What does it take to do "period correct" tintype?
I was at a Civil War reenactment this past weekend. I was shooting around with my Pentax and I took a few photos of the reenactors in their period clothing.
I usually always share a small print with people when I take their photo in situations like this. (Kind of like a photo business card. Eh?) A few of them came out really well. If they were sepia toned they might have a nice period look.
I was talking to the blacksmith, whom I know. As we were shooting the breeze he brought up the idea that I might want to look into period photography for these kinds of events. He told me that many of the reenactors pay him for blacksmith work which he makes a fair bit of money from. Although he doesn't get rich from it, he pays his costs plus enough left over to make it worthwhile for him to stand over a 3,000 ºF pit of burning coal on a summer day.
So, here's the question: What would it take to get into making tintype/ferrotypes?
I would need a period correct camera, or at least one that is close to period. Unless a person is well versed in history, most wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a period correct, Civil War vintage camera and an "Old Camera."
I've read that you can modify old Brownies to make ferrotype with.
I would need supplies and study in how to make tintypes. I have read about the basics and it doesn't seem to be much harder than modern photography. I'm sure I would need to study and practice.
Chemistry and darkroom supplies wouldn't be an issue for me. I have plenty of trays and gear. It doesn't have to be period because it's all going to be in the dark, anyway. Nobody will see the darkroom but me and my assistant, if I have one.
Period dress is debatable. If you are a reenactor, period dress is required but many of the tradesmen (blacksmith, wood carvers, etc.) just wear dungarees, leather boots and a white shirt. Many reenactments will let tradesmen wear modern clothes out of concern for safety as long as it looks close enough. (Steel toed boots, goggles, aprons, etc.)
So, what's it going to take?
I figure several hundred dollars, approaching a thousand.
That doesn't account for consumables. Plates, chemistry, etc.
(Strangely enough, the blacksmith guy is also a chemist who often makes stuff like flash powder.)
Considering the price I could get for a period tintype is probably around $10.00 to $15.00, I wonder whether I could make enough to break even, let alone have enough left over to make it worthwhile to stand in a dark room full of chemicals on a hot summer day.
What do you think?
You can take this guy's workshop: http://www.johncoffer.com/
Sounds like fun, if you have the time to get into it, it's totally doable.
Not to dissuade you from doing this, but I think your estimates of difficulty and cost are off. Getting good, consistent plates is a talent that requires a lot of practice. Much of your existing darkroom gear does not translate to doing wet plate. You will need a silver bath, which needs to be completely light-tight, and for shooting in the field, a dark box (not a darkroom- your tent does not need to be completely dark, just dim). For reenactment, you'll need a vintage camera or a vintage camera copy, which will set you back multiple hundreds of dollars. The portable dark box will set you back another multiple hundreds. The killer will be a brass portrait lens. Five years ago you could have gotten something decent on the cheap. Now, people are selling magic lantern projector lenses for two and three hundred. Yes, you can easily shoot tintypes and ambrotypes in a box brownie, and it makes for an inexpensive learning tool. However, a box brownie would NOT cut it as a reenactment tool, as the brownie was invented a good 25-30 years AFTER the civil war ended. Be prepared to spend on the order of $2-3,000 for re-enactment worthy kit. You might be able to get away with less authentic gear if you remain in the sutler's areas, but if you are going to be photographing at the reenactment site, I'd expect you would need period gear at all but the most casual reenactments. That would go for clothing as well.
My strongest recommendation would be to take a good wet plate workshop before you invest in any of the gear. John Coffer is a very good one, and Scully & Osterman teach up in Rochester. The CAP workshops in New York City also have regular wet plate classes. This will give you a much better handle on the process and its quirks, and a better idea of the costs. Expect to spend in addition to all the hardware needed to get the process up and running an additional $400-500 for chemistry and supplies. Once you're running, this cost goes down as all you have to do is replenish, but it isn't cheap.
I have no illusion that this project is easy. I'm simply looking into the prospect to see what it would take and how much it would cost.
There is no guarantee of making money, even enough to cover cost plus travel and overhead. That has to be understood from the start and I do. However, I still find the idea to be an interesting one. If my financial situation ever permits, I would like to get into making tintypes just for my own knowledge. Then, from there, I might pursue it farther.
I have an old Brownie that I can convert to the purpose and I have a couple of other cameras that could be used. Someday, I might get them out and see what I can do with them. Those workshops by Coffer, et. al., are interesting to me but cost would be prohibitive at this point.
Until things change, this remains a "Someday Project" for me but it still never hurts to do a little reading up on the subject.
this link might be helpful
bostick and sullivan sell a whole "kit" to help get your feet wet ...and it is less than 400$
if you already have cameras that are converted ( or will be ) you can probably ask them
about a kit without the camera
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artwork often times sold for charity
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What the flying camera said is close to spot on in my experience. The technique does take a fair amount of practice to get good plates and it really is much different than traditional darkroom B&W work. One of the considerations for authentic tin types is exactly that the "tin" plate. Very many wet platers use black trophy aluminum which makes great plates but they are not tin types as they are on aluminum not steel. Real tin plates , to my knowledge, are not commercially available so must get the tin plate and coat your own, a process with its own learning curve. I took a John Coffer workshop and it was worth every penny and then some so if you can take a workshop I would. The costs of getting set up with equipment to do it in the field really add up quickly. A year into it I am much better at it but still learning and still spending money.
Taking a good workshop from a good instructor will save you untold hundreds if not thousands of dollars in learning curve costs. It would be an investment well worth the expense, to be sure you even want to do this. You'll learn about black paws - you WILL get silver nitrate stains on your hands no matter how careful you are. I took a 1-on-1 seminar with Kerik Kouklis at his place in California and it was so worth it - we poured something like 13 plates in an 8 hour day, from 5x7 to 8x10, which is a tremendous volume. The black trophy aluminum is probably the least expensive and most user-friendly medium to coat on, other than possibly doing clear glass ambrotypes on window glass. Black glass has a look all its own, but it is not cheap to work with, and any glass is fragile. Take a seminar so you can see the process live in the hands of someone experienced, and get your hands wet (and black) without having to invest potentially thousands of dollars in gear before you're sure.
I considered this also. So I'm glad I can piggy back off of your question by getting everyone's responses. In addition to Civil War reenactments, you could do cowboy action shooting events.
I was is a similar place recently, wanting to get into wet plate collodion. I would strongly recommend you consider some of the good advice posted already here by TheFlyingCamera and z3guy.
In June I attended Bill Schwab's Wet Plate Collodion workshop and it was excellent. I would definitely put that on your list of workshops to consider. I felt the money spent was WELL worth it and after taking it, believe it probably saved me countless time, effort and dollars if trying to go it alone. I cannot speak of any of the other workshops, I am sure they are good for sure. Bill keeps his workshops small so that there is plenty of his attention to go around, and he is a heck of a nice guy.
Since taking his workshop in June I have been working on accumulating everything I need to do the process. I have all the chemicals and am working on the camera, and portable dark box. Keep in mind that just because you have a darkroom, the collodion process is different, needs different chemicals and handling. Don't take the chemicals lightly, they are dangerous. Another reason to seek out a workshop if you can afford it, it is good to see the handling and storage of the chemicals first-hand.
I have heard the collodion kits as mentioned also are good. I decided to go the other route and just accumulate all the chems individually however. I knew I wanted to do it and the kits are limited to X number of plates.
As far as cameras go, you can start by using a great number of options, just may have to find or modify a back. In the workshop I used my Chamonix with a 4x5 film holder converted for wet plate. That won't be period, but if you want to look into the process you can start there too.