While beginning to work with 19th century process few years ago, particularly in the case of wet plate collodion, I had to overcome various hurdles such as chemistries, the right balance of techniques, and unforeseen greed for old photo-gears (which I never bothered to recover anytime soon, poor attempt at that), in which most modern lenses and camera equipments would do the job.

But one feature which I think I share amongst the wet plate users, would be light, or how things are illuminated through these chemically induced substrates.

Now, I realised that using these optics, old and new, alongside with plates which were “excited” silver iodides, requires significant amount of light, well, a LOT of light, just to see through most of the mid-tones, and I could barely make out the deep shadows.

This is particularly true if one would take a simple camera obscura, with a standard lens fitted (unless you are using a good F2 lens, which I think it’s just too shallow), and observe the images reflected on the ground glass. What I would see first would the the highlights, then the mid-tones starts to tell whether if the lightings were enough to make for the exposures.

I am sure many instance of early stage practitioners tries making wet plate takes place indoors. This certainly had restrained me in a way which I had just had to wait for a good sunny day, or bright cloudy day, to make a decent exposure.

Now, I have been a ‘bedroom jammer’ since I started doing wet plate collodion, a term which I call myself as one as I used to own a guitar and jam with the radio or the cassette tapes/CD, as I don’t have anyone else to play with or have the ‘proper amp’ to go out and play in public. Or I was procrastinating too much. Any way, it was something I enjoyed doing besides going to the arcades.

Interestingly, (though sad in a way I don’t have any band members), one would find ways to improvise with limited means. There is more than one way of playing Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ (look it up).

This was where I learn to improvise what I could with what I have, especially if the budget is tight.

This is where I began to see to try every possible methods to work with, even in hacking away tools for re-purposing.

Back to wet plate, I was curious how a lot of the practitioners on FB managed to get good highlights and mid tones in their work. I am sure with good amount of studio lightings, or a window size like a door, would work in their favour. Plus good exposure guess works and proper development timing too.

All I had was a window, facing the sun which barely coming in (hardly any in the winter). I had to rely on good clouds coming in to act enough as reflection from the sun to illuminate what I shoot.

Looking at Quinn Jacobson’s video of his travel to Paris, he carries with him mixed UV bulb to push up the lighting for his portraits, making it faster and I think it served the mid tones and highlights quite well.

But those set up will have to wait. It’s going to be costly, and I do have limited space (and money as well) since I brought in the copy camera (refer to the blog article here).

So I turn to a measly small UV LED flashlight, the kind where kids (and adults) play to see the hidden patterns in money, or uncovering nasty things on your hotel bed.

21 bulb UV LED

The one I bought was from eBay (refer to this link here, and the image above was sourced from there as well), I am sure you could find better deal/type, and from wherever you are, I am sure these made in China flashlights are abundant.

What would even something this small would be able to do? It’s just 395nm of light wave.

Well, there’s potential…

Quarter Plate (trophy aluminium), purely lit with 21 bulb LED UV flashlight at 5-6 inches distance, 20 seconds at F/8, Rodenstock 150mm lens, taken at night without any other light sources.

The flashlight is small, just a few inches height and powered with just 3 AAA batteries. I had certainly did not expect it to do much at first, but it lent a hand for me to start working better (I hope) to produce images with decent amount of details.

Then I did another test the next day, this time with backlit subject at the same window I mentioned.

Window study, Dying flowers, without UV LED, 15 seconds

As you can see, there nothing much of the foreground. But switching on to the UV LED…

Window Study, Dying Flowers, 15 seconds exposure, UV LED waved at the flowers est 8-10 sec, 8 inches distance.

Big jump… As you can see, the lower part of the plate I did not point at with the flashlight remained the same tone in the dark, and I just waved the top part towards the flower petals. And most likely the UV lights bounced off from the window pane as well.

You could barely see the purple UV lights if worked in bright lit area, but the light is there.

I am sure you boys and girls would be able to churn out something good from such small light gear (it’s probably the lightest lighting gear you’ll ever have).

I am sure this isn’t new method, but whatever works to make the image. I had my share of fun of lighting buildings with powerful torch during my student heydays using film while leaving the camera open on bulb, and using torchlight isn’t something new for sure.

There are better UV flashlights, or even something that even reaches at 365nm, but those are expensive, which last I saw was around £60, but I think it will certainly work a treat.

Now where did I leave my guitar pick…