Getting closer

So Monday’s dag was getting there, the process seemed to flow better and it’s getting more promising. 

The polishing was much better with my smooth foam pad, and I also used three grades of micron sandpaper to prepare the silver rather than the usual two, in an attempt to make the surface softer to allow for larger image particles to form.  

  The polished silver was pretty much immaculate and looked quite nice without an image on it.  

I sensitised it over the iodine in complete darkness to avoid any accidental fogging. 

Then the exposure, with exposure times adjusted to take into account previous experiments and some advice from Christopher Brenton West. I’m now calculating them as follows, rather than guessing based on complicated calculations trying to find non-Mercury times based on the previous Mercury dags;

EV: 14 = 3 minutes

EV: 13 = 6 minutes

EV: 12 = 12 minutes

So the EV was 9, which mean a 96 minutes exposure – dramatically longer than I had tested previously. So I spent a long time waiting like this outside BOM.  

 This waiting appeared to have been rewarded however when the plate was developing as a clear and detailed image appeared, which felt really exciting. I used ruby lite rather than the red acrylic here to test the theory that maybe this was causing some fog towards the end of development.  

However, during fixing this fragile image disappeared. I’ll be seeking some more advice on this and trying again next week – I’m wondering if my old Sodium Thiosulphate (hypo) powder might have gone off.  

 Figuring this process out is giving me quite an insight into the excitement and frustration that must have been involved for those pioneers inventing these processes. 

Dag demo 

I’ve been holding off this blog post for a while as I didn’t want to write another negative one and the dag demo at BOM lab on 30th September allowed me to demonstrate the process, in theory, but didn’t result in an image. However, as an exercise in sharing my knowledge so far it was useful and well attended. Also time has been an issue in getting this blog out – this post is made possible by Amy Martin’s Radical  Childcare at Impact Hub, Birmingham. Anyway enough of the excuses – this is what happened.


Polishing wasn’t great, due to the hook son the pad of the sander coming through the microfibre pad at one point and putting some little scratches on the plate. 

Sensitising also seemed to take a little longe than usual.

The plate eventually didn’t develop, for several reasons, probably because it was underexposed – the light changed from an EV of 16 down to 12 between metering and exposing the plate

Also, too much light may have seen the plate whilst it was sensitising, as I was showing people the change of colour to magenta as it sensitised over the iodine.

I’m wondering if the red acrylic holder is quite the right shade too as the last plate began to fog at the end of development, so may change this in the future.

So I ended up with this;

Some changes to make next time;

  • Get a better foam pad for the polishing.
  • Sensitise in the dark where possible
  • Expose for longer
  • Try ruby kith for development rather than the red acrylic.

It’s slow progress, but there is some progress and I will figure this out eventually – it’s just taking longer than I thought. 

Grey day and a beautiful mess 

Armed with another bag of kit I decided to focus on Daguerreotypes again today after working on other things for a few weeks. I was going to compare my pure silver plates to Mike’s plated silver, but on examining the plated silver it looks like my bad attempt at re-polishing it has gone through to the copper, making the plate unusable.  

So I decided to continue with my pure silver plates and polished one with the right wet and dry sandpaper, my new spongy sander and the U.S. Version of Nushine Polish. This went really smoothly (excuse the pun) and it seems that the polishing is finally part of the process that has become do-able.  

New high quality velvet on the polishing planks also worked perfectly, and the plate was mirror finished with rouge and lamp black.

The plate was then sensitised over the iodine until it turned magenta. This took much longer than on the workshop, presumably because my plates are quite hard.

The plate was then exposed for 3 minutes and then placed in the holder for daylight development. However on removing from the dark slide I noticed patches of condensation on the surface of the plate which could cause marks, so attempted to dry them with the hand dryer.

They almost disappeared, then the plate was left in daylight for two hours. It was a very grey day today but towards the end of the two hours a faint image had appeared.

I then took the plate holder outside to try and get the plate to show more detail by showing it brighter daylight, but it began to go muddy so I took it inside to the darkroom.

I fixed the plate in the darkroom and much of the mud disappeared, but there was little detail in the image.

Wanting to practise gilding I tried out a holding stand I have put together below, however I knocked the plate mid gilding and the gold chloride solution flowed off the plate, making it streak as it dried.

This has resulted in a bit of a mess, but quite a beautiful mess although the once faint image is indistinguishable.


So another list of things to do differently next time, and I’m going to hold out for a sunny day which should help produce more detail in the image too. 


Dag day 

Today was chance to put what I had learnt during the workshop into practice, but it seems I’m not quite there yet and still need to invest in a little bit more kit and consumables. 

Firstly the plates that I had pre-polished at Lacock had scratched slightly in transit so I decided to risk possibly reaching the copper under Mike’s plate and start again on the polishing process, and then wished I hadn’t!   I revisited Cookson’s in the jewellery quarter to find some 15 and 9 micron sandpaper – only to realise all their sandpaper was labelled with P numbers, not microns. A quick google search converted this to P1200 and P2400 but it seems that these are too dense as the silver seemed more scratched than on the workshop.  The sandpaper also seemed to react wrongly with the distilled water and began to melt, putting a brown waxy coating onto the plate which won’t be helpful.

After cleaning off the brown gunk I decided to move onto the Nushine Polish and use my new random orbital sander, however the Nushine I have is a UK version rather than the U.S. Polish we used on the workshop and seems runny and so might not be as good. Also on polishing I realised I haven’t yet got the foam pad needed to soften the pressure from the sander and so this might have added scratches rather than reducing them. 

So I will revisit the Dag shopping list, and then get back to it on another day…  

Dag shopping list mkII

So after the workshop at Lacock there are lots of changes I need to make to the process I have been experimenting with alone at BOM, leading to a whole other set of kit that I need to invest in… 
The main things I have learnt relate to the polishing process – there is one process for silver jewellery and a whole other level of polishing to create a surface that is suitable for producing daguerreotype images. So I’ll be ditching the lustre polishing stick which seemed to be the answer to my lack of mirror finish and instead investing in two and possibly three different grades of microfine sandpaper for initial polishing of 800 strokes with each variety – 2,400 strokes to achieve the initial finish needed. It seems that the lustre stick may have been leaving a layer of wax on the plate which affects the fixing of the image making my images disappear.

This sanding will be followed by polish with a nushine silver polish using microfibre cloths and a random orbital sander, followed by removing the nushine with washing up liquid, soap and alcohol then buffing with rouge and my velvet polishing plank and a final buff using carbon lampblack polishing powder. A much more involved polish than I had been using initially to create an immaculate mirror finish.

The second main change I’ll be making to my process involves the silver plate I’ve invested in from Cookson’s. I have learnt that one of the keys to a high quality image is the softness of the silver plate used and this is why dags are often made on silver plated copper rather than solid silver – a softer coating allows for an easier polish and for larger image particles to form. So I’ve bought one plate from Mike to compare the quality and speed (ISO rating) with my silver and may need to invest in plates specifically coated for the purpose of daguerreotypes from Mike. The plates Mike uses are cold rolled silver which has less variables than electroplate where the density of the silver is affected by the current used and the number of plates in the bath to be plated. Also the edges of the plates from Mike are bevelled to make polishing easier – see image below.

Further process updates to follow as I get working with this – watch this space….

Lacock Abbey Daguerreotypes

The first proper daguerreotype I’ve made below – made at Lacock abbey with the help of Mike Robinson.


I’m just back to my scanner after four days at Lacock Abbey making daguerreotypes under the incredible tutorage of Mike Robinson and a week away in Cornwall. In these four days I learnt what would have taken years of working out alone and have benefitted massively from Mike’s in depth knowledge of his subject. The scanned dags included above and below were made on the workshop and are as much Mike’s work as my own although I’m looking forward to putting into practice what I have learnt in Birmingham soon once I can get into the darkroom at BOM over the next few weeks. These scans of the dags really don’t do the images justice – to appreciate them properly and see their resolution and three dimensional qualities you really need to handle the images.


The workshop was an opportunity to create my second daguerreotype with my boys, of my family which I feel I can say is something really special that no other contemporary family in the UK will possess of this generation.


And the third daguerreotype I produced  on the workshop of an apple tree in the orchard at Lacock – a similar image to the first images I was producing when I began working with Wet Plate collodion.

The workshop was also a great opportunity to meet some fantastic people with a shared interest in historic photography – pictured below outside the darkroom l-r John Molloy, Dominique Somers, Hans Gummersbach, Mike Robinson, Roger Watson, Jo Gane (with son Stanley).


Dag 2

Today’s dag had the opposite problem to Dag 1 but has ended up looking very similar. 

Polishing went quite well

  But then things started to go wrong – firstly I didn’t heat the plate before sensitising over the iodine, so this took longer and probably laid down a thinner layer than needed. 

The weather today was very different to the first dag – really cloudy and raining and so my 8 minute exposure was probably too short.

  Development also took much longer due to the cloud cover – 20 minutes for anything to appear, then two hours until no more detail was emerging.

The fix  seemed to remove some of the detail that was visible during development – perhaps it is mixed too strongly.

The final plate has a very faint image. I’m going to wait to make my next plates on Mike Robinsons workshop at Lacock abbey next week – hopefully with some help I’ll get more than these  tantalisingly faint images.

Dag 1

Today I almost made a Becquerel dag. The polishing issues were solved by a trip to Cookson’s in the Jewellery quarter to buy a lustre polish stick – it’s great working with silver in a city that has a whole jewellery quarter full of useful stuff.

The plate sensitised over the silver surprisingly quickly – too quick for me to photograph it – turning a deep yellow with the iodine coating. 

The exposure of the flyover near BOM was 20 minutes, which I think over did the plate a bit as it was sunny. Also shooting into shadows probably hindered the detail on the final plate.

I was expecting development under daylight in my red holder to be a long two hours, but the image appeared almost instantly – also suggesting over exposure. 

However, after fixing  the plate still appeared a bit muddy so I washed it under running water, a bit too much and it started to fade.

I then decided that maybe the image would be darker when dried and impatiently decided to speed up drying using the hand drier – unlike wetplate where a hair dryer dries plates nicely, this seemed to erase the fragile image – I won’t do this again!

I’m planning two more exposures tomorrow – it was a bit of a rubbish dag today, but I’m feeling excited there was an image there -it’s a nice starting point to improve from.

Polish Polish Polish…

So I was feeling determined to get a becquerel dag sensitised in the BOM wetlab last week, and I have finally assembled all the kit I thought I needed below.

Feeling organised I emptied some rouge onto the first polishing plank and began to polish, and polish thinking that pure determination would eventually give me a mirror finish. An hour later and the silver plate was almost mirrored around the edges, but there was still an unpolished patch in the middle that was stubbornly still there. More polishing on the second plank with no rouge wouldn’t shift it, despite polishing so fast the plate got warm enough to burn my fingers.

I’m dumping the hand polishing planks tomorrow and bringing power tools.

Dag Shopping

With the arrival of my lab fume cupboard imminent (promised for next monday after 8 weeks of waiting for specially made filters that will be safe to use with Mercury,) today I’ve been focusing on shopping for all the other bits I’m going to need to get making some Dags.

photo (8)

With such a diverse list of things, ebay is an amazing resource. I can only imagine how long this would have taken if I was sourcing these things without it.

I’m planning to start on some Becquerel (non-mercury) dags in a couple of weeks once the fuming cupboard is installed,  before maybe moving onto mercury after Mike Robinson’s workshop at Lacock abbey on the first weekend of August.

Silver plates have also arrived now from Cookson gold in Birmingham. Having Brummie silver feels important some how as I’ve been researching and thinking about the history of the process in this city.

Other resources that have proved useful this week are this fantastic video from Jerry Spagnoli, making a Becquerel dag;

And a description of the process from the ever useful Alternative Photography here