Tintypes. What’s a Tintype?

Between late spring and early fall we tend to go periodically to the Petaluma Farmer’s Market, in Walnut Park near downtown. While our usual goal on a Saturday afternoon visit is get some nice veggies, some occasional meat and bread, and the occasional treat, while listening to eclectic music from the band stand in the park, sometimes we encounter the unusual something there as well. So one day in late August as we went about the usual food shopping, I was surprised to see a large format camera and a sign saying Tintype Photography!

Now as lover of photography and film, I was quite surprised to see that not only was the camera set up but there was a portable dark room and even more surprised to see that each “print” (4×5 inches on metal) was ready in about 20 minutes! Real photography in 20 minutes! Wow, I had to know more about this.

The camera being used was Linhof 4×5 camera. While I’m very familar with 35mm film and over the past 4 years have come to love medium format with my 645 and 6×7 cameras, large format (anything equal to or greater than 4×5 inches) is old tech and yet is still a gold standard for resolution. _IMG0365

The photographer – a very nice man – was dressed in period clothes of sorts as was his assistant. His subject was also decked out in a period dress (what period? mid 19th century stuff)._IMG0369

As the photographer worked his shot, I took several with my Pentax K3 and Voigtlander 58mm lens. The first shot the model was smirking and that – to me – hardly seemed in character for pictures of the day.
My second shot was a bit more serious.
I watched with great interest as the print was developed, fixed, and then hardened with a coating of varnish, dried over an open flame! Basic photography chemical stuff (although I can’t recall all of it and was too busy watching the process to get pictures.

The finished print (in 20 minutes) was totally true to the period and the tintype technique._IMG0371

I have subsequently read up on the Tintype process and have learned that it was revolutionary for the times 1860-1870’s and brought photography into just the setting found at the farmer’s market, simple, fast, and cheap too. I had to ponder for a bit whether or not I might like to try this for fun as well…time will tell on that but even for me who loves the smell of fixer, this may be a bit too retro. Fascinating day for sure.

4 thoughts on “Tintypes. What’s a Tintype?”

  1. Yes, that was my thought exactly. However, after seeing the relative ease that this is done, I could be persuaded to give it a try myself as I too have a large format camera…

  2. Actually, I have no doubt that folks continue some of these traditional methods. What’s different for me was that they were doing this at a farmer’s market.

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