How to prepare for your tintype portrait

Tintypes are unique, handmade, one-of-a-kind portraits.  The process has some unique caveats, which are quite different than what you may be used to with analog or digital photography.  This handout has a few suggestions to keep in mind during your shoot. 

The metal or glass plate photos are taken and developed on site using our traveling darkroom, so each picture is an original positive image.  When they are dry, they can be scanned for sharing and making digital prints. Finally, the plates are varnished to make them archival.  Tintypes, when coated with varnish, cured, and stored properly, have been known to last well over 100 years.

POSING:  Tintype exposures are very slow compared to modern film ISO, which is why they require a lot of light and set-up time before the picture is made.  Though the exposure times are usually a few seconds long, It is not unusual to have a 12 to 15 second exposure time depending on the available lighting conditions. You will need to hold your pose without moving during the entire exposure.  It is possible to use artificial lighting, however we try to arrange the pose so you are sufficiently lit in the natural sunlight whenever possible. (The way it was originally done)  You can blink your eyes and breathe, but other than that, you must hold still.  You are free to pose any way you choose (and smile) as long as you can hold it for the duration of the exposure.  Any movement will result in a blurred image.  We have a headrest we can use if you have difficulty holding still.

CLOTHING:   In general, timeless fashion is best.  Avoid anything with writing, numbers or logos as it will appear backwards.  If writing, such as a logo or text is important to you, we do have a way we can correct it, so please just let us know in advance.  Colors values read differently on tintypes than they do on analog black and white film because tintype chemistry does not recognize the color blue.  Cool tones read as light grays.  Blues and purples appear very light.  Warm tones of red, orange, and yellow read as dark gray to black.

TATTOOS:  Tattoos made with a dark blue pigment will most likely not show.  Sometimes, a heavily inked person with blue tattoos can appear not to have any tattoos at all or else they will be very faint.

MAKEUP :  For women,  because tintypes do not recognize the color blue, you may want to avoid using blue eyeliner or eyeshadow or pink and cool toned red lipstick and blush.  Natural or “office appropriate” makeup, usually appears completely washed off in tintypes as though you aren’t wearing any makeup at all.  So, to appear “lightly” made up, you’ll need to apply it a lot heavier than you are probably used to for daily wear.  You’ll need a thick eyeliner, false eyelashes and mascara, along with a purple or café brown lipstick.  If you want a “heavily” made up look, use double thick false eyelashes, red or black lipstick, and a cheek contour.  One of the best things about tintypes is how it makes the skin appear very luminous. To amplify this, we can apply a light layer of jojoba oil on the skin just before your shoot.  Please let us know which look you are trying to achieve and we will be glad to help you get the look you are going for.  We can also recommend a hair/make-up artist if need be.

We love making tintypes and we hope you will cherish and enjoy your tintype for generations to come. If you have any questions about the suggestions on this sheet, please don’t hesitate to contact us.