How to make your own 35mm daguerreotype safely and cheaply

Tips & Techniques

Did you know that you can make your own 35mm daguerreotypes without using dangerous substances (such as mercury)? Also, you can do it without expensive gear. In this video from George Eastman Museum, historic process specialist Nick Brandreth will teach you how. So if you’d like to experiment a bit, let’s see what you’ll need.

You’ll need a 35mm silver plate that you’ll polish to a mirror finish. You’ll need to fume it over iodine, expose it in your camera, and then develop it with the help of a piece of orange or red glass. Nick explains that thanks to the colored glass, you don’t need to use heated mercury, which is normally used to develop daguerreotypes. Needless to say, working with mercury requires lots of safety measures and special equipment, so it’s not very practical to try at home.

Instead of the traditional process, Nick uses what’s called the Becquerel technique. And here’s what you’ll need for it:

  • A plate: a piece of copper plated with pure silver
  • 35mm film camera
  • A piece of orange or red glass
  • Iodine fuming material and a vessel to hold it
  • Polishing and buffing blocks
  • Polishing and buffing abrasives (in Nick’s case rottenstone, lamp black, and a bit of olive oil)

In the video, you can watch the full process, from polishing the plate to getting the final image. And it looks so simple when Nick does it that I wanna try it myself. Basically, you should start by buffing and then polishing your plate until it reaches a shiny mirror finish. Fume it over iodine, place it carefully into your camera, and expose your image. For the best results, use the sunlight. After exposing, place the plate under s piece of red or orange glass and put it in the sun or under a strong work lamp.

After some 30-45 minutes in the sun, the plate will develop. Now you need to use some plain sodium thiosulfate to fix the silver plate. Soak it in the chemical, and then give it a thorough wash. Then comes the final step of gilding the plate: heated distilled water, heated gold chloride, and then another thorough rinse.

Once again, make sure to watch the entire video for a brief, yet very detailed explanation of how it’s done. And if you decide to experiment with this process, we’d love to see the results!

[Make a 35mm Daguerreotype via Reddit]

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