What is a tintype?

Tintypes or “ferrotypes” were introduced in the 1860-s and became extremely popular until the end of the century. In the old days, they were produced on a thin piece of enameled black iron. In modern times they are usually replaced by black-lacquered aluminum “trophy” plates. Being on a metal plate with its surface varnished it has proven to be extremely durable.

What is an ambrotype?

The Ambrotype was introduced in 1854 by James Ambrose Cutting. The process is similar to the making of a tintype, only we’re using a glass plate instead of metal.

However, the final result is remarkably different. The image seems to “emerge” from the glass, only when viewed against a dark background. This ephemeral appearance makes it a truly unique and refined object.

As a side note: beside borrowing the family name from its inventor, the word “ambrotype” derives from the ancient Greek “ambrotòs – tipos”,  meaning “immortal –   image”

How many people can be photographed in one plate?

For small plates, 10 x 12 cm, maximum one person.

For medium plates, 13 x 18cm, couples or three people maximum.

Finally, we can take a maximum of five people on a 20cm x 25cm plate.


Couples can be portrayed both on one plate. Sometimes we also recommend to have each their plate and later mount the photographs together, since it can be more challenging for two people to sit still during the few seconds exposure.

How does it work, a portrait session?

We like to start with coffee.
After hearing what you expect from the session you may choose the format and the size of the plate. We begin in the studio: composing the image in the large format camera and designing the light-scheme. Then it’s time to go inside the darkroom. Red safelights on, we sensitize the first plate. We’ll be happy to guide you through the process and attend your questions. Once the plate is ready (3 minutes in the sensitization bath) is time to shoot a first image and develop it back in the darkroom.
Here you will be surprised as the image appears… At this point we will look together at your portrait, and decide whether to shoot one more plate or not. If there is something technically wrong, or if you are dissatisfied with the result, we shoot one more. At the very end of the session, you decide which one/s you keep home.
Every plate needs to wash thoroughly, dry and be varnished. Since this last part can be tedious to watch, we like to invite you to go for a small walk around Sacromonte, or enjoy a drink outside by the entrance of our cave.

How many plates do you shoot in a portrait session?

Usually, we shoot two or three plates. We strive for a balance between a technically well executed image and a gripping portrait that you will be happy keeping your entire life. After every image is developed we look at it together inside the darkroom.
On our side, if there is something to be improved technically or if you are not satisfied with the result, we’ll be happy to shoot one more plate.

How long does a portrait session take?

Portrait sessions take about 1.30 h – 2 hours. You will the see the whole process inside the darkroom, from beginning until end. After the plate is dried and varnished we recommend to let it set and cure for a few hours. Very often our costumers pick up the plates the day after. However, if you need to take them immediately, we’ll advise you on how to take them home safely.

What should I wear for my session?

We definitely advise you to bring simple and sober clothing. Avoid complicated patterns, branding, icons or texts. Less is definitely more in this context.
Keep in mind that blue-cold tones will turn out much brighter in the final result, and red-warm tones will become darker. Absolutely avoid white.

Can you explain the process a bit more in detail?

Wet plate process is entirely handcrafted. The photographer is responsible for every single aspect of the process of making an image. The whole experience will be present in the final image; every movement of the hand, each second in the developer, any subtle change of temperature or any little particle of dust in the darkroom. Every image is produced from scratch, starting from an ordinary metal or glass plate until its final undistinctive appearance and archival permanence.
To produce a wet-plate image, whether a tintype (metal) or an ambrotypes (glass), the plate needs first to be sensitized inside a silver-nitrate bath. This means that an otherwise “normal” plate, now becomes light-sensitive (and so ready to capture photographic images). Once the plate is sensitized it needs to remain “Wet” until its development. The alcohol and ether present in the photographic emulsion evaporate in about 10-12 minutes. That’s the time the photographer has to make the plate ready and shoot an image. After development, the plate needs to be fixed, washed, dried and varnished. For every image, the process needs to be started again.

Is it safe to practice Wet Plate photography?

Yes. Information, protocol, and common sense makes Wet Plate a safe practice.
Chemicals are elements of the inorganic world that can be harmful to life when handled and disposed incorrectly. That’s why over the years we have taken health and safety necessarily into account, both for our customers and –specially- for ourselves.

Reviving 19th century photography implies handling chemistry. Part of the fascination for the process comes from learning the process accurately and bringing it into the world of today. We looked after a good compromise between accurate historic practice and a healthy application of these methods. Over the years we’ve chosen to work with non-toxic, but still historical formulas.
More specifically?  sodium thiosulfate instead of potassium cyanide, vinegar instead of acetic acid or ether-free collodion.

Can I bring my pet for a portrait?

Please inform us beforehand about bringing your pet. Since the exposure time extends to a few seconds, it can be hard for your pet to stay still during that long, resulting on a blurry image. Let us know in advance so we can be prepared and eventually adapt the lighting set up.

Is it possible to bring a child or a baby?

Yes, but since the exposure time extends to a few seconds, it can be hard for your child to stay still during that long, resulting on a blurry image. Let us know in advance so we can be prepared and eventually adapt the lighting set up.

Do I need to book in advance?

Yes, it’s strongly recommended to book at least with one day of notice. A wet plate portrait session includes a deal of preparation before the shooting, and we like to be well prepared.
However, if you happen to be in the neighborhood and we are in the studio, there is a chance we take a walk-in session. We might ask you to give us some time to set things up first.

Can I buy a gift certificate?

Yes. Gift certificates are available for sale in our studio or sent by mail.

What is included with the purchase of a session?

A wet plate portrait session includes a one-of-a-kind original tintype / ambrotype, varnished or encapsulated. The session includes one plate. However, if you wish to keep more plates, those will be charged at half the prize of the session.

Can I take home more than one plate?

Yes. If you would like to keep more than one plate, they will be charged at a 50% of the session price.

Can I have a digital scan of my plate?

Yes. Knowing that tintypes and ambrotypes are unique photographic objects, the only way would be reproducing them digitally.We scan your plates if you wish to keep a light digital version of them or ink-jet print them. We can provide you with a high resolution .tiff file for reproductions up to 40 cm on the long side.

Can I use the photograph for commercial purposes?

Sure, but we need to make a contract about the conditions of that exchange.

Can I post the image in my social media?

Yes, and we would love it if you tell a bit about the experience and our studio.

Can you deliver the final plates to my hotel after a session?

Yes. We’ve had customers asking us before.  A 20€ fee will be added against delivery to your hotel within Granada.

Is it possible to do portrait sessions on location?

Absolutely, we have a portable darkroom to take Wet Plate magic anywhere.
Are you thinking of an event? A special gift or celebration?
Get in touch with us and we’ll explore options together.

Do you take internships?

Drop as a line at hola@el-laboratorio-sacromonte.com

Do you sell frames?

We do. Our frames are handmade in sapeli wood by a local guitar maker.

How long can an image last?

Long. Tintypes and ambrotypes made about 175 years ago, can show very little signs of deterioration. If we did a good job in respecting scrupulously every aspect of the process, and you take good care of them, like simply by keeping them away from direct UV light, they can sure be passed down in a family for generations…

How can I get there?

By bus: Step on the bus C34 at Plaza Nueva and get off at the second stop in Sacromonte. Ask the driver for “Zambra María La Canastera” and he/she will tell you.
Own vehicle: It’s possible to come by car, but you need to bear in mind that the Albayzin and Sacromonte districts have access restrictions for motor vehicles. Make sure you get that right before departing.
Taxi: a short ride from Plaza Nueva. Ask the driver to stop by “Maria La Canastera”
Walking: we definitely recommend you to walk from Plaza Nueva. About 25 minutes. A beautiful walk with spectacular view points overseeing the Alhambra hill.

Do you teach workshops?

 Yes, you can book a private workshop or join a scheduled workshop in a group (maximum 4 participants). It’s not requested to have any previous photographic experience. After the workshop you will have the necessary knowledge to begin your own path in wet plate photography. Check this link

Do you do other activities in El Laboratorio?

We do. Check this link.