It started as a simple trip to the Statue of Liberty…

It all started as a simple trip to the Statue of Liberty. My wife Chris and friend Michelle have never visited and it has been a long, long time since I had.

Being in Baltimore, we assumed a simple day trip would get us to Liberty State Park in New Jersey to catch the ferry to Ellis and Liberty islands. Grab a bite to eat and make it home in time for dinner. And boy were we wrong.

On Monday September 18th the plan was made. Leave 3am, arrive 6:30am and have a sunrise lined up with the Statue of Liberty by around 7:15. Working on 45 minutes of sleep that night, and a mere few hours of sleep from our previous weekend at Antietam/Sharpsburg battlefield (Re-enactors are quite keen on firing cannon and playing drum and fife on time, even if it’s at 4am) I was thankful that I was the navigator, not the driver. But the few winks I managed to catch in the car never really help.

Note: Nearly all photographs in this section are clickable to see a larger version.

Foggy, Cloudy morning of New York City from Liberty State Park

No such luck, but it was still a nice morning to grab a few photos of the city line for a few upcoming projects. Once we wrapped up here we traveled to the nearby Liberty Diner, had a terrific breakfast and traveled to Liberty State Park to catch our ride to the islands, but left my phone at the diner, had to rush back and they had it waiting for me. Crisis averted.

Empty Sky Memorial

At Liberty State Park we quickly grabbed our tickets at Will Call and ventured around the grounds to make some photos. We didn’t get to spend much time around the station, but it’s certainly a Macro Photography paradise. I was drawn to the Empty Sky Memorial and hope to make it back one day with some experimental film cameras and maybe even some nighttime long exposures. The simple lines of this solemn memorial didn’t obstruct the real reason this piece was here. To memorialize those who had lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.


Hatch to Nowhere

Fog was rolling into the city minutes before our departure. Not a good thing for making photos. By the way, I’d like to think this hatch somehow led to an underground tunnel to the city. It didn’t, it was filled with dirt. Womp Womp.


We had about two hours before our scheduled Crown access tour in the Statue and decided to visit Ellis Island first. Tried to look up ancestors who might have walked the same floors as I was, it was a dead end. I think we came in through the port of Philadelphia. It was a silly attempt as we have a family member who has completely mapped our ancestry as far as is possible. Maybe I should read that sometime, I just know the basics. Either way though, it was interesting looking up others with my name and seeing photos of the boats, manifests, etc..

There are lots of great historical photos in the Ellis Island museum. Drawings, art and other media of a country struggling to allow immigrants while battling the problems inherent with so many. This isn’t a political piece and because of that I highly recommend you check it out yourselves.

Statue of Liberty

We arrived at the base of the Statue of Liberty in time for our tour. There weren’t many people there, security was tight (as was security before getting on the ferry from Liberty State Park) but they didn’t seem to know what was allowed and not and I’ll just leave it at that. Oh well.. A rented locker and we were on our way. We zipped past the line waiting for the elevator and walked up the pedestal stairs. If you can’t make the pedestal stairs, don’t try to climb to the crown!

Once at the top of the pedestal it was a quick ticket check and we were on our way up the steep, small and tight corkscrew to the crown. Plenty of sights to see but most people try to just focus on not freaking out on these seemingly impossible stairs. They mark out the ‘floors’, I think around 9 was the top. You’re reminded that some people need to be evacuated, at every floor but the last few there’s an emergency elevator. The ranger there said it needs to be used a few times a year.

Crown Access

I remembered this climb, but with crown access being on a scheduled basis (and you need to schedule this months in advance) it was a rather easy ascent without a line of people behind you being impatient. It also means it’s a long, painful ride down if you fall. I noticed air conditioning, something we certainly didn’t get treated with the last time I was here.

You do get the occasional few feet platform to stand on if you need a rest. Don’t get used to them, they get smaller the further you go up!

The sight is still a thing of beauty. Two rangers were at the crown to make sure you saw what was important, to take a photo of you with your camera and remind you to look at the inside of the statue’s face ‘twelve steps down’. I had asked a few questions and they were friendly and very knowledgeable.

We walked through the museum and took some snapshots around before boarding the next ferry to get back to our car.

We still wanted to catch one more monument before leaving and that was the Teardrop Monument that was given to the United Stated by the Russian People and Vladimir Putin after the September 11th attacks.

After finishing up for the day, we put our cameras away and decided to take in a local treat and found a Nathan’s Hot Dogs in a nearby mall. It was a good late lunch and something that we don’t get down in Baltimore.

After leaving the mall, we had a busted radiator hose. Luckily was towed to a 24 hour garage and was home by 3am. A full 12 hours before we started.

Planning for an eclipse

It’s a little odd that today, four years to the day of my last post I get the urge to write something. It’s also a little odd that in four years we really don’t have a better platform for sitting down and publishing a wall-of-text story like this one is destined to be.

Anyway, I’ve been asked for this story a few times this week and wanted to put it down as a posting to learn from. I’ve shared similar techniques in the past, but a few of those techniques failed me now that we’re in 2017.

Our plan for the total Eclipse really officially started three weeks prior to the event. We knew it was coming, we knew it was something we were traveling for but nailing down the details could come later. Being in Maryland we had a few choices of location and we started planning routes and watching the weather closely. Our target was Adams Landing North Carolina and a nice restaurant called The Lake House, but in reality everything from Charlestown South Carolina to Hopkinsville Kentucky was a possibility.

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Plate Holder Prototype, 35mm SLR

The Moon, on a plate

The Moon, on a plate

A post on the Wet Plate Collodion group on Facebook brought up a shot I made last year of the moon. Yes, that moon, in the sky – on a wet plate. At ISO 2-ish.

I figured if I could do it at all, I needed the help of the big guns. My 400mm f/2.8 lens would have worked nicely, it would allow me to zoom into the moon to fill the frame and still let plenty of light in to give me the best chance of a capture. I ran into two problems. First off, doubled – the 400mm 2.8 lens goes to 800mm f/5.6. Then, the more zoomed in you are, the more the movement of the subject in the frame. I had settled on a 1.4x extender which would get me close to 600mm with just a one stop penalty to put me at f/4.  Continue Reading →


Black Powder Pistol Stand

Why didn’t I get into Black Powder Pistols sooner?

Pistol Stand, Version One

Pistol Stand, Version One

I bought a Black Powder Pistol (Pietta 1851 New Army, All Steel) to take with us to New York for John Coffer’s 2013 Wet Plate Jamboree. On Saturday John set up a bunch of water jugs for people to shoot at. About six of us had black powder pistols. A great time was had by all. I always wanted a flintlock rifle, and kind of overlooked pistols. I’m glad I decided to correct that problem. But this post really isn’t about black powder pistols. Maybe I’ll write something up later, it’s about CNC Woodworking and the thought process on creating a custom, multitasking tool. Plenty more photos after the jump! Continue Reading →


Maryland Heights on Ambrotype

Used with permission, © Michelle Barkdoll

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights

It’s no secret that my favorite historic home away from home is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. To me it’s one of the most interesting spots of the Civil War and I’ve met some outstanding people that live, work and teach in Lower Town. I’ve shot numerous plates around Harpers Ferry for personal use, demonstrated the technique to the masses and in October will be teaching a two day Living History Workshop on Wet Plate through the Park.

Though, high above Harpers Ferry was the Holy Grail of vantage points. At the end of a 4.5 mile hike up 1600 feet of elevation was a beautiful view down on Harpers Ferry. I wanted to make that hike.. With 70lbs of wet plate gear.

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Camera Design: Update 8, Holder Door

Just a quick update regarding one side of the plate holder. We’ve already made the plexiglass plate ‘tray’ which is what holds the plate inside of the holder (Link). I decided that I wanted to do the door next, I made a frame to go around the plexiglass tray and the door fits perfectly. Well, I put a little extra room on the pocket of the door for whichever way I use the hinges to swing it out of the way.

This photo is a terrible and suddenly condensated cell phone shot, if you look carefully you’ll see the frame on the left with a lip around the inside edge. The door on the right has a recess to take this edge. When painted flat black (and possibly fitted with felt somewhere around the door) it should be pretty light-proof. The door itself needs a leaf spring cut that will apply pressure to the back of the plate. That will be a milled piece of aluminum sheet screwed to the inside back of the door.

As these are only prototypes, in the future I will change the thickness of the door, the thickness of the frame and instead of a large piece of plexiglass the size of the holder, I will put a lip inside the frame to take plexiglass inserts. Quarter plate, sixth, ninth and custom sizes. This will also make it easier to attach my hinges with screws.

Plate Holder Door, Dry Fitted

Plate Holder Door, Dry Fitted


Camera Design: Update 7, “The Plate Tray”

Template Sketch

Plate Tray Sketch

Life has calmed down a bit and now it’s time to get back into building this camera. Title changed to Camera Design since it’s no longer a challenge for the most part. My next logical step is to start working on the plate holder. Get that designed and then I can work with getting those pieces attached.

When I designed the holder I started with the quarter plate, so I might as well start milling that first.

The plate tray is what the plate will sit on while in the holder. It’s purpose is to hold the plate steady for the photo while minimizing the area where the two touch. Because sometimes you can accidentally cut a plate a mm or two smaller or larger than exact Quarter Plate size, I wanted to make sure there was room for error. The holder door will eventually swing from the back and apply pressure to the quarter plate making sure it won’t come out of the tray or slide around and damage the corners of the collodion any more than necessary.

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Darkbox Construction and Usage

Wet Plate Darkbox

Wet Plate Darkbox

The darkbox, it’s such a simple thing but so important. Wet Plates need to be coated, exposed and developed in a darkroom within 10 or so minutes, so unless you want to shoot plates in an area near your darkroom all the time, you’re going to need something mobile.

So how are you going to prepare and develop plates in full sun outside? Easy – a light proof box. Well, maybe not that easy. Let’s look at a few things we need to consider.

1. Light proof box. Even though plates are a little on the slow side (ISO 3 if you’re counting) you still need to prepare and develop them in the dark. And by dark I mean no outside light, the emulsion on a plate is orthochromatic which means it can’t see reds. That means we can use red light inside the darkroom and darkbox. There’s one problem with the lightfast-ness of a darkbox, it’s got a huge hole in it for the photographer. This is usually resolved by a few layers of material that wrap around the darkbox and then the photographer, bunched up to prevent light leaks.

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Camera Challenge: Update 6

Unfortunately, I failed the challenge. But it’s not going to deter me from continuing the project.

All week I had a bunch of items to build and I didn’t really even get the camera on the mill table until Thursday night (for a scheduled update Friday morning). Considering that I finished a full darkbox (post to come) and tripod head down-time for the mill was few and far in between. I had to make a sign first, and had mill problems with the bit staying in place.

So, give me some time to unpack from the reenactment weekend, get my home, office and workshop in order and the camera challenge will resume!


Camera Challenge: Update 5

I really didn’t get a chance to break out the plans until last night. I’ve been working on getting wet plate chemicals together, building my darkbox, tripod and designing on a plate holder.

Quarter Plate Design

Quarter Plate Design

But, a two days before deadline here I am making my first cuts into plywood for my prototype quarter plate camera. I wanted to work on the lens end of the camera first. After the holder, this is the most important part of the camera. This box needs to be perfectly square with parallel sides. Anything less will make for very sloppy movement and possibly introduce light leaks.

The design here is missing a few lines but once they’re broken out and flattened it doesn’ t matter much anyway. Inside the box is a 1/8″ wide, 1/8″ deep groove for the lens board. Once it’s in, it’s in.

Quarter Plate Camera Front

Quarter Plate Camera Front

And once assembled, here’s how it looks with my 9″ Petzval installed. The Petzval has a flange on the back that allows me to screw into the lens board. Some lenses this old may be missing their flanges and it’s extremely difficult to get one made last time I checked. There are other ways to keep it from falling out if you happen to get one with the flange missing.

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