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Picture of Daguerreotype Photographs the Old Fashioned Way
Step 0, Pronunciation: "DUG ARROW TYPE".

My name is Jonathan Danforth and I'm a Daguerreotype artist.

My Website http://www.shinyphotos.com has lots more information, go check it out, OK?

The Daguerreotype was the first patented photographic process. Patented by Daguerre in 1839 after ripping off substantial portions of the technology from Joseph-Nicephore Niepce in the 1820s and 1830s, the Daguerreotype was heralded at the time as an amazing invention. The Daguerreotype remained popular for only a short time (25 years or so at the most) because it was (and remains) expensive, irreproducible, and tricky to make in the first place. Why did a technology that had so much going against it stick around for so long? Daguerreotypes are beautiful in the way that diamonds are beautiful. Precious and rare is the Daguerreotype.

Silver + iodine + light + UV = photograph.

Check out the attached video clip to see what it looks like to hold a finished Daguerreotype in your (my) hand.

I'm dumping a lot of information about the process in the various steps so check 'em out.
 
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Step 1: Getting Started

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Get a shiny piece of silver or silver plate. I buy pre-plated pieces of copper from Theiss Plating (see my website) but you could plate your own if you want. There's no reason why you have to make pre-prescribed image sizes either. If you have a 4x5 view camera then make a 1x5" faux panorama or something... make a circle. Who cares? You're going to need to polish this sucker to a mirror finish so break out the bench grinder. The silver plate will be pretty thin so you want to use a non-abrasive polishing rouge on your new buffing wheels. I use red jeweler's rouge from Metalliferous in New York. Start by buffing the plate on a stitched wheel and then proceed to an unstitched wheel.

You should get pretty damn close to a mirror finish with this process. Most daguerreotypists will next go on to a hand-buffing stage. I use powdered black iron oxide on a velvet board. See image.

Step 2: Sensitizing (making it "film")

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Once you have a beautiful blemish-free silver mirror plate, it's time to go to the darkroom.

Basically, you're making old-school film here. All modern film is based on the principle that silver halides are light-sensitive. What's a silver halide? Go ask Google. Simply put, exposing the silver plate to Iodine vapor in a darkroom turns your shiny silver plate into a heavy-ass hunk of film. Get it? The plate IS the film, therefore there is no negative, therefore this is a unique piece of art. No editioning of prints here.

My sensitizing box is made out of poplar, glue, Pyrex(C)(TM), and Lexan(C)(TM). The Iodine crystals go in the glass dish and, when not in use, the Lexan slides over the top of the dish to keep the corrosive fumes from turning various metals into various powders. Don't inhale Iodine fumes, quite exciting and dreadful things happen to the color and composition of your respiratory system. The Iodine crystals never get used up in this process. Just buy enough Iodine to cover the bottom of the glass dish that you're using and you'll be set for a long time.

You slide the polished plate face-down over top of the Iodine crystals. Depending on temperature, humidity, astrology, and voodoo, the plate will turn a pretty rosy purple after a minute or two. Every 20-30 seconds or so, I pull the plate out of the sensitizing box, flip on a light, and look at the color of the plate.

Why doesn't this screw up the plate? The ISO of a Becquerel Daguerreotype is about .0004. To fix the issue of exposing the plate to white light in the darkroom, just cram it back in the box over the Iodine for another 15 seconds or so.

Once sensitized, load the plate up into any ordinary modern film holder.

Because I'm tired of searching eBay for photography arcana, I have just reverted to taping the daguerreotype plates on to the septum of the film holder. Not very classy, I know but it works. I'm sure you can figure out a way to mount a silver plate to a film holder!

Step 3: Picture time!

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It is not necessary to use a view camera to make Daguerreotypes but it helps. Since there is no enlarging, your final image is only the size of the plate that you started with. My view camera can accept up to 8x10" daguerreotype plates which are quite excitingly expensive. There isn't any reason why you couldn't do this process with a 35mm camera and a postage-stamp sized silver plate.

Since Becquerel Daguerreotypes have an equivalent ISO of about .0004, the exposure times can take a little while.

I can give you a general rule of thumb but many variables effect the exposure including your polish. In FULL sun with a well-polished plate, you should be able to get 45 seconds at f/5.6. This would mean that you're reading EV16 on a grey card. That's REALLY DAMN BRIGHT. For comparison, an exposure based on EV12 on a grey card would be about 6 minutes, 45 seconds at f/5.6.

Becquerel Daguerreotypes also suffer from limited dynamic range. While modern slide film or digital cameras can give you 7-9 stops of dynamic range, you'll be limited to about 3 with Becquerel. If you're metering a scene and the sky is 5 stops brighter than your subject, you're in solarization-ville.

Check out the attached PDF showing my cheat sheet for exposure calculations. I use this in the field and then adjust based on experience.

Step 4: Time to Develop

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If you thought that your exposure took a while then you're in for a treat. This step in the process is the main point of deviation from Daguerre's method. Becquerel discovered that you can use a red filter and sunlight to develop your Daguerreotypes. Cool, huh? The downside is that it takes about 2-3 hours of sunlight.

Buy a pad of lithographic sheet called Amberlith (I've never tried Rubylith... let me know if you do). You can get amberlith from any decent art supply store. Tape a sheet of the amberlith over your film holder with light-sealing masking tape. The point of this is that the film can't be exposed to any more white light or else you will fog the image. If you're not using a film holder, you need to invent some kind of carrier out of cardboard or something and transfer the exposed daguerreotype to the developing apparatus in the darkroom. You can do this part under safelight.

Set the aparattus in the sun for about two hours. If you don't have two hours of sunlight, use a tungsten or halogen lamp as close as possible to the red film. Pro tip: get a big box fan or else your amberlith will melt and ruin the daguerreotype and your day. If using a lamp, the developing time will be closer to three hours.

If all went well, your image should start to appear on the surface of the silver plate within 15 minutes or so. If the image takes longer than 30 minutes to appear, you've blown the exposure. Don't worry, I do it constantly. Try, try again.

Step 5: Clear away unexposed Silver Iodide

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Once the daguerreotype has finsihed developing, you need to clear away any remaining unexposed silver-halides.

This is the wet part of the process. Under normal room light but not direct sunlight, remove the developed plate from the developing apparatus. The image will have some weird and cool colors to it. As far as I know, you can't preserve these.

Mix 35g of Sodium Thiosulfate (AKA "Hypo") clearing agent with 1000ml water. Pour the solution into a developing tray. Tilt the tray so that half of the tray is dry and place the daguerreotype to be cleared on the dry half. Slowly lower the tray back down to the table letting the hypo gradually coat the plate. You're trying to prevent bubbles from forming here because a bubble will destroy the image. Destroy=bad.

Agitate the clearing agent over the daguerreotype plate and watch as the unexposed purple, blue, and gold particles clear away and you're left with (hopefully) a perfect black and white image on your mirror of silver.

After the image is cleared, transfer the plate from the clearing bath into a bath of distilled water. Make sure that you repeat the part where you ease the water over the plate. Agitate the plate in the distilled water bath for a minute or so and then transfer the plate into a tap water bath. Run tap water into the tray for about three minutes or so to make sure that you've washed all of the chemicals off of the daguerreotype plate.

Step 6: Gilding (blowtorch!) [optional]

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Finally we get to use the blowtorch! The surface of the daguerreotype plate is seriously fragile. You can wipe the image completely off the plate with your finger and a water drop will obliterate it too. Gilding helps to protect the image from tarnishing but the surface will remain relatively fragile.

The gilding solution is a combination of two solutions:
Solution A: 500ml distilled water to 1g of Gold Chloride
Solution B: 500ml distilled water to 4g Sodium Thiosulfate
Gilding solution: Add 125ml Solution A TO 125ml Solution B while stirring (in that order)

Remove the plate from the tap water bath, briefly rinse it in the distilled bath again, and transfer the plate to a gilding stand (see pic).

Pour an appropriate amount of gilding solution on the plate (50ml or so should do it for a 4x5" daguerreotype). Use your finger to move the meniscus of gilding solution around the surface of the plate so that the whole plate is covered. Don't touch the surface of the plate! Only move the liquid. If the gilding solution has been sitting for more than 24 hours, filter it a couple of times through filter paper.

Light your blowtorch and begin rapidly moving it back and forth on the underside of the plate at a distance of about 6-8 inches. If you linger, the image will get extremely black in that area and will be ruined. The contrast will slowly enhance after a few minutes of doing this. If bubbles start to form, you're too close and you're on the verge of ruining the plate.

Once the contrast has changed to your liking or the color has changed to your liking, pour on a generous amount of water from above. The plate will be perfectly cool to the touch after doing this so pick it up and put it in the distilled water bath (use the tip n' tilt method). Rinse as in the clearing step.

Step 7: Drying and Finishing

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Dry the daguerreotype using a high-volume hair dryer. Don't use the kind of hairdryer that spreads out the stream of air, use the kind that's like a jet turbine. Remove the daguerreotype from the water bath and hold it in your palm as vertically as you can without dropping it. Aim the hairdryer as close to the image as possible starting in a top corner. Once you see the image start to become dry in that corner, push the remaining water down with the force of air towards the opposite bottom corner. This will give you the minimum of water spots.

Again, I can't stress enough that the image is extremely fragile. Dust, water, spittle from your exclmations about how wonderful you are, and lots of other stuff can ruin the image. Put it behind glass.

The easiest method would be to get a frame shop to cut you a black mat and a piece of glass beforehand. Feel free to explore framing options here but whatever you do, don't touch the surface of the plate or attempt to clean it in any way. Only remove dust by using a dry-air blower, never your own breath. If you don't believe me, check out this video!

Step 8: Conclusion

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I learned this process after a couple of years worth of idle research and a 1-week seminar. I highly suggest that you see a demonstration of this process in person. It's not hard to do but you do have to have access to a lot of weird, custom equipment.

I'm happy to answer questions and provide more details where needed. Please visit my website, http://photographs.danforthsource.com to see some examples, click on ads, buy custom brass mats, cases, and original art!
 Rubylith does work. I'm not sure if there is any difference in developing time or image quality as i don't seem to be able to buy Amberlith from anywhere in the UK. If anyone knows where i can please let me know.
What kind of Bromide do you use? Cadmium Bromide? Ammonium Bromide? Potassium Bromide? And what kind of Iodide do you use? Where did you get your chemicals? Any help would be great.
Do you have instructions o building your own fuming boxes?
georgeatos6 years ago
Hi, i'm starting with daguerreotypes, I was wondering if you know what is the specific action of the Gold Chloride in this part of the procese? is it for tone only? thanks Jorge Marzuca Chile.
duckarrowtypes (author)  georgeatos6 years ago
I'm not sure of the specific chemical process but the point isn't to color. The point is to convert some of the free silver into a less reactive state. It's my understanding that this is the action that helps to ward off tarnishing. The contrast improvement is a real bonus!
what a fables instructable you are so right about the art of it although i have not made dagers but he was a gennous in my eyes although i only found out about him some time ago but you are a true artist in the making you must get a huge buzz with all of this.you lucky devil iam codwithchips
tercero8 years ago
Words of advice. Photoshop. Plugins Easier, cheaper, look almost the same. To much work for to little return in this mechanical process.
duckarrowtypes (author)  tercero8 years ago
Easier? Yes. Cheaper? Yes. Looks almost the same? Not a chance. Check out the final video. It can be a pain but it's very rewarding and beautiful to make a Daguerreotype the way they used to be made. There's somethign to be said for homemade ice cream too, you know?
I agree. The as a member of the "photoshop generation" I am actually sad to see that most people just use programs to do photographic effects that are so much better when done in camera. Even things as simple as filters. CS2 = $650, a perfectly good filter = $10. Your initial photography will be better if you just learn to use a camera and not just take crap pictures and trust you can fix them with some goofy plugin. I really enjoy using 400TX in my 35mm because you really do get more enjoyment out of the images and thus better art when I have to sit and hand mix D76 developer and have to enlarge my own negatives in my closet.
congrats this is just wonderfull i attndd a mono photography course and since then i have been arguing with peoples about the possible demise of the old system this is so sad they seem to give it up so easy its lovely to see that there are a lot of peoples still doing it . codwithchips
paulriley7 years ago
This information has been great I am tracing my family history,My great great grandfather James Gow was a Daguerreotype artist in San Francisco around 1840 and later circa 1850 here in Australia.I have been unable to find out much information on the process until now.Thanks for the information and the links that are here have also been helpful. LATER IN AUSTRALIA
duckarrowtypes (author)  paulriley7 years ago
No problem, Paul. How cool to have a daguerreotypist in the family! I wish I could say the same.
this is to duckarrowtypes, would be great if you could put up an explanation on how to 'combine 2008 methods with 1839 methods by dialing in your transparency in Photoshop and printing on to transparency film with your Epson.' am very very interested. great work
duckarrowtypes (author)  hippy hophop7 years ago
Sorry I missed your comment. I elaborated on this very subject on my site here:<br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.shinyphotos.com/2008/01/28/contact-printing-a-daguerreotype">http://www.shinyphotos.com/2008/01/28/contact-printing-a-daguerreotype</a><br/><br/>J<br/>
vodou_chile7 years ago
Great article! I have been looking for "how to" info on dags, and this really clarified things. I have one question though. Do the silver plates have to be exposed with sunlight (I'm talking about the actual "picture taking" part, not the "developing" part)? Couldn't you conceivably expose the silver plate in a darkroom using an enlarger? Pardon my ignorance, and my apologies if this question has been asked already.
duckarrowtypes (author)  vodou_chile7 years ago
I routinely expose under artificial light but the exposure times are quite long. An exposure under an enlarger (even wide open) would be quite excitingly long such that it would be better measured in days rather than hours if it works at all, that is. What's far easier is to make a contact print! A contact print is made by placing a positive transparency over the sensitized daguerreotype and then exposing to sunlight. The exposure time is just a few seconds and results in a very respectable image. If you really want to be cutting edge (like yours truly) then you can combine 2008 methods with 1839 methods by dialing in your transparency in Photoshop and printing on to transparency film with your Epson. Perhaps I should write up a tutorial on that...
Thanks for the tips! I just acquired an Epson 2200 that would be perfect for that.
bbqpope8 years ago
I have been tinkering with making these and now have 2 successes. Once you get the exposures and fuming down it's not too difficult. I am going to post my experiments on my site.
duckarrowtypes (author)  bbqpope8 years ago
What's your site? I'd love to see your results. Feel free to e-mail me with questions. Congratulations on the success! I still don't have the exposures down but I'm getting closer every day!
http://www.tylerrobbins.net my dags are at http://www.tylerrobbins.net/images/dags/index.htm

I do a lot of photo work, I am a grad student at UW Madison, I think I will be using dags in my MFA show. I just built a really nice iodine fuming box I can't wait to try it out. I looked around the net and found a few designs and made my own new box, the old one was decaying in places..... iodine is nasty to the max. Your instructable helped get me going, I went and read every book I could find on the topic, collected materials and started trying.
chimplicker7 years ago
I think it's really important to have people still interested in the actual process of photography, which means I think you are doing something really important by sharing this info with us. Thanks! Keep it up and ignore the photoshop idiots.
silliou8 years ago
I just had a look at your site, great photo's. An instructable on how to make the leather binders would be great too.
duckarrowtypes (author)  silliou8 years ago
OK. As soon as I finish up the Ambonya burl inlay case for a piece I'll make a leather case and take shots as I go.
mje8 years ago
Wonderul instructable. You've inspired me to get out the old Speed Graphic and start building.
duckarrowtypes (author)  mje8 years ago
Go for it! One great thing about making daguerreotypes is that there is a treasure trove of equipment on eBay for next to nothing.
Hey, I make dags, too! This is such a cool site, but I have to say making dags is not as easy as it looks...
Check out myspace url to see some of my pix (yeah, I know myspace is pretty dorky, but as an anachronist I find myself simply unable or at least unwilling to make a real webpage.)
Great job!
http://www.myspace.com/erinsinnerspace
duckarrowtypes (author)  erinwilliamson8 years ago
THAT IS AWESOME! I never thought in a million years that I would find another Daguerreotypist by posting this. I'll link to your page on my site.
zappymax8 years ago
did you (or someone) try (or could you commercialize) the idea of having a well polished (inside) silver (flat) medallion, to be exposed inside directly with the pict lets say of some (or something) well loved ? and later the medallion could be sold with the pict directly made on the inside as a well protected dag ?

and did someone already try to reproduce by contact a 35 mm bw negative (or positive) using that way ?
you could even cut the negative to fit the inside of the medallion, wich once exposed by contact and directly "developped" receives the cover ( supposedly a desarmable hinge, to faciltate processing , would be used) and becomes a directly made artwork. decorated silver outside, a dag inside... woawww
(idea TM Zappymax... :-) ... just in case. and franchising or partnership welcome !!!

if silver medallions are necessary, in Taxco or other parts of Mexico they could become available and made on precise demand. silverwork is a real craftmanship there. also plated plates could be produced at a lower price than in the Usa i suppose. so next year have travel to those places and check that... and call me to see if practically and commercially that would be interesting...
phsov@hotmail.com
duckarrowtypes (author)  zappymax8 years ago
I've thought a great deal about applying daguerreotype images directly to silver-plated things. The challenge is in protecting the image. Other daguerreotypists have tried and failed to pour a liquid surface protectant on a dag.
zappymax8 years ago
hi, just finding this site by chance.
i saw in washington a serie of dags in a low light gallery. its important to remember the dags must be protected from light, therefore the covered box or frame.
the low sensibility also reserves the dag to artistic/nature morte use, no way to pose for a wedding pict.
even if old picts *bromure) were made using "immobilisation" brackets to keep the people steady for long seconds if not minutes, meanwhile the pict was made.
but there are many portraits made with dags. so the model had to be a real "patient" , waiting and suffering... but after all...

also well considered, the secrecy of access (the result is visible under the cover of some box...in low light conditions .. ) rejoins an interest to avoid "exposure" of oneself or one object to the eyes of anybody. Dags are a kind of retro fit into privacy. you keep the pict of your loved one (any kind) under cover, for your eyes only, and a few others. restricted access. even a small one (wich now could be made with a modified 35mm) inside a silver or gold medallion on your neck. not a bad idea after all,
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grapeshot8 years ago
Gosh, there's an almost eerie, ghostly quality to dageurrotypes that I don't think can be imitated by a digital camera and Photoshop. Not even black and white photographs made on film by the great photographers (such as Ansel Adams) has that same quality. Even images of contemporary subjects end up looking like they're from another place beyond this one. I've seen the results of attempts to try to "antique" a photo, and it just never looks quite right. If tercero cannot see the difference in artistic quality between a true daguerrotype and an imitation, then the loss is his. This is a FANTASTIC and very informative instructable which has been a privilege to find. I also really appreciated erinwilliamson's pictures, which I think to an excellent job of illustrating my point.
jtobako8 years ago
any hints on silver-plating glass and using that?
Tercero, don't insult people about their hobbies and work. This site is called "Instructables" in case you missed that. As in, "instruct others how to do something that's cool". Overall, a wonderful instructable. That was an interesting read, and I can tell you put a lot of work into it. I think I'll look at daguerreotypes with a little more respect next time I see one!
This is a quality instructable. Thanks Pete
Agreed. It's not something I'll be doing, but it's very interesting, very well documented and not something you see every day. Good work and thanks.
bourgeot8 years ago
with respect, tecero, I think you've missed the point
enero8 years ago
you are my hero.
silliou8 years ago
Wow, I think it seems too pricey, and too much work. But wow, it looks great. I can only imagine having a wedding photo on one. Well done