Tin Types

Photographer Alexandra Opie is spending the summer with grant support learning to make tin types…an historic but little used photographic method.  She is working with her student Ariel to learn the process, so that each of them can go in a different creative direction.  She invited me up to the dark room to get my picture taken and watch the process, and it was fascinating.  While they have many books are using the traditional methods, they can also take advantage of UTube tutorials and photographic Q&A forums on line.

I have some old tin types so I got them out to take a look before I went to the darkroom:

When I got there they were working on a still life…

but we went into the dark room where the first step is to prepare the plate.  This step is done in the dark so…no pictures of that…and this step involves coating the “tin” (in this case today, aluminum) so it can be exposed.  When the timing is right, we rush to the other room and I sit under the lights for the exposure (also no picture of this).  Back then into the darkroom for immersions in a solution which I couldn’t relate to you (involving as it does BOTH math and science),

then into a silver bath which is powdered silver mixed with ether and something else stinky…

and magically the image appears…then into a water bath to stop the developing process, and you have an image

which has to be dried in a nice old fashioned way…and then varnished…

record keeping, of course…

They’ve made a bunch of images already in the last month as they learn…

A fantastic afternoon…Thanks Alexandra and Ariel, it looked like magic to me.


  1. Very cool. Kinda weird we have to learn this vintage techniques on Youtube, but at least there is a record of how to do it.
    I think that a series of draped portraits would look very interesting.
    I am glad to see the old methods being revisited. Bravo!

  2. Fabuously interesting. I have a couple of tin types of long ago family members and have always been intrigued by the distinctive look of them. You portrait is great! Very stern and of time past.

  3. Bonnie, I always look forward to your daily entry but today was a special treat. I find the tintypes appealing and unique with a special atmospheric quality. Thank you for sharing your adventure and kudos to Alexandra and Ariel.

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