3rd September 2011 Tin Man Self Portrait

Tin PlateDespite all the lovely modern technology available today, sometimes the old imperfect images of long ago cause me to stop and think, why?, maybe because they were handcrafted and unique. I am drawn to tintype photographs and so I have attempted to recreate one here using a modern camera and photoshop. Do I think I have succeeded? … NO, i dont think so … There is no option but to one day dust off my large format camera and create a real wet plate tintype for myself.

A bit of tintype history …
Tintype’s photographs opened up a whole new world of photography in the 1880’s. Prior to that photographs using earlier processes such as Daguerreotype’s were very expensive due to the patents, however Tintype was invented without any copyright protection and therefore became immediately popular. All of a sudden it was commercially viable to have your photograph taken at a fairground.

The wonderful quality about tintypes is that it is a handmade process and each print is very much unique due to the fogs marks, finger print marks and pooring skill are different each time and not predictable as today. Tintypes, once varnished have proven can stand the test of time.

Sometimes also called ferrotype, this is a photograph made by creating a image on a sheet of metal or glass. If the metal or glass has been previously blackened by painting or enamelling then it will create a positive image (a photo) and if it has not, a negative image will be produced which would allow for many photographs to be made later.

Today original tintype’s photographs are sought after and some are considered priceless like Matthew Brady’s famous photo of Abraham Lincoln or Robert Howlett’s photo of Isambard Kingdom Brunel against the launching chains of the Great Eastern at Millwall in 1857 as can be seen here.

Here is the tintype procedure
1. Flowing the plate. Poor collodion into centre of plate and drain off excess. Can be done in any light and outside.
2. Sensitising the plate. In the darkroom under a safe red light place plate in 9% silver nitrate solution bath for 3 mins. The plate will now have a milky surface.
3. Loading the holder. Load the plate into a dark side holder of a large format camera.
4. Making an exposure. Plate is not every light sensitive so expect a 15 second exposure in the sun. Of course the photo will be back to front.
5. Developing and fixing. Done in very low light or under safe light in a very small amount of ferris iron developer only about 20 seconds (very short) a few water baths to stop and then place in a bath of fixer.
6. Varnish. Heat plate under a flame and Finish with poored (flowing the plate again) varnish to protect

Note that the Collodium has about a 10 minutes life expectancy so you need a portable darkroom or have your subject located near to the darkroom.

Wet plate was all superseded in 1880’s by dry plate processing as developed by George Eastman of Kodak fame and others; the advantage of which you did not need to carry around your darkroom with you. However the handcrafted look and feel was lost.

Tech Stuff
Canon G11
1 Second exposure
ISO 400
Camera on timer and tripod
Note The photo below is not a true tintype but an recreation attempt. To create a real tintype I would need to use a large format camera such as an Ebony, camera details here.  

 Tin Plate

show hide 5 comments

Dean Ecossade What is the difference between wet and dry plate, sorry dont understand

Paul Copsey Hi Dean, the wet plate process means you make the plate sensitive to light and then you need to expose the plate to light and develop it before the chemicals fully dry out. This means your dark room needs to be near your subject. The dry plate, which later became film as we know it, means it can be make it in a factory and use it many weeks or months later and then be developed at leisure.

JJ Images Spot on post. Always good to know a bit of history being the photos we take today

ksharews Love your self portrait photo here

Stella very clever . Thanks!

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