Replicate traditional photographic techniques using step-by-step walkthroughs. Part 1: Daguerreotypes.


The world’s first photographic process was announced in Paris in 1839 by Louis Daguerre. It used a silver-plated copper sheet that was sensitized with iodine, exposed, and then developed in mercury vapor.

Early images were of architectural subjects or landscapes, but soon the process was also used for portraiture, and it became particularly popular in France and America.

Daguerreotypes were positive images, one-offs, and the process was obsolete within a decade, as soon as new techniques allowed multiple photographs to be printed from negatives.

But if you ever get the opportunity to compare early photographs in museums or exhibitions, it would be surprising if you didn’t find the Daguerreotypes to be some of the most magical objects on display.

Early Daguerreotype exposure times were long, so moving subjects such as water and people usually appeared blurred.

Photoshop’s Motion Blur filter is ideal for simulating this, but requires a little care in its application because Daguerreotypes recorded other, static objects in fine detail.

The other major characteristic of the Daguerreotype, its metal base, is tougher to imitate: the effect is as if the picture were printed onto a mirror.

I didn’t have any success using an inkjet printer to print onto kitchen foil, promising though this experiment seemed, but there are ways to imitate metallic finishes in Photoshop.

Certainly you need to print onto high-gloss paper rather than a surface with a matte or textured finish. The staining and other discoloration around the picture edges can also be added artificially in Photoshop, but it’s quicker and more realistic to scan real materials and use them as layers within the picture.

Metallic objects will be most suitable for the Daguerreotype, but once you get the hang of this technique, you can apply it to all sorts of photographs.

Choose any image to which you can add an obvious touch of movement – one with a river is perfect. If you’re starting with a colour image, go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate to remove the colour while staying in RGB mode.

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This picture of Notre Dame in Paris seems appropriate, though of course the couple would have moved during the long Daguerreotype exposure time. I exercised artistic licence and left them static. The subjects of original studio portraits were strapped into chairs to keep them from moving, so this is not so improbable! 
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