Tag Archives: chemistry

Problems solved!

With a LOT of help from friends, I have sorted out my fogging problem. I had planned to do a long post to explain the troubleshooting process, but the process has faded into the mists of time (or my mind).

My first and biggest problem was that my darkbox was NOT light tight. Once I gaffer taped all the gaps, voila! 90% of my fogging issues disappeared. Things were still not perfect, though, and so I tried Mark Osterman‘s developer formula. This works much better for me than the formula I have been using. Same ingredients, just different ratios. I also finally caved and bought some proper full-strength Everclear — no more 151 proof or denatured alcohol for me.

I still have some edge contamination problems, but I think that’s just a product of my holder, which appears to be almost unique. I can’t find a book plate-style holder that fits my camera back anywhere, and will probably see if I can get one made to replicate it. It is actually a genius design, holding tintypes on one side and glass on the other.

This is one of my successful plates after making all the changes. The spots are from a bad developer pour (I am still working on my technique).

I bought some sandarac varnish from Bostick and Sullivan, and I much prefer this over the polyurethane spray I was using before. It’s worth the extra money, and–bonus!–it makes the house smell like lavender. It’s terribly messy, though.

Yesterday I shot two great ambrotypes (upcoming as soon as they’re varnished), as John Coffer advised that perhaps my trophy aluminum was contaminated. It has happened to him before that a student couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t get a clear plate, and it turned out to be the aluminum.  It may have indeed contributed to my problems but there were several variables.

I can’t wait to show you the ambrotypes.

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All is not well in tintype land. Since the first three plates I shot, things have gone downhill. I’ve sought help on the forums and I’m very lucky to have a very experienced teacher helping me troubleshoot (via email) but this is keeping me awake at night.

One problem was solved thanks to his basic list of questions: “What has changed from the last time you made clean plates? Location, temperature, chemicals, water?” My images were disappearing; the silver silhouette is visible at certain angles, but would fade as it dried. I don’t think it’s a very common problem.

Turns out it’s the water.

This is a great example of what I mean. Ignore the blue patches, that’s from not washing the developer off properly. The faded silver that you see is as the plate is drying. Yes, the plate is horribly overexposed but the image shouldn’t be disappearing.

The first three plates I made were using kitchen tap water; I switched to using outside tap water, which I think is reclaimed water from our local lakes meant for watering the plants, and I got this problem. Here’s an overview of some the plates I’ve shot that have turned out poorly:

They actually look much better on the photograph than in real life!

So, after switching water, I shot an exposure test plate yesterday:

No fading, but check out that cloudiness! Developer problems, maybe? Ok, I’ll mix up a new batch, this time with 151 proof grain alcohol instead of denatured alcohol (you can’t get the recommended 190 proof alcohol in FL without shipping it in):

This was shot for 3sec at f/11 at a different time of day than the first. The cloudiness on the left hand side is simply appalling. I’m expanding my troubleshooting range now, but first I have to shoot a test plate in my darkroom to check if it’s a chemical problem or if light leaks are to blame.

I will fix this. But there are a lot of things that could be to blame.

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What a bummer

My second attempt was a bit of a failure. I set up the camera and my box, organised my chemicals, diluted some 10% silver nitrate solution to 9% (which requires a mathematical formula — V1 x C1 = V2 x C2, where V is volume and C is concentration), and was ready to go. I shot three plates, and they turned out cloudy, so I thought it might be the fault of my plate holder. It had warped a little after I coated it in polyurethane and left it outside in the humid Florida night to dry.

However, after drying, this is what the plates looked like:

One of my friends said that it’s a distinct possibility that the developer is the first problem, as it’s a month old, and apparently that’s too old. I’m also pouring badly, as the developer should be poured at one edge and allowed to flow over the plate so that the circle doesn’t appear in the middle where it first hits the plate.

The second problem may be that I didn’t keep it in the fixer long enough. I’m using Ilford Rapid Fix, not the potassium cyanide mixture that I learned with, and it requires more time.

Armed with this knowledge, I’ll be mixing up a new batch today and see if I have more success next week.

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