TintypeBooth aims to share tintype photography and to make this process available as a service for others to enjoy its creative potential. Using vintage photographic techniques and materials, we have designed a streamlined kit that allows us to shoot and process these unique photographic artifacts in any location.
The tintype process, also sometimes referred to as “wet plate collodion”, was developed in the 1850’s and became widely used in the second half of the 19th century. All the steps required to produce an image needed to take place within a period of about 20 minutes, resulting in near instant gratification.
A thin layer of salted collodion is poured on a plate of enameled aluminum. This solution contains collodion, bromine and iodine salts, alcohol and ether. You will most likely smell the ether if you get a chance to see the process in person.
Once coated, the plate is submerged for a couple of minutes in a bath of silver nitrate which reacts with the salts to form silver halides and transforms the plate into a light sensitive surface. Silver nitrate stains, and that is why you will either see us wear gloves or show some very stained fingers! The plate is then loaded into a film holder.
Taking the Picture
The “speed” is about ASA 1 (one) depending on a number of factors. That means a lot of light is needed to create an image. We use high power strobes or long exposure times in combination with fast lenses. These fast lenses give us a very shallow depth of field and allow us to make very creative uses of focus.
The plate is then developed with an iron solution which turns the exposed silver halides into silver metal. We hand flow developer onto the plate, which can create organic feeling artifacts. After about 30 seconds, a negative image appears and the plate is developed. We stop the process by rinsing the developer off with water and the plate can now safely be exposed to subdued light.
This is the fun to watch magic part! The plate is still fully covered with silver, some developed some not. The fixer removes the undeveloped silver. While this is happening the image seems to disappear then reappear. The image appears to be a positive but it is actually a negative: the silver remains in the areas of the plate that received light; it just happens that silver is reflective and looks brighter than the black enamel. We use normal photographic fixer, potassium cyanide was and is used by others.
Wash and Dry
Once all the undeveloped silver is removed, the plate is ready to be washed and dried. The emulsion is quite fragile when wet — you can easily rub it off with a touch.
The final step consists of coating the plate with a sandarac varnish. This smells good because it contains lavender oil. The varnish protects the plate and plates from the 1850s survive today!
Get it touch with us and check it out. It’s a great way to take a break from our overwhelmingly digital world and witness a bit of analog magic in action…