The final negative would result in something that looked similar to a pair of binoculars, many of these plates were later cut in two and sold as standard 2D images. Much of the binocular effect of the lenses does not show in many of the cut plates. The majority of images in the collection have been cut in two.
After they trimmed this down they would end up with a finished product that was the size of a standard Holmes card. There was also an Imperial card that was a bit taller, but the most common was the 3.5 x 7 inch Holmes card.
In addition some photographers shot with an early version of a slide bar. They would take the left (or right) side image and then move the lens over and expose the other side of the frame. This worked for images that did not move (such as dead bodies) but most stereo photographers preferred to use a dedicated stereo camera.
Finally there was the studio camera. A very common image of the day was a Cartes de visite (or CDV) – This was a French term for a visiting card, that was commonly left was a calling card when someone paid a visit (like business cards today). Since the image was small, photographers found that they could squeeze a lot of images on a single plate by having special camera rigs built with 4, 8 or even 9 lenses.
Photographers where already taking one side of the stereo image and selling it as 2D prints so they knew it would be possible to use these multi lens camera’s to create stereo cards.
These were very popular at the time and the modern versions are among my best sellers, since you can see the people better, even if the 3D effect is limited.
DR: The weight varied depending on the manufacturer, most of the cameras were built to order and probably weighed 8-15 pounds. With that kind of weight you needed a large tripod so you needed to add another 10 lbs. or more. Getting a camera into the field was no easy task. Typically the photographer would employ a few assistants to help transport the equipment from place to place. It was not uncommon for a photographer to travel with 4-5 cameras in various sizes, both 2D large format and 3D stereo format. Arriving on scene could easily mean transporting 40-50 Lbs. of equipment per camera to the shooting location. A dedicated photographer’s wagon can be seen in many images along with a number of the assistants.
JS: How many images could they take before new plates had to be loaded?
JS: I understand the photographer that took the majority of the civil war photos did them with his own money. What else do you know about him?
DR: You might be thinking of Mathew Brady. He is the best known of the photographers of the day, but was really more of a photography studio manager.
I’ve seen debates on if Brady took even a single image during the war. He was very nearsighted and relied heavily on others to take the images. He amassed a collection of 10,000 images from the contract photographers he hired and expected that the federal government would purchase the collection for historical purposes after the war.
Sadly nobody was interested and the collection sat for a number of years. Brady sold his studio and declared bankruptcy. Finally, Congress appropriated $25,000 for the collection in 1875, which was only about a quarter of what Brady had expected. For the rest of his life he remained poor and died penniless in 1896.
The photographers that took the images, many started with Brady, but then left to form their own studios. To make a living many of these photographers would follow the army and had contracts to shoot certain locations, terrain, etc. for tactical review by the commanders. There are a number of images included in the collection that look more like a travel log rather than something of the Civil War.
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This piece was lightly edited for clarity.