Learning about Wet Plate Collodion Photography and Photoshop Filters

I recently read this article in the New York Times about a “Haunting Old Photographic process. It was a story about a current photographer who researched a photographic process called wet plate collodion. This photo process apparently was made famous during the Civil War by battlefield photographers. The San Francisco photographer wanted to learn this process so he could apply it for photos he was taking of current veterans that have returned home after serving in the Middle East.

The article showed a few photos of the process and described how it has gained a resurgence over the last year. I found this pretty interesting so I decided to dig a little deeper to learn more. I was able to find this video that shows each step of the detailed process to take these photographs.

Alien Skin B&W Filter settings

This looked very interesting to me and so I decided to keep looking a bit to see if I could find any ways to simulate this digitally in photoshop. I was able to find this link to the Photoshop fine art effects cookbook that provides a tutorial on how to manually create this effect in Photoshop. So that’s a great tutorial for creating the effect using a manual process within core Photoshop but dug a little deeper.

I then came across some pre-built actions for Photoshop by Totally Rad that creates a very similar effect which you can see here. These looked pretty interesting but then I also discovered Alien Skin’s Exposure 3. So I downloaded the free trial to test it out. It’s very simple to get an initial effect using their “B&W – Vintage” filters which offer several varying Calotype presets with the ability to tweak the settings using color, focus, tone, grain, IR, and age. So I played around a bit and was able to get some pretty nice effects as you can see. I didn’t choose the most applicable photo, but you’ll get the point.

Original Photo
Alien Skin - Calotype Sepia - Scratches & Vignette Square (no edits)
Alien Skin - Calotype (with various custom modified settings by me)

As you can see the Alien Skin filters do a pretty nice job. In an age of Instagram I have become fascinated with filters and the various methods to modify photographs to try and get an artistic look from them. I’ve stated before that HDR is the auto-tune of the photography world. I’m sure the purists are notably pissed by all these new wannabe photographers that are sprouting online nowadays but photo manipulation is fun and I only see it getting bigger.