Learning The Tintype Process Print

One of the highlights this summer for me was learning the tintype process. This process was one of the earliest photographic processes invented, pre-dating film and was widely used during the Civil War.

Several photographers and assistants have died while working on this kind of photography. The chemistry involves highly flammable chemicals and deadly potassium cyanide is used as a fixer. Keeps one on his toes that's for sure.

Making a Tintype

Many of the tools need to be handmade. Since this is an archaic type of photography, the tools, cameras, and even lenses are difficult to find. This handmade clamp holds the glass for cleaning before the collodion can be applied.

Making a Tintype

A Fresnel lens from a projector was cut to size to fit on the back of the camera to help with the focus.

Making a Tintype

Below is an ambrotype still developed on glass. An ambrotype was a negative on glass that could later be reproduced into positives by essentially taking a picture of the negative and making positives from it.

Making a Tintype

Plate 0001. This is my first plate and is of my instructor, Dale Bernstein.


Plate 0004. This plate is of Susan, one of my fellow students.


There are many steps to producing a finished plate. I found that the hardest part was pouring the collodion evenly on the plate. You have to pour it and put it into the silver bath as soon as it dries which is pretty fast and without spilling the collodion. That and being careful when putting it in the potassium cyanide bath after the exposure is made and taking it out carefully. One must always wear eye and hand protection and be extra careful so it doesn't get splashed around.

I instantly fell in love with tintypes because they're one of a kind and because it is a laborious process to make a single tintype. But what you end up with is a truly unique image. The ones I've made so far are quite elementary, I really can't wait to start purchasing the equipment and begin to further my study into this true form of photography.