light + tin
My space for 19th century photography processes
This process is called wet-plate collodion, but is known by its more popular name, TinType. It's a 19th century technique in which a piece of tin or glass is made light sensitive with various darkroom chemicals and while the plate is still wet, is placed in a 4x5 camera and photographed. What comes out after is a one of a kind positive print on the tin or glass. It's a one-off process, there is no negative, it is truly a one of a kind portrait.
This has been a fascinating and frustrating experience. It's unlike any photography project I've done before. It's messy, unpredictable and unforgiving. But in that uncertainty lies it's allure. In an era of instant gratification, this is a process that forces a slowing down and the unknown results adds a level of anticipation I've not experienced with other photography projects.
I'm not sure how this is going to be incorporated into my business, for now it's in experimenting and testing mode.
want to participate? It's free!
What I need are models to sit for a portrait. I've used my wife, daughter and friends, who are all wonderfully patient, but I need people I don't know who'd like to sit for me.
- You'll come to my house where my mini-darkroom is setup, it's not mobile yet so I need to stay near it.
- You'll be able to watch the whole process, ask questions and learn about a very interesting technique.
- You'll need to sit for a few frames, it's a slow process. Each exposure is around 15 seconds, but since the whole process needs to be finished while the metal plate is still wet each frame takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
- I'll need at least 1-2 hours of your time, but you get to keep the best plate of your sitting.
Read below for a more detailed description of the process
If you'd like to participate, use this contact form to send me a note that you'd like to give it a try!
Wet Plate Process
This is a quick overview of the basic tintype process. I use the amazing text The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James. It has a breakdown of most alternative processes, I highly recommend it as a starting point.
- Before preparing your plate, setup your camera, I use a studio 4x5 view camera, focus and make your exposure measurements.
- A piece of tin or polished glass is cleaned and a measured amount of salted collodion solution (collodion + ether mixed with cadmium bromide/ammonium iodide + 190 alcohol) is poured horizontally onto the surface, coating the plate edge to edge.
- The coated plate is submerged in a darkened tank of Silver Nitrate solution (silver nitrate + distilled water) for 3 minutes. This sensitizes the plate by creating a light sensitive silver salt on the collodion side of the plate.
- Under red safelights load the wet plate into a film holder, that's been converted to hold it, and take it to the prepared camera and expose. I usually will re-meter the scene to make any last minute exposure adjustments.
- Back in the darkroom, under red safelights, remove the still wet plate and pour a measured amount of prepared developer (Ferrous Sulfate + distilled water) in a cascading motion over the exposed image. A bluish tint and a slight image will appear.
- After 30 seconds immerse the plate in a bath of fresh water and once the water ceases to bead off the plate turn on the lights, place it in a fixer solution (Sodium Thiosulfate), the positive image will appear in seconds. Leave the plate in the fixer bath for 4 minutes, remove and wash in fresh water for 30 minutes.
- After it dries, I like to put a warm coat of museum wax or sandarac varnish over it to give it a gloss finish and protect it from scratches and atmosphere.