Large Format, Tintype

Tintype Portraiture

Today I finally fulfilled a dream I’ve had since I first learned about the beginnings of photography. I had my portrait taken on a tintype! Todd, at Shutter + Light in Santa Ana, California was nice enough to let me watch the whole process as he shot my photo.

Tintypes were a type of photograph that was created in the 1850’s. It’s heyday was the 1860-70’s. Instead of creating a negative on a glass plate, a tintype is an image created traditionally on a piece of metal. Surprisingly, it was not tin, but iron that was used for the photographs to start with. Today it is most commonly made using aluminum which is more readily available in cut sizes ready to be used.

The tintype is usually a wet process where the metal is coated, sensitized, exposed in the camera, and then processed all with in a matter of minutes before it has had a chance to dry.

The part I love about tintypes is that every one is original. The actual photo you hold and place on your desk, or in your album, is the exact same piece of metal that was in the camera. That means that the 40-50 vintage 1860-70’s tintypes that I own were the actual sheets of metal in the camera in front of the person on them. They aren’t duplicates or recreations. The photos I have are the same ones the subject had, the same ones the photographer coated and exposed to light. There was no negative for duplication. An interesting side note, just as you and I see a reverse in a mirror, a tintype is also a reverse. If you had writing on something you were wearing when you are photographed, the letters will be backwards on the photo.

I plan to get more tintype’s taken in the future, and am moving full ahead in acquiring the equipment and knowledge so that I will be able to continue the tintype tradition myself!

Full disclosure on the images above. The final image is not the one seen in the process. The first tintype turned out too dark so we did a second one, but I wanted to include the behind the scenes photos anyway, not just a final image.

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