By: Jill Enfield
People usually think of doing tintypes in large format cameras such as 4 x 5 or 8 x 10's, but for years I have been encouraging students to use any type of camera they have on hand. Brownies and pinhole cameras have been used as well as plastic cameras, one that has become a favorite is – the Holga.
Dry plate tintypes are not faux tintypes. Gelatin emulsion tintypes were made commercially (by Kodak and others) as early as the 1880’s. They were also made on paper and used in street cameras.
The emulsions you can buy today are similar to what you get when you make it from scratch using: gelatin, silver nitrate, potassium bromide, and chrome alum.
I have been using dry plate tintype kits made by Rockland. It is very simple and the plates, which are actually aluminum, can be cut with scissors so that they can fit into any camera. Since it is a dry plate, no preparation needs to be done to the camera. Nothing will be poured on or get ruined as in wet plate tintypes. But the best part is that you can get all of your plates ready one day and go out for a full day of shooting anytime within the next month without worrying that the plates are going bad. All you need is one box for storing your unexposed tintypes, one box for your exposed tintypes, a tent to change them in your camera, and a tripod due to long exposures.
Holga cameras have a "B"(Bulb) setting which means that you can leave the shutter open for as long as you want to. I keep the lens on the largest opening, which is about f/8. Rockland Tintype kit is about ISO 20 so you can get a ballpark time with a handheld light meter.
The kit comes with a developer and fixer and I always buy extra developer as it goes bad quickly. I use small trays so that I can use as little chemistry at a time as possible. I also keep my darkroom pretty dark when I am coating the plates, but not so dark when I am developing so that I can see what is happening as it develops.
I warm the plate a little on a heating pad before I begin to pour the emulsion onto it. Then once I pour the emulsion on the plate, I place it on a frozen cold pack to cool it down. Once the plate seems like it has set up, I dry it on a cool setting with a hair dryer. I store the plates in a paper box and take them out when I am ready to use them.