Wet plate collodion doesn’t spring to mind as either the most practical or in fact, legal approach to creating passport photographs but that didn’t stop EMULSIVE interviewee #196 Markus Hofstaetter from giving it a shot.

Markus isn’t a stranger to large and ultra large format wet plate photography, regularly shooting 30x40cm (12×16”) plates for his portraiture and more absurd projects.

These latest efforts to produce passport-sized photos are among his smallest. Here’s the setup: a Polaroid Miniportrait modified to shoot wet plate, softbox and (hidden) 6000-watt flash generator.

Markus got in touch to tell me a little about this project and I obviously had to ask him “WHY?”:

“My first Idea was to get a cheap stereo camera that fits with the upcoming stereo camera project I spoke about in my interview. I wanted to show people how easy it can be to do. Obviously, the portrait lenses of the Polaroid Miniportrait camera do not produce very ‘plastic’ images – you need wide angle lenses for that.”

“The only other option to get a better 3D effect would be the use of f/16 or f/32, so I could move my subject further away and still get them in sharp focus. Although I guess you can imagine nobody wants to shoot wet plates of people at f/32 (f/8 is already a shot in the dark!)”

“The funny thing is the camera has an integrated tape measure to help position the subject.”

“After I shot my first wet plate with it, I just loved to fool around with the machine and in the future, it will be another camera my customers can book and have fun with. I will also use it during my upcoming workshops in Vienna and at my late March exhibition in Muckendorf with a Speedlite and my last packages of Fuji FP-100 C instant film.”

About the camera and shoot:

“The small (f/8) aperture lenses of the Polaroid Miniportrait camera, its fixed focus of 1.2 feet and the super low sensitivity of the wet plate (about 0.5 ISO!) gave me a few challenges. The built-in tape measure helped in one respect but speed was a big one.”

“In the end, my Hensel Tria 6000 flash generator at max power with a Grand Mini 85 softbox was enough to help me get the correct exposure. Using a 6000-watt flash might sound a bit shocking but when you work it out, it was perfect: 1/60 second at f/8, EI 0.5! you could shoot in bulb mode or even at 1/125 if the apertures were variable”

“Lighting the portraits was one issue, the other was how to hold the wet plate in the camera. I took some advice from friend and fellow wet plate photographer Jim Kost and used an empty Fuji FP-100C shell and some foam to hold it in place. It was a quick hack but very effective.”

“The passport photos are not EU-compliant* but they are FUN and the camera will most likely be at my next workshop. Next for me is finishing my ultra large format stereo wet plate camera, although I’m still waiting for time to put everything all together. These passport photos were a welcome distraction.”

* Sadly, the photos from this camera are never likely to be EU-compliant for use in passports (or any other country for that matter). As Markus tells me:

“for Austria at least,  the regulations state that images must be in color and printed with a matt finish. The regulations also state that the person has to have a neutral facial expression – no way this is happening in front of my camera when I work with it!”

If you’re not already following Markus on social media, look him up over on Twitter, Facebook or IG. When you’re done, please check out his February 2019 interview here on EMULSIVE or more of his wet plate and film photography.

You’ll also find plenty of inspirational articles, photos and videos over on his blog covering his process for handheld wet plate photographylarge format wet plate macro photography and of course, his regular wet plate workshops. Well worth checking out.

~ EM

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  1. What a wonderfully unique Project. I need to renw my passport. But as you say, the Passport Authorities aren’t interested in Art.