Some Assembly Required: Shane Balkowitsch’s Natural Light Collodion Studio

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

Shane Balkowitsch, Bismarck, ND

Shane Balkowitsch’s love of history inspired him to learn the wet plate collodion process. Five years after making his first successful ambrotype, he completed construction on a natural light wet plate studio. The studio is modeled after those of the 19th century photographers. Balkowitsch began sketching the design on a napkin and after two years of planning and eight months of construction it was ready for its first subject.

At 1,800 square feet, the space features a large wall of window-into-skylight as was custom in the Victorian era. The dimensions and pitch for this signature feature came from a book by Dr. Felix Raymer published in 1904 titled Photo Lighting: A Treastie on Light and Its Effect Under the Skylight, Including Chapters on Skylight and Skylight Construction, Window Lighting and Dark Room Work. The window proved difficult to construct as modern window glass has UV blocking properties, but after six months of searching, Balkowitsch was able to find appropriate glass. In his quest for authenticity, Balkowitsch eschews electric lighting in the studio, preferring to keep the spirit of the 19th century alive and allow the sun to dictate when photographs can be made.  

View more of Balkowitsch’s work on his website.

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