottle only holds 200ml so I refill it often. This way I'm working with collodion that averages a few months old.


    Kent in SD
    This is a good practice for anyone working in the medium. You should have a "stock" bottle of salted collodion, and a working bottle from which you pour plates. A pour bottle containing 200ml of collodion is all you need (unless you are making huge plates) for a work session. Refill it as needed from your stock bottle. This practice helps you avoid ending up with a large volume of collodion that has depleted its ether by evaporation*, and it also preserves the cleanliness of a volume of stock collodion.

    *the ether is the component that evaporates most quickly from the collodion as you pour plates. The collodion that goes back into the pour bottle has lost quite a bit of ether by the time it ends up back in the bottle, and so the collodion becomes thicker as you use it. You may start to have problems pouring plates, and/or there will be thick edges build on the drip end of the plates that make clearing the plate difficult. The solution to this is to keep a small volume of 50/50 ether/ethanol handy, which you can add to the collodion as needed to thin it.

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