Getting Started with Ambrotypes

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Gary Quay
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Joined: Sun Jan 31, 2016 8:26 pm
Location: Fairview, Oregon

Getting Started with Ambrotypes

Post by Gary Quay »

I am looking to try an "alternative" process. I like the look of Ambrotypes, but I am concerned with a few things: 1) toxicity, 2) finickiness, and how much expense is involved in getting the camera and darkroom setup for it. Anyone have any experience with it?

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Re: Getting Started with Ambrotypes

Post by sanchell »

I am not an expert on alt processes so I contacted Jill Enfield, one of the forum moderators. Unfortunately, her computer is on the fritz and she is not able to access the forum. The good news is she was able to send a response to me that she asked me to post. :) SA

Hello Gary -

So you are right - there are things in the ambrotype chemistry that is more toxic then say cyanotypes, but if you are careful, as you should be in any darkroom, you will be ok. I have since gotten sensitive to ether, and so I use less of it than some recipes suggest. But other than that I am ok with using everything else. I suggest you do some reading (I have a chapter in my book). Also you can start with a kit that will give you almost everything you need to start. The start up costs are a lot - and then it is not so bad. Look at my book (Jill Enfield’s Guide to Alternative Processes 2nd edition), lund photographics and Bostick and Sullivan to get started. Even with the kits, you will still need a camera, plate holder and a silver bath container. You can use trays for the fix.

I also really suggest a workshop. While I know people that have taught themselves (there are a lot of youtube videos out there), I really suggest that you take a workshop.

Hope this helps.
Do it in the Dark,

Steve Anchell
Jill Enfield
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Re: Getting Started with Ambrotypes

Post by Jill Enfield »

Hello Gary - The toxic elements of ambrotypes are not that bad if you are careful. I don't know anyone that has gotten really sick from using these chemicals, but I suggest you be careful. Personally, I have gotten very sensitive to ether and do not add extra ether into my mix. Bromides and iodides, you don't want to ingest, of course, and you want to have very good ventilation. You also should wear gloves and goggles or glasses. In any other words, be careful! Silver stains your skin and clothes and you don't want to get it in your eyes. it is not a heavy metal but if you get a lot on your skin, then you might get it to "blister" as it fades off. The blisters don't hurt but your skin feels a bit raw when it comes off.
As for expense, There are ways to do things cheaper than buying everything that is the perfect equipment. And it really depends on what you have on hand so far. Do you have a large format camera? If not you can use a medium format camera, but your plates will be smaller. For example, instead of having a box for your silver and fixer, you can use a tray. Using a tray means that you have to be in the darkroom for the 1.5 - 5 minutes your plate is sitting in the silver bath.
If you don't have a darkroom or are on the go, you can use a large shipping box instead of buying an ice fishing tent as a portable darkroom.
That said, it is expensive to get started, but if you take care of your silver, it lasts forever. You can also buy chemicals in bulk instead of an already mixed kit. Or if you are worried about safety, buy already mixed chemicals.
I hope this helps.
I do know a few people that taught themselves by reading in books and watching videos, but you might want to take a workshop to really get an idea if this is right for you.
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