5 frames with Zebra Dry Plate Tin Types

By Michael Graziano

When I made the leap to shooting large format this year after almost 20 years of exclusively shooting 35mm film, I immediately was drawn to the wide ranging world of alt-processes. All of a sudden I had a device that could handle printing on glass and metal, and harkening back to the time I spent pulling etchings in the college print lab I wanted to dive in head first to splashing around in collodion and silver nitrate. I soon found out that my little slapped together dark room in my apartment closet was less than ideal for handling some of these substances (while also hoping to retain some of my security deposit) so I was on the hunt for an alternative.

I was lucky to stumble across Nejc Urankar and his project lost light art – in his small workshop in Slovenia he hand pours emulsions for dry plates on both glass and aluminum. Cutting out the need to have a tank to dunk a freshly poured collodion covered plate in silver, shooting and developing while still wet – means that these dry plates can be stored until needed, processed at your leisure and remain pretty resilient once dry. After I pulled my first plate out of the fixer when the positive emerges from the emulsion, I was hooked. The plates can be developed with a bare minimum of supplies, including ones most folks who have a film darkroom flow already have – I often do so on the road out of the back of my station wagon with impressive results. The tonal range is deep, with loads of immaculate little details upon close inspection.

Tintype plate freshly pulled from water rinse after fixing Close crop of a small portion of the plate to highlight detail

The first plate I pulled, processed in a tray in my tiny closet darkroom under a red safelight, washed and fixed in the kitchen sink…no need for total darkness since this is an orthochromatic emulsion. Shooting indoor requires extremely bright strobes or very long shutter speeds – the emulsion is around iso 3 after all. Some lucky craigslist sleuthing helped me pick up a well used promaster strobe set up for under $500 – you’ll want a strobe of at least 2400 w/s for portrait use.

Portrait of DJ Rootbug

DC musician Rootbug in a portrait session for their upcoming work.

 While extremely bright lights are required for indoor lighting, slightly underexposing the plates allows the deep reflective blacks to dominate a plate and lends itself to super dramatic portraits.

Tintype of flowers in a Vermont meadow

The sun is always an option for exposure times under a minute – make sure to compensate for the UV index that day, something I feel is more art than science. You get a feel for the amount of sunlight hitting a scene the more you shoot.

Tintype of pickup truck on a foggy morning

Another quirk of tintypes is that the images come out inverted horizontally. It can make writing a little disorienting, but portraits of folks will have the effect of them looking in a mirror – oddly the way most people are familiar with seeing themselves.

Tintype of hand and a spark

Maybe most importantly alt processes invite experimentation, so don’t be afraid to attempt something novel with them. I encourage anyone with large format kit and a desire to try something new to pick up some dry plates and give em a whirl – sometimes the oldest processes can bring out something new in us.

Please check out Nejc’s work at zebradryplates.com and instagram/lost_light_art and don’t forget to pick up some plates or his fantastic film holders. This guy has a passion for what he does and it shows.

My name is Mike Graziano and I appreciate you reading – I love getting my hands dirty with the most low brow and DIY versions of analog photography and printmaking, so be ready for some more unsophisticated takes. My work is at MGRZ.net and @mgrzdoom on instagram.

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About The Author

By Michael Graziano
Mostly winging it in photography and life on the east coast of the United States. Low overhead, DIY or generally ill-advised film and darkroom practices are my bread and butter.
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Comments

Ibraar Hussain on 5 frames with Zebra Dry Plate Tin Types

Comment posted: 21/01/2024

Excellent stuff and beautiful work
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Michael Graziano on 5 frames with Zebra Dry Plate Tin Types

Comment posted: 21/01/2024

Thanks Kai. The learning curve wasn't nearly as brutal as I thought it would be to jump in. I say give it a go if you have to opportunity.
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Kai Lietz on 5 frames with Zebra Dry Plate Tin Types

Comment posted: 20/01/2024

Amazing Pictures Michael, especially the portraits have a certain look that I like. Really inspiring!
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