An image of pure silver on a plate of clear glass. A portrait made with this 19th century process will sure to be an heirloom like the ones made over a hundred fifty years ago.
Something a little different
Most likely you haven't had your picture taken or experienced a photo session quite like this one. The first thing to understand is that this photographic process is slow. The images are hand-made physical objects rather than digital files. A piece of glass is coated, sensitized, exposed and developed for each shot we make. An average portrait session therefore, takes about 2-3 hours in order to make about 4-6 good photos.
Another important aspect of this process is the length of the exposure time. The emulsion is less sensitive than film or digital sensors. What this means is that it actually takes anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds or so to "snap the shutter". The sitter must remain completely still for this duration in order to get a sharp image. No worries, we have a few tricks to help you with that.
A few other interesting things. The coated plates react with light to make images of a whitish silver. Because the silver reacts more with the UV spectrum of light the resulting images look a bit differently than you might expect. Reds are rendered as black and blues go light or white. So red lips and reddish skin will look dark, blue eyes might look more whitish and so forth.
Most studios nowadays have strobe lights, umbrellas, digital cameras, and probably computers where you might be able to view the images as they are being made. After a selection process, and probably some sort of retouching process, digital files are sent to a printer or to a print lab where prints are made for mounting later.
The wet plate studio has almost none of this. There are lights and cameras but they're different. Here the portraits are made in what is more like a laboratory or workshop than a traditional studio. The image plates go directly from the camera into chemical baths and to drying racks where you can see and handle them straight away. After a coat of varnish the glass photo plate can be mounted directly in a frame. This is exactly how glass wet plate photos, also known as ambrotypes, were made over a century ago.
To add a modern touch, the glass plates can be digitally photographed and digital image files can be made for use on devices and online or in making various types of prints.