Alternative Photographic Accessories
(Historical and Alternative Photography)

Free Chapters

Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
1 edition: December 10, 2015
Language: English
Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.3 x 10 inches
(20,3 x 0,7 x 25,4 cm)




On one hand, this book, Alternative Photographic Accessories, is intended for all enthusiasts of historical and alternative photography who cannot afford to purchase these photographic accessories which are sometimes quite expensive, and on the other hand, it has been written for those who want to create tools of their own dimensions, which are not available on the market.

As a consequence of this two-pronged purpose, plans for custom-designed devices with fixed dimensions are not used in this book, but rather their production is shown step-by-step, so that the size of the devices is easily adapted to the reader’s own needs.

Another reason for such an approach to the building of such devices is the wide circle of readers of the series of books entitled “Historical and alternative photography.” Readers come from all over the world, where, for example, the thickness of “standard” boards and the dimensions of wood strips and other materials used may vary considerably from one part of the world to another. Fixed dimensions would, therefore, likely cause many problems.

Readers of my books come from countries that use different measurement systems. Therefore, both measuring systems, i.e. international (metric) and the imperial system of measurement (inches, etc…) are used in the book.

All devices presented here are made with simple tools, which are most commonly found in every household. Building these devices is therefore simple, but we still have to have some manual skill. In case of any doubt about our abilities, it is best to turn to those who are skilled enough to undertake such tasks.

All of the accessories presented here have been tested in practice, and I have used them for 10 years or more. But the reader must also accept this simple fact: the accessories in this book have not been officially tested and don’t have certificates for safe operation. In short, these are home-made devices that are built and used at our own risk.


Warning. So, before making any of the accessories described here, we must consult an appropriate professional. If this person does not recommend constructing or using any of the devices that are described in this book, we must listen to that person. The world of home-made products is a zone of conscious risk.


About the accessories in this book

Given the limited scope of this book, as well as the unattractive market price in the case of a thicker volume, only the most commonly used photographic devices from the field of historical and alternative photography are shown here..

At first, we will present the basic tools for working with collodion glass plates. We start with descriptions of wet plate drying racks and special clamps for glass cleaning, and continue with a chapter on cutting glass and cutting collodion glass plates.

A chapter with a description for making glass rods follows; such rods allow extremely precise coating of photographic chemicals onto paper.

Every DIY project that we undertake at home will require a variety of tools and devices specific to that project, and the same is true for almost every alternative photographer, so we have included next a chapter on contact printing frames. Here, two basic frames are presented. The first is a so-called simple two-part printing frame, and the other is a modern version of the once very popular classic French-style contact printing frame.

Afterwards, we present a method for producing a simple pinhole camera.

And, at the end of the book, we describe a more complex project for building an UV exposure unit which is intended to expose photos in alternative photographic processes and is an indispensable tool in the darkroom of every alternative photographer. In our case, we have chosen so-called BLB fluorescent lights from the wide range of available UV lamps; these are somewhat less hazardous to our health, compared to others.

This book, Alternative Photographic Accessories, is, in addition, one of the so-called DIY manuals aimed at saving money. And I have also taken this fact into account when writing it.

Peter Mrhar

Simple drying rack 1

Here we present a drying rack for glass plates. This is probably the cheapest and simplest tool that we will describe in this book. Despite its simplicity, it was among the first to be extremely popular with photographers as long ago as a century or two, and we can find it in almost every kitchen. This tool was, in fact, intended for drying kitchen plates.


To make this drying rack, we will need a rectangular basswood lath (A), preferably of standard dimensions, for example, 24 x 24 mm or 1” x 1”. The second part of the drying rack is made from a hardwood round dowel (B) with a diameter of about 9 mm or 3/8”. The length of the bars and the number of bars depend on how many glass plates we want to dry at the same time.


To produce the drying rack, we will need the following tools:

  • a hand or power drill (a)
  • a common twist drill bit or a lip spur drill bit or brad point bit (b), optimized for drilling in wood, and with the same diameter as the round dowel (B)
  • a backsaw and miter box (c)
  • a hammer (d)
  • a pencil sharpener (e)
  • a pencil (f)
  • wood glue (g)
  • a ruler (h)
  • a clamp (i)

Building process

Building the device is quite simple. First, we decide how many glass plates we want to dry at the same time. In our case, we opted for simultaneous drying of six glass plates. For the production of such a device, we will thus cut off 16 bars from the round dowels (B). 7 bars will fit on each strip, and 2 bars will be needed to connect the two rectangular laths (A). The length of the round dowels in our case is about 12 cm (5”).

  1. In the first step, we saw a long round dowel into smaller lengths. The easiest way is to measure the length of cut in the miter box (1). At the end of the ruler, we place a piece of wood, which is fitted with a clamp (2). In this way, we will always cut the bar to the same length (3). The round dowel (B) is then pushed up against the piece of wood and the desired number of pieces are sawed.

  1. Once we saw off 16 bars, in our case, it is best to sharpen both ends of each bar with a pencil sharpener (4). Thus, the sharpened bars will be easier to hammer into the laths (A).
  2. Now we can dedicate our attention to the square laths (A). First, we draw a couple of marks at a distance of 4 cm or 1½” on them. There are seven lines for the seven round bars, and the eighth line marks the end of the square lath.
  3. We saw the lath on the eighth mark.
  4. In the same manner, we mark positions and saw the second square lath (5).

  1. Now we can draw parallel lines in the middle of the lath, which will serve as a guide for drilling holes (6).

  1. Since the square laths will be connected to two transverse bars, we mark the position of the two holes on the inner side of each lath (7).

  1. To give a better appearance, we will not drill the holes all the way through the entire lath, but we will drill them to a desired depth (8).
  2. Such holes are easiest to drill if we mark the depth of drilling on the drill bit itself. We measure the desired depth of the holes with a ruler, for example, 15 mm or 5/8”. Then we mark the depth on the drill bit quite visibly; in our case, we used red electrical insulation tape (9 and 10).

  1. The holes should be drilled as far as possible at a right angle (10), so that the bars will be properly planted. Readers who are not skilled in manual drilling may use a special vertical drill stand or similar device to ensure the right angle (11).
  2. When all the holes are drilled, it is best to sand down all areas of our accessory with sandpaper, as sanding on the assembled tool is more difficult.

  1. Now we begin to assemble the device. First, we pour some wood glue into the holes and then we begin to hammer each of the bars into the holes, one by one (12).

  1. When the drying rack is assembled, we wipe away any remaining glue with a wet cloth. The drying rack is then set aside for the prescribed time, so that the glue is completely hardened (13).
  2. The drying rack is most often varnished once the glue has hardened, as varnish effectively protects the rack against moisture and various chemicals from the wet glass plates.

Simple drying rack 2

The drying rack shown here is also quite simple and at the same time very effective and above all cheap.


For the production of this device, the following items are required:

  • long basswood stick of approximately 1 x 1 cm or 3/8 “ x 3/8” (A)
  • board of thickness 18 mm (3/4”), about 10 cm (4”) wide and of any length (B)


The selection of tools and other supplies that will be needed for building the drying rack depends on our desires, but we only need a few basic and readily available tools:

  • miter box (a)
  • backsaw (b)
  • try square (c)
  • wood glue (d)
  • pencil (e)
  • clamp (f)

Building process

As can be seen in the picture which appears at the beginning of this section, we will simply glue some basswood sticks (A) on a board (B). Between the sticks, we will leave some empty space, so that we can put glass plates in the resulting gap. The length of the board (B) is not important, as it will be adapted to the number of sticks that we will glue onto it.

  1. To start, we place our board in the miter box (B), so that its edge is aligned with the slot for cutting (1).

  1. On the other side of board we place a piece of waste wood, which will mark the length of the cut. This is fixed to the miter box with the clamp (2).

  1. When the board is removed, we can begin with the test cutting. We push the basswood stick (A) to the piece of waste wood (3) and cut it (4).
  2. Then we put the cutout stick on the board (B) and check if its length is correct. If it is correct, we proceed with cutting the other bars, otherwise we modify the length of the cut.
  3. Once we saw as many bars as we need (5), we mark their positions on a board (6). The distance or space between the individual bars is about 6 mm or ¼”. If this distance is increased, the glass plate will be somewhat more inclined during the drying process.
  4. Then we mark perpendicular lines onto the board with the help of a T-square, which we will need to glue the basswood stick to the board (7).

  1. Now we can start gluing sticks. On the bottom side of the stick, a thin line of wood glue is applied. The first bar is placed against the board, and then it is positioned and slightly pressed against the surface (8).
  2. In the same way, we glue all of the other bars (9).

  1. For most wood glues, we squeeze one piece against the others. In our case, we used a clamp (10).
  2. After the manufacturer’s prescribed time for the glue to set, which is calculated for the achievement of full strength of bonding, we cut of the excess piece of board (11).
  3. Now we can sand our accessory. The easiest way to sand larger surfaces and corners is by attaching a sanding belt to the table. Then we move the object and arbitrarily rotate it during grinding (12 and 13).


  1. Then we also sand the smaller surfaces with sandpaper (14).
  2. Once our accessory has been sanded (15), we may increase its strength by hammering brads or oval nails without heads (16) into the bars.

  1. The rack can also be painted and, in any case, varnished so as to increase its strength. This will also simultaneously prevent the absorption of chemicals into the wood (17).

Exposure time in simple cameras

At a correct exposure of photos, they should be neither too dark nor too light. And this correct exposure depends on the following three basic factors (speaking in generalities and neglecting certain other values):

  • Sensitivity to light of the paper, film, sensor and the like. Light sensitivity is measured with the ISO system. Less light-sensitive surfaces, which require more time for proper exposure, are marked with the smallest ISO values, such as ISO 25, ISO 100, while more light-sensitive surfaces are marked with higher ISO values, such as ISO 3200, ISO 12500, etc…
  • Larger or smaller aperture. The larger the aperture, the less time is needed to expose the photo, as more light passes through a bigger hole over time. However, there is also an opposite phenomenon: the smaller the aperture, the more time is needed for proper exposure. As we have previously mentioned, we indicate the size of the aperture with the so-called f-stop or f-number value. Values may be written as fractions, such as f/1, f/4, f/16, but more often are written only with the letter f and the number, for example, f1, f4, f16 etc… The value of f1 refers to the most open aperture. If, however, to put it simply, we increase the lower value of the fraction, the hole becomes smaller. One of the smallest openings in today’s lenses is f/64, and for ordinary, frequently used cameras with a bit higher quality lenses, we observe a minimum value of f/32.
  • Exposure time. The third factor that affects the correct exposure time is the time of illumination of the light sensitive area. The longer we expose the photo, the darker it will be. The time value is presented in seconds, for example 1 s, 2 s, 4 s etc…, and with fractions, for example, 1/2, 1/4, 1/15 of second, etc…

Most often, people sort and group data by intervals so that they are more accessible and comprehensible to us. So it is with these three factors that affect the correct exposure. The “standard” intervals of these factors (aperture, exposure time and ISO) which affect the correct exposure and are encountered in most modern cameras are the following:

The good news is that these values are so mutually attuned or standardized, that pairs of values can be changed. Let’s say we used a film with light sensitivity of ISO 100 and we get the correct exposure, or the aperture value of f8 and time of 1/60 seconds. If we move the above shown standard values or rows to the left or to the right so that the obtained value for our exposure are one under another in the same column, we obtain the following table.

And because the values are harmonized or standardized, we get the same correct exposure, even if at ISO 100 we select the pair of aperture value f2.8 and exposure time of 1/500. The hole in this case is bigger, but an appropriate shorter exposure time is assigned to this pair. The flow of light is the same and the exposure is again correct.

Similarly, we can choose a pair with a smaller aperture and appropriately longer exposure time. In our case, we can therefore also select a pair of f32 and exposure time of 1/4 seconds. The amount of light which penetrates in the camera in this case is the same as in previous example and the exposure is once again correct.

In 1974, ISO also standardized the measurement of a photographic film’s sensitivity to light. Of course, from this time on, even this value is consistent with the values of exposure time and aperture value.

In the case where we want keep a constant aperture of f8 the correct exposition determined above, we can change the pair of light sensitivity ISO and the exposure time. Exposure at the value of f8 is also therefore unchanged with the use of pair 1/250 and the more light-sensitive ISO value of 400. The same correct exposure is obtained even, if at the aperture f8, we select longer time of 1/8 seconds and the less light-sensitive ISO 12, etc…

And why is this theoretical babbling so important?

For us, the above-mentioned parameters and their standardization is important because while we take a picture with a pinhole camera, we almost always move outside the standard areas shown above, which are encountered in normal photographic light meters. Thus, a light meter built into a camera will not find such low ISO values as is characteristic for photo paper or wet plate collodion plate, and we will also not find such as small a diameter of the pinhole or aperture value in the light meter as was found in the pinhole camera.

Therefore, when we shoot on the wet collodion plates using pinhole cameras or other slow photographic techniques, we most commonly read the correct exposure value with the use of a digital camera or light meter. Then these values are converted to the values that correspond to our simple camera.

And for conversion of these exposure values to values used in pinhole and other simple cameras, I have built a simple device for readers of this book, as shown below.

This consists of three disks that we print on thick paper and cut along the lines. Then we place the disks one on top of the other, and pierce them in the center, so that they can be moved around their axis (1).


  • Note. A pattern for a Pinhole Exposure Disk is available in the Downloads section, in the file PinholeExposureDisk.pdf.

Measuring exposure

  1. In practice, we first and most often adjust the light meter or the camera settings to a constant value of ISO 100.
  2. Then we take a picture or use a separate light meter and read the correct exposure values.
  3. Let’s say we get values of ISO 100, aperture f8 and exposure time 1/60 of second for our picture once again.
  4. We now rotate discs on a pinhole exposure disc in such a way to align all the obtained values in one plane (2).
  5. Now we search the f-value of our pinhole camera on pinhole exposure disc. Since we get a non-standard aperture of value f197, this is first converted to the nearest standard value. We discover that the nearest value is f180. Moreover, on to Pinhole exposure disc we find that the exposure time for this aperture is 8 seconds.

  1. As just mentioned, the pair values are interchangeable, and therefore the value of f180 and 8s is same as any another pair of standard values on this disks. So, we can move this pair of disks simultaneously to the value of 100 ISO (4). Now we have the values of f180 – 8s – ISO 100 at the same level. Exposure is the same and still correct.
  2. And since photographic paper usually has a value of ISO 12, we can read the exposure time near this ISO value on the biggest disk. We see that is 1 minute (5).

  1. Now, if we want, we can of course move also the pair of values of 1 minute and ISO 12 in the same plane with the aperture value of f180 (6).

  1. So we obtain an exposure time for our pinhole camera with an aperture f180 and the value of the paper ISO 12.
  2. And, even if it sounds so unbelievable (or not), the exposure parameters of ISO 100, f8 and shutter speed of 1/60 second are “equal” to the exposure with parameters of ISO 12, f180 and shutter speed of 1 minute:

ISO 100, f8 and 1/60 s = ISO 12, f180 and 1 min.

Here, at the end of this chapter, we have to warn our readers about the fact that the theory mentioned here about the correct exposure is quite general and intended for beginners. More detailed information, for example on the correct exposure time at very extended times, etc…, can be found in books or texts which are written precisely about these themes.


Copyright Peter Mrhar © All rights reserved.