A Fascinating Look at the Tintype Photography Process

Tintype photography predates mainstream film. It was mostly used in the late 1800s. However, Michael Shindler is still doing it. And I must say he is doing it remarkably well:

The video shows how the process goes with Jamie Hyneman as a model. It’s pretty much the same as any photo shoot, but instead of a digital back, you have high power flashes etching the light onto a metal plate. (Via PetaPixel)

The plate is processed through several chemicals afterwards and you have a finished product in about five minutes.

how to do tintype portraits

Schindler usually uses 4×5 tintype plates in his portraiture work, but he is also able to take a portrait which is as big as 14×17 inches. You can just imagine the amount of detail. Since it is not a print, it is not limited by the resolution of the digital camera and the printer. The detail here is only limited by the lens; with a good lens and a big piece of specially processed metal, the amount of detail is immense.

tintype detail

Tintype is capable of recording astonishing detail.

Interestingly, Shindler says that the creating the plates is a quite simple process (they aren’t manufactured anywhere) and the processing afterwards is also quite simple. This begs the question: why aren’t many people doing it? It is obviously cool and unique. And it brings you back to the roots of photography. I’ll certainly try it out, if I can manage to find the ingredients.

To be real, making the plates, then exposing them might be a fairly simple process, but the whole process of taking the image really isn’t that simple. The plates only have about 10 minutes of life, and you need huge amounts of light since their sensitivity is equivalent to ISO 0.5. Yes, ISO 0.5! Therefore, high powered flash is the only way to go, unless you can make your subject stay frozen for 10 or more seconds. It is also a manual focus system, with small fields of focus, so that is an issue, as well.

jamie hyneman's tintype portraits

Creating an image like this is a challenge, but the end reward is well worth it.

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One response to “A Fascinating Look at the Tintype Photography Process”

  1. Debra Haven says:

    One of my family members passed and among the things he left were 5 mint condition plates. I would like to know more about them, and I’m not sure who would be the best to educate me on these.. So I thought I would start with you
    Any help would be appreciated

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