Last year, I had the epic privilege of being invited to King Size Studios to test out some lighting gear in an attempt to make the wet plate collodion process react to an artificial light source, the result was fantastic and I can say we achieved something that has never been done in New Zealand.“So what’s the big deal?” (I hear you asking with baited breath).
The Wet Plate Colldion Process has an ISO of about 0.5. Not wanting to get too technical, but in short, that is a REALLY SLOW film, most recent images were shot in film with an ISO of about 400. The amount of light needed to make an exposure is phenomenal, in full sunlight, you are still looking at an exposure of 5-6 seconds, I was looking for an amount of light produced in a ‘flash of a second’ that would allow me to freeze motion (at 1/125th of a second for example). Technical jargon aside, I was basically looking for a lightening bolt of light to make an image. Fortunately, I had met the KingSize answer to Zeus in Luke White.
I’m getting ahead of myself, I should go back a few steps. Prior to this In the past, I had been mainly shot wet plate collodion outdoors, and achieved some pretty nice results. However, the nature of natural light can be inconsistent and very weather dependent, I have longed to have control of the light, to do this, you really need indoor artificial light sources.
I have been successful shooting indoors with a couple of metal halide lights, both 150W each, they are pretty hot and require an exposure time of about 15 seconds, again, this isn’t idea for portraiture and because of the intensity of the light source, it can be difficult for the subjects not to squint, although you can have some fun with movement and funky double exposures.
A few weeks prior to my Kingsize visit, I had a friend and professional photographer Peter Quinn around to my studio to test a powerful single strobe head, a Bowens 3,000 watt/second pack. We set it up less than a foot from the subject and popped it off with a blinding flash and a burst of heat ….. disappointingly it hardly registered an image at all.
Back to the Kingsize studios visit and Zeus. After perusing the lights available at KingSize (of which there are lots and lots), we opted to trial strobe lighting and hook up a Broncolor Pulso Twinhead which has the capacity to fire 2 x 3,200 Watt/seconds of flash in one head, if hooked up to 2 x 3,200 w/s power packs, so we did this by daisy chaining them. Again, disappointing first result, the image hardly registered, despite nearly blinding Luke (acting as the subject) and me the on-looking photographer. The next plan was to add more juice, whilst also removing the UV protectors from the flash covers. We ended up with somewhere around 12,000w/s of light, which practically speaking could probably light up a small plane and it is certainly enough to render the sitter blind for about 1 second. The result was fantastic, we had shot the first wet plate collodion plates in New Zealand at 1/125th of a second (probably ever in the history of the country).
Once we had ascertained the success of the plates, we called in a few more ‘subjects’ who were hanging around the studio on this particular day and before I knew it I had a little audience and some freaking excellent plates.