Low-cost Experimental Daguerreotypy Failure

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    I am a student, currently between semesters.  I wanted to experiment with historical photographic techniques.  Starting out, I had two guidelines: the process had to be cheap, and the process had to be safe.

    I can hear y’all chuckling.  Dags on the cheap?  Hear me out.

    A review of the other early processes revealed a requirement for many different chemicals that I did not have the resources to acquire; I have much more time than money.  At it’s essence, daguerreotypes require only a silver surface, iodine fumes, red light, and fixer.  After failing to acquire Silver Cyanide for electroplating, I decided on glass plates.  These are coated with paraffin and then silver leaf.  The silver is sensitized using a glass tray with a layer of tincture of iodine in the bottom.  Sensitization times go up dramatically.  I am unsure if this is from the use of tincture, the rough unpolished surface of the leaf, or both.  First magenta is achieved in 20 minutes, with second cycle green achieved in 90 minutes.  I get a lot of vignetting of the next colors in the series around the edges.  This helps immensely with identification of the more difficult colors.

    Most exposures have been with stencils in an attempt to dial in the process.  I did manage to capture a half a dozen images using a homemade box camera constructed from cardboard, duct tape, and a homemade f/8 reversed Wollaston landscape lens.  Developing is accomplished with a single sheet of Rubylith and two hours in full sunlight.  I usually see images in just a few minutes.

    So now we come to my problem.  I now have a well developed dark image.  I place it in the fixer and the image vanishes in one second, leaving a faint ghostly outline of the stencil, or a blank plate in the case of an image.  This is a new problem, but when I check my notes I see nothing amiss except that I have been using the same batch of fixer for the whole experiment.  I mixed a gallon of Kodak fixer using a bag of the powder and a gallon jug of distilled water.  I pour off a cup or so to use and do not return it to the jug afterwards.  When freshly mixed, the fixer smelled of sulfur dioxide.  This smell is gone.  Does fixer do bad in two weeks?

    I may also be overdeveloping.  From what I’ve seen on this forum, others develop for much less time.

    Let me know what you think…



    Great work, who would have thought you can get an image from tincture of iodine?

    Anyhow, I think the first thing to do is see if your problem is the fixer. Most of us use sodium thiosulfate and perhaps sodium sulfate. According to the MSDS, Kodak fixer has a lot more in it than just the thiosulfate, including alum and sodium acetate. Sodium thiosulfate is usually pretty cheap.

    Did you read the piece on the CDags site about using silvered glass? It is a different approach to what you tried with silver leaf, but might be another method to consider.



    Daguerre himself originally used sodium chloride fixer before thiosulfate came along.

    Ammonium thiosulfate or rapid fixer is also a very good alternative.

    The other components in Kodak fixer are there to harden the silver gelatin image and are not helpful for Dags.





    I ordered some sodium thiosulfate.  It took a while to come.  Until the hypo came I only had two images left, the first two I made.  All others faded away or turned black.

    I have given up on the long duration sensitization.  It had it’s charms, but there seems to be something unstable about a sensitization layer created over such a long time.  All of those images vanished in the fixer.  By reducing the distance between the plate and the pool of tincture of iodine to just a few millimeters, sensitization times are reduced to the range of five to eight minutes.  All of these turned black over time.

    I created a couple of tests today and fixed them with the hypo I just received.  So far they seem stable.  I appear to be back in business.

    I have thought about using silvered glass.  I was going to use a common technique for silvering homemade telescope mirrors.  This technique uses Tollens’ Reagent.  I have not gotten around to it yet.

    I considered saturated sodium chloride solution.  But from what I understand it has to be heated.  The silver leaf is currently held on my plates with paraffin.  This limits the temperature range of any solutions I use.

    I will report back after some more experiments.  Thanks for your help!

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