Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a tintype?

A: A tintype is a photograph made by creating a direct positive image on a metal plate through a technique know as the wetplate collodion process. The process involves creating a thin light sensitive layer of film (emulsion) on a metal plate, exposing the sensitized plate in the camera, and then developing the exposed plate in a darkroom.

The process was invented in 1848, and is the same process that was used to make images during the American Civil War.

Q: What is the difference between a tintype and an ambrotype?

A: An ambrotype is the same thing as a tintype (see question above). The only difference is an ambrotype is created on glass, whereas a tintype is made on metal. Ambrotypes are sometimes named for the color of the glass they are made on...clear glass ambrotypes, black glass ambrotypes, ruby glass ambrotypes, etc. Most of the ambrotypes I make are clear glass ambrotypes. I do occasionally make black glass ambrotypes as well.

Q: Should I smile or not?

A: From what I've read, there are many reasons why people typically did NOT smile in early portraiture. Here are a few:

  • In the early days of portrait photography, the photographers took their compositional cues from painted portraits, which were more formal in nature.

  • A wide grin was considered a sign of madness.

  • Post mortem (after death) photography was popular in the early days of photography. It was common for families to prop up their departed relatives and pose for photographs with them.

So, should you smile or not? Entirely up to you. If you leave it up to me, I will generally tell you not to.

Q: What should I wear?

A: I have found that layers and textures work very well in tintypes. Hats, scarves, wool, bold prints, necklaces, beards and facial hair, messy (even unkept) hair, etc., all make for more interesting tintype portraits. Just stay away from solid white, and don't overthink it.

Q: How long do I have to sit still for?

A: The short answer depends. If I am using strobes, the exposure is instant (great for shooting wiggly kids). If I am using natural light, it all depends on the available light. The exposure can be as quick a half second in bright light, and the times just go up from there.