Replicate traditional photographic techniques using step-by-step walkthroughs. Part 4: Ambrotypes and tintypes.

While researching wet-plate collodion methods, Frederick Scott Archer found that by placing an underexposed glass negative in front of a dark background, he could produce a positive image.

This was the ambrotype or collodion positive, which was a more economical process than the Daguerreotype, and produced sharper, clearer images than Fox Talbot’s paper negatives.

The tintype (or ferrotype) used a metal rather than glass negative and was an even cheaper variation. Tintypes were robust enough to be sent by mail, or could be cut and mounted in lockets.

They were especially popular in the late 19th Century as they enabled photographers to offer small, near-instant pictures to a much wider cross-section of society. It’s worthwhile examining examples of ambrotypes and tintypes in museums, books, or online.

Typically, the subject matter would be a portrait, and, because cheap tintypes could be made by street or travelling photographers, the subjects were often ordinary folks rather than more affluent citizens.

An important characteristic is that ambrotypes and tintypes are laterally reversed – important if a picture included lettering or distinctive patterns. With sepia-toned ambrotypes and tintypes, the toning is usually subdued.

They both tend to contain dark greys rather than blacks, and ambrotypes appear to lack whites – perhaps not surprising, as they have dark backgrounds.

Both types of pictures were sometimes hand-coloured, usually without much subtlety.

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This B&W picture was taken at a wedding in the north of England, but I liked its Old West feel. The tintype in particular was hugely popular in the United States.
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