This ambrotype was my first self-portrait using the wet plate process. It was shot late in the afternoon. There was cloud cover; and the light was fading. Exposure time was a little difficult to judge; and I recall this shot took about 6 seconds. A friend helped me by removing the dark slide and lens cap and marking the time.
In making an ambrotype, the goal is to under expose the subject so that the negative is “thin” or faintly discernable. The image will only be fully revealed when placed against a dark background or painted black on the reverse side. Another option for ambrotypes, which I chose for the self-portrait, is to use black glass so that no painting is necessary to see the image.
I fixed the plate with potassium cyanide; and when I began to see the image come in clearly, I was surprised by the darkness around my inset eyes. It makes me look stern or intense. The Dallmeyer petzval lens I was using produces optical distortion moving away from the center of the glass; and the result is clearly visible in this plate as a swirly pattern toward the edges. To protect the collodion emulsion, I finished the plate with a coat of sandrac varnish after heating it over a kerosene lamp.
How To Make An Ambrotype