14 common questions about wet plate collodion tintype photography

I’ve been a professional photographer since 2003 and took my first wet plate collodion tintype photo in June of 2018. Tintype photography has made me excited, giddy and stoked to share this amazing process with everyone! Tintype has the instant gratification of polaroids and the technical difficulty of the most challenging shoot ever! The end result is an amazing, one of a kind heirloom photo. Not to mention tintype cameras and lenses are rad!

Tintype photo of kids

1. What is a tintype? 

The tintype method of photography was one of the very first types of photography that made individual portraits accessible to everyday people in America and around the world.  Tintypes are made by coating a metal or glass plate with chemicals and then making a single exposure.  Tintypes are very archival and many photos can be found in collectors’ possession or at antique malls.  Often they were passed down from generation to generation as heirlooms!

2. Where is the studio located?

Sunroom Analog has tintype studios in Seattle and in Portland.  They also offer occasional pop-up style events for portraits.

3. How do I book a tintype portrait session?

We are available in both Seattle and Portland.  Schedule a tintype portrait session in Portland here and in Seattle here.

4. How long in advance should I schedule my portrait? 

In Seattle, we are usually booked 2-3 weeks out but we will get you in ASAP.  In Portland, we have a home-based studio and can usually fit you in the same week!

5. What should I wear?

We encourage individuality, so dress in your favorite clothing! Textures, patterns and accessories (like hats or scarves) can be fun additions. Don’t feel like you need to dress ‘vintage.’ This is a modern take on the 1851 tintype process, so be yourself!

5. How long will my session last?

Full sessions last about 40 minutes.  A full session includes two plates. As artists, we find each tintype to be completely unique!  Often it’s nice to create a second image to fine-tune the look of each tintype photo.  At most pop up events we also offer mini sessions.  Those include one plate and are much faster paced.  Mini sessions usually past about 20 minutes.  

6. Is a digital copy included?

Yes!  Tintype is a completely analog process!  But, we get that most people would like a digital copy to use on social media, etc.  After we make your image we will make a high-quality digital copy of it.  It will be included with your finished plate.

7. How many people can be photographed? 

Tintype Photography is very different from modern digital photography.  The depth of field (the area that is in focus) is very narrow.  Eyes can be in focus while the entire rest of the tintype is out of focus!  So, people, kids, dogs, cats, birds, alligators, and all other subjects need to have their eyes level with each other.  It can take a little while with kids who aren’t comfortable holding still for 1-3 or minutes or so.  Don’t worry, we will be right there guiding you through this process! 

  • 4×5 plates are best for 1-2 people. 
  • 5×7 plates are best for 1-3 people. 
  • 8×10 plates work well for unto 4 people.  4 people will take a bit more time so let us know your group size in advance.
  • 11×14 plates can work for bigger groups but look best with 1-3 people.  If you have a group of 4 or more, just let us know.

8. What about children or pets?

We love photographing children and pets!  Due to the difficulty and precise nature of this type of photography it may take longer.  Kids and pets will need to be able to remain relatively still for 30 seconds- 1 minute.  Check out our gallery, Kathryn is a master of helping kids and pets through this process.  Make sure to book a full session so we have enough time.

9. What is the biggest size tintype photo I can get? 

As of 2020 we now offer 11×14 size wet plate collodion tintype photos!  That means we can photograph individual portraits that are 1-1, life-size!  These are literally wall-ready art that we create together!

10. How long will my tintype last?

Many tintypes are still around from the very origin of this type of photography in 1851!  The prevailing wisdom is that tintypes last 150-200 years.  Amazing.  

11. Why do tintypes look so magical? 

The tintype process is sensitive to UV light, not visible light.  So things like freckles, colors, and facial features can appear much different than the way we see them.  Many people feel like tintypes see into our souls.  They certainly are magical looking!

Tintype photo of Mesa and Alina in Portland

12. Is this the same process they used in the 1850s? 

Exactly right! For Sunroom Analog, we use lenses from the 1800s and the exact same chemical process that they used!  There are two differences.  First, we use studio lights to make our actual exposure.  So the actual exposure of the plate is made in s fraction of a second.  Second, for one of the final steps of the process, they used Potassium Cyanide as a “fixer” in the 1800s.  We use a less deadly fixer so the process is safe for all ages to watch!  

13. Do you teach tintype portrait classes?

Yes! We teach occasional tintype photography classes in Seattle. We have a minimum number of students that we need so we can set aside the time.  Just drop us an email and tell your friends!

14. What type of camera is best for tintypes?

This is a loaded question!  First, tintype photos are more about the lens then the camera.  Most large format cameras and lenses for tintype / wet plate collodion photography don’t even have a shutter.  They are simply a light proof box that moves forward and back to adjust focus.  Lenses usually are from the 1800s and they are where the magic happens!  I plan to do another post soon to get into cameras and chemistry a bit more.  Or, email us about workshops!  We love getting into all the technical awesomeness that took ages to research on our own.

 LGTBQ tintype photo

Check out my tintype photography page here!

Book a tintype session in Portland here

Book in Seattle here

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