Scanning glass plates

I continue to be surprised at the variety of photographic materials that come my way, ok most customers send packets of 35mm slides or rolls of negatives BUT I get a fair number of glass plates too!

Glass plate photographs have become something of an niche interest for me. It began really with my postie – Mark – he dropped by one day many years ago and said “Can you do anything with these?”. He presented me with several heavy but small boxes which were clearly quite old. My curiosity was aroused.

On opening the packs in my office I discovered that there were several, quite thin, glass plates in each box. The negative black and white images were very clear. They whispered “scan us” …… what could I do 🙂

Initially I did try both scanning and photographing the plate against a light box. Using a camera proved to be impracticable and using the method I did not get the results I wanted. The use of a scanner gave me better results.

A photographic flat bed scanner for me provides excellent results provided that the scan bed is clean, absolutely grit free, provided the film is clean and that ultimate care is taken during the handling. Making a cardboard masque helps enormously, handing using cotton gloves or latex helps with grip and positioning.

The scanner is set using a high resolution of up to 1200dpi. This provides very large tif files, and quite big jpeg’s too. The resulting files are processed by Photoshop and Lightroom adjusting the contrast and clarity while also reducing the artifacts. The results are saved as about 5-7mb jpegs with a copy of the original scan in our archive.

Here is one of my favourite glass plate images, it is a picture of the stern of the Queen Mary sailing onto the sunset (or sunrise?). My thanks to Nigel P for giving us permission to reproduce the picture here.

Queen Mary from astern. Glass plate image.

Queen Mary sails into the sunset – date unknown.

Some useful links:

Cleaning Glass Photographic Plates

Wiki: Photographic_plate

RPS: Blog copying-old-plates

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