Mocrocollodion effect in Photoshop

Lesson details:

Program: Adobe Photoshop CS3 +
Time to complete: 3-4 hours

Final image

Source materials for the lesson

The micro-cold process is the preparation of a glass surface with a series of chemical solutions, then the glass is placed in the chamber, and a picture is taken quickly until it is dry. This technique was used at the beginning of the 19th century to create exquisite black and white photographs with incredible detail.

Ambrotypes differ in composition, detail, depending on the preferences of the photographer and exposure. Since each photo is unique in itself, it is important to individually apply the effects in Photoshop. In order to avoid copying the same effect, study the history, the process, review dozens of examples before doing such digital processing, referring to just one shot.

Distinctive features of ambrotype

Here are some of the distinguishing features of ambrotype that you should remember:
– the effect is predominantly grayscale (no pure white shades)
– Chemicals can give photographs shades of red, yellow and blue.
– there are smudges in the place where the emulsion flowed
– imperfections in each photo due to debris, scratches, as well as changes in chemical reactions make the photos unique.

Open the original photo with pointe in Photoshop. Since the wet dairy process is often used to create penetrating photos, I chose this particular picture. I thought that he would be perfect for creating the necessary mood. Think about the possible history of your shot, how it will affect the overall composition of your shot. You can even take notes that might remind you what kind of ambrotype will be best suited to your needs.

When framing, focus on the elasticity and elegance of the pointe shoes. Take the tool Cropping (Crop) and crop the photo so that the distance at the top and bottom of the photo is about the same. Do not be afraid to frame photos to achieve the desired result in the composition.

Step 3

I prefer to keep the original, so that in which case it would be possible to return to it. Duplicate (Duplicate) (Ctrl + J) the original, place the copy in a new group and name it “Wet Plate Effect” (Ambrotype). In it, we will create an effect.

Right-click on the layer with the original and duplicate it twice. Leave the bottom layer unchanged, for the second layer set the blending mode Hard light (Hard Light), and for the top – Multiplication (Multiply). To work in grayscale photo is still too bright, so we need to enrich the tonality of the photo before applying the black and white effect.

Step 5

Changing the color balance will also help us get the necessary photo tonality. Go to menu Layer (Layer) – New adjustment layer (New Adjustment Layer) – Color balance (Color Balance) and apply the specified settings Medium tones (Midtones), Of shadows (Shadows) and Svetov (Highlights). Shades of blue have now become more saturated, but in the future it will be useful to us to improve the tonal volume of the photo.

Step 6

It’s time to work in grayscale. Add a New adjustment layer (New Adjustment Layer) Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation) and decrease the value Saturation (Saturation) to -100.

Step 7

Add a new layer above the layer. Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation). Using a large round brush with a low value Opacity (Opacity) and Stiffness (Hardness) 0%. Create a soft black shadow on the composition, emphasizing the foreground. Also create a smooth transition of tones between the legs. Adjust Opacity (Opacity) layer, reducing it to a value of 92%.

Step 8

Add a new transparent layer. Using the same brush settings, select color # 939393 and draw soft gray strokes on the foot in the background and on the foot. Reduce the layer opacity to 50%. This technique in combination with the previous step will allow you to create soft, muted tones, often used in ambrotype. Do not be afraid to apply an eraser or adjust the layer opacity to achieve the desired effect in both layers.

Step 9

Add a new transparent layer. It will be used for experiments with stains caused by the konodion process. Using the same gray color (# 939393) as before, apply it in the lower right corner using a round brush. By diameter (Diameter) 70px, Stiffness (Hardness) 75% and Opacity (Opacity) 60%. Consider that this is the beginning of experiments with the boundary of your ambrotype. By setting the layer to mode Linear light (Linear Light) and reduce Opacity (Opacity) up to 84%. We created a “wet” effect.

Step 10

Not all ambrotypes are black and white. Sometimes reagents give red, blue or yellow tones. To do this, add a new layer and fill it with # 938e5a. Install Opacity (Opacity) layer at 70% and overlay mode change to Multiply (Multiply). Now add a texture to the photo. Create another layer and fill it with the same gray color that we used earlier.

Go to menu Filter (Filter) – Noise (Noise) – Add noise (Add Noise) and set the parameter value Effect (Amount) by 200%. Place the noise layer under the adjustment layer. Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation), so the chromaticity of the noise will not be visible. Set the blending mode for the layer to Blackout (Darken) and reduce Opacity (Opacity) up to 18%.

Step 11

Now let’s work on the contrast between the pointe in the foreground and background. Select a layer-copy of the original photo and use the tool Polygonal Lasso ( Polygonal lasso) circle the contour around the foot in the background. Copy and paste your foot in a new layer and set the blending mode to Linear Dodge (Linear Dodge). This effect will give the foot in the background a flatter look, and the foot in the foreground will be clearer.

Step 12

Right click on the “Wet Plate Effect” group and duplicate it. Now in the “Wet Plate Effect Effect copy” group, select all the layers and merge them together. Rename the resulting layer to “wetplate2”. In ambrotypes, there is often a blur from the focal point. In this case, the pointe in the foreground is our focal point. Right click on the “wetplate2” layer and duplicate it. Go to menu Filter (Filter) – Blur (Blur) – Motion blur (Motion blur) and set Angle (Angle) at -90 degrees, and Distance (Distance) at 16px. Using a large high-value eraser Opacity (Opacity) and Stiffness (Hardness) 0%, erase the area along the pointe shoes in the place where the tape touches the skin. This will allow the layer below to show the necessary details.

Step 13

Add a new adjustment layer for Brightness (Brightness) and Contrast (Contrast). Install Brightness (Brightness) at 91. Use a large soft brush for an eraser and erase the effect in the shadow area on both sides of the pointe shoes.

Step 14

Select the group “Wet Plate Effect copy”, double click on it and duplicate. As before, select all the layers in the “Wet Plate Effect copy 2” group and merge them together. Rename the resulting layer to “wetplate3”. This group is used to create finishing touches in a photo.

Step 15

As soon as the photos are ready, we will continue to adjust the composition to set the desired mood. We currently have too many shadows to the right of the focal point. Add a new layer above the wetplate3 layer and fill it with the color # 1d1d16. Install Opacity (Opacity) layer at 35% and use a large soft eraser to erase the areas on the left side of the foreground pointe shoes.

Step 16

As I mentioned earlier, one of the distinguishing features of ambrotype is traces of emulsion stains. To achieve this effect, paste the “MetalLeaking0033” texture into a new layer. Use the tool Free transformation (Free Transform) to adjust the texture so that it looks like smudges on the canvas. To achieve a plausible effect, set the layer to Linear Dodge (Linear Dodge) and reduce Opacity (Opacity) up to 2%.

Step 17

Since the composition as a whole is a bit dark, add a new layer above the texture and fill it with white. Set the layer mode to Overlap (Overlay), Opacity (Opacity) by 30% to lighten the photo. Notice how the mood of the photo has changed dramatically in contrast to the original version.

Step 18

In the last steps we add the character of our photo. Although the pointe in the foreground stands out well, its tone is slightly different from what we need. Add a new layer and with the help of a round soft brush apply gray to the shoes. Set the layer to mode Brightness (Luminisity) and reduce Opacity (Opacity) layer up to 18%.

Step 19

The imperfections resulting from the exposure and development of a photograph make each ambrotype unique. Set the foreground color to # f4f4c9. Take a hard round brush, activate the parameter Pen pressure (Pen pressure) to use the tablet. Start painting on the canvas strokes, scratches, changing the shape of the brush. Scratch by varying the pressure of the pen. Use the eraser to soften or remove shapes to correct the composition as a whole. Experiment until you find the best one. After that, reduce Opacity (Opacity) layer up to 14%.

Step 20

To complete this effect, add a hint to the border. Add a new layer and, using the same brush settings, apply black strokes to the right, left and bottom of the photo’s edges. Use a soft round eraser brush to soften the edges for a smooth transition.


Now you can create your own photos with a wet-blooded effect without any chemicals. Allow yourself to experiment and take time to explore the true distinguishing features of this historical technique.

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