What you need to make tintypes.
There are two kinds of tintypes, wet-plate and dry-plate.
- For wet-plate photography, a collodion emulsion mixture is poured on the metal plate just before it’s exposed in the camera. The plate is still wet when the exposure is created.
- The dry-plate process, a modern innovation to the tintype process, uses a gelatin photographic emulsion instead of a liquid and can be applied further in advance.
All tintypes are unlike modern digital photography in that they require specialized equipment, chemicals, and certain physical conditions. A tintype camera is a large-format camera with a plate holder, lens, and tripod. “The plates themselves can be whatever size you want. You can go as big as 24 by 30 inches, or you can do 2 inches or 35 millimeters,” says photographer David Clifford.
Including the darkroom supplies, chemicals, plates, and safety gear, the materials themselves can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. You’ll need silver nitrate powder, collodion, developer, fixer, and varnishing mixtures. If you’re new to the process, you can find starter kits that package up most of the supplies you’ll need.
You also need to consider the physical conditions of your photoshoot. “It’s an old process. The chemicals should be at about 68 degrees or room temperature. Yesterday I was shooting outside, and it was 38 degrees. It was freezing and we got two tintypes made, and then we got nothing because it was just way too cold,” says Clifford.
How to make a tintype.
In total, there are over 30 steps in the tintype process, and each image takes about 15 minutes to create. Here are some of those basics:
Prepare the plate.
For the wet-plate collodion process, each plate must be prepared right before you create a photo. This means you’ll need a portable darkroom or darkroom tent. If you plan to use the wet-plate photographic process, prepare your shot or subject before preparing your plate, otherwise you’ll rush the composition of the actual shot.
Tintype plates usually come with a plastic cover, so peel it off and clean the plate thoroughly. Then pour your collodion on the plate and let it set for around 20 seconds.
“In your darkroom, prepare your silver bath, which is nine percent silver nitrate, and the rest is distilled water,” says Clifford. Then slowly lower the plate into the silver bath for two to four minutes. “This makes the plates light-sensitive,” Clifford adds. Let the silver bath drop off and load the plate face down into the light-safe plate holder.