The Wet Plate Collodion Photographic Process is complicated, time consuming, and often flawed process. This photographic process was invented in 1851 by Fredrick Scott Archer and became the dominant process of the nineteenth century. The process requires the photographer to coat the supporting material, sensitize, expose, develop, and fix the plate all while it is still wet. Depending on the weather and climate in which the photographer is working, drying times range from five minutes to fifteen. The short drying time makes it imperative that the processing be done on location. The process can be carried out on three different types of support, each creating their own visual effects.
To create an image, collodion is flowed over the support material, and the collodion becomes the vehicle for the light sensitive silver salts. Once the entire surface is covered with collodion the plate is submerged inside a silver nitrate bath. The material becomes light sensitive when the halogens in the vehicle come in contact with the silver nitrate, all of which is done inside a dark box. Once sensitized the plate is loaded into a light tight plate holder, which can be transported in the light to the camera. Once in the camera the plate is exposed to light by opening and closing the shutter. Often this means removing a lens caps for a certain number of seconds, the length of which is estimated based on factors such as how much light is available.
Once exposed the plate is transported back to the dark box and developed. The developer causes a reduction of the silver to a metallic state, at which point the plate can be exposed to the light without destroying the image. The image is then fixed with a solution of potassium cyanide, dried, and varnished to protect the surface. This process is time consuming and requires a lot of equipment and energy on the part of the photographer.