tintype photography setup tips

I have tips to share based on my two month experience of “initial setup” in tintype land. I’m finally ready to tintype at home and have a few words of wisdom. Of course John Coffer is THE authority on tintypes. His manual is a complete step by step guide to everything you need to know about wet plate photography. This is just a little information he doesn’t talk about in his manual.

1. A GOOD WORKSPACE IS VERY IMPORTANT. I tried using my bedroom floor as a workspace to mark of some plexiglass and ended up with blue sharpie stains on my white comforter. bummmer…

2. CUTTING PLEXIGLASS BY HAND IS HARD. As you can tell by the second photo above, it didn’t go over too well with me. I tried the scoring and snapping method and all i got was plexiglass pieces in the shape of daggers. Take your plexiglass to a plastic cutter and have them to it with a rotary saw. Worth the cost.

3. HOBBY LOBBY’S GLASSWARE SALE IS AWESOME. The tintype process involves a million little glass bottles and Hobby Lobby is just the place to find such bottles. Every other week they sell glasswares at 50% OFF. OMG, I know.

4. CHEMICALS: GLACIAL ACETIC ACID V. POTASSIUM CYANIDE. Lots of chemicals involved in this process. Use your brain, be careful. Wear gloves and goggles the entire time. My suggestion is to mix your chemicals on seperate days, so you don’t run the risk of creating fumes and you don’t get overwhelmed. Maybe mix potassium cyanide the first day. Your collodion the next day. Developer another day. Everyone knows the danger of cyanide but last night i learned the magic of glacial acetic acid. When I poured it into a graduated cylinder, I foolishly took a breath and let’s just say it felt like a slap to the face. IT IS STRONG. Kind of smells like vinegar but after pouring it, it felt like someone put vinegar in my nose and then asked me to sniff as hard as i could. Keep the glacial acetic acid FAR away from the potassium cyanide. The fumes they can make when together are super toxic.

that is all for now.

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  1. Hello-
    Your post came up while searching Tin Type info. I noticed you mentioned the John Coffer book but can you tell me anything re: the camera you use and/or the best place to find one? Any other info or resources would be greatly appreciated! Im a Commercial/Editorial photographer and just starting to explore Tin type/WetPlate photography.
    Thanks and great work!
    Cassady Kissam

  2. Wow, the photographs are wonderful. I’ve never don tintype or any other types of alternative processes, but I am thinking about trying this out. Thanks for the tips : )

  3. Posting use of these chemicals publicly is a bad idea. For you, and for everyone else who uses them. Depending on how and where you’re using the cyanide, authorities can and will come and prevent you from using it. Please try to be discreet.

    1. I appreciate your concern. It isn’t a big secret that wet plate photography uses this chemistry. This post is only meant as helpful advice for others setting up for tintypes.

    1. Why didn’t you warn me??!! I came up with a method to avoid this slap. It involves tying a t-shirt around my face.


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