Film Holder Modifications

Most modern view cameras use a standardized (cut) sheet film holder. These are designed to hold two sheets of film, one on each side of the holder. If you’d like to use one of your sheet film holders for wet plate work, you can (or if you’d rather, we can do it for you) modify it by removing a portion of the septum that separates the front and back sides of the film holder. The size of the opening in the septum determines the size of the plate that can then be used with that film holder. Once the septum is removed, supporting wires are then placed across each corner of the opening to keep the plate from falling completely through. These wire supports also hold the sensitized surface of the plate at the same location as the original sheet film so that everything remains in focus as you’d expect. This method of modifying a standard sheet film holder has been attributed to Mark Osterman and France Scully.

When loading a sensitized plate into the modified sheet film holder, begin by removing the rear dark slide (We mark the front of our modified film holders with a label indicating "This Side Toward Lens"). Lay the modified film holder on your lab bench with the open side facing up. Next, lay the plate on the supporting wires in the opening with the collodion side down. Place a small plastic spring, which can be a folded strip of soda bottle plastic, or anything similar, on the back of the plate. Hold this spring in place with your finger while sliding the rear dark slide closed over the spring and plate.

Because this method of holding a sensitized plate in the film holder places the sensitized photographic surface at the focal plane of the camera, the thickness of the plate is of no consequence. You can use a film holder modified in this manner to shoot tintypes or glass negatives of any thickness as long as they fit beneath the rear dark slide.