Ice Bucket Challenge – Tintype Style

The tintype

Kari and I got nominated to do this ice bucket thing – thanks a lot McKenna! (one of Kari’s nieces) – and as usual I tried to figure out a way to make it a little different, and fun for me to make. These days “fun for me” often means “make a tintype photograph”, so that’s what I thought I would do.

The tintype process, very briefly, involves creating a light-sensitive piece of metal plate, exposing it, and developing it all in the span of a few minutes. The plate is not very light sensitive, though, in the modern scheme of things. Forget cranking up the ISO to 3200 or so – this stuff is more like “ISO 0.3”.

So I had to guess at an exposure that was long enough to have time to physically dump the ice, but short enough to capture the ice as it fell. And I figured I only had one shot at it – I didn’t really want to dump the ice over my head twice, and I was pretty sure my partner wouldn’t go for it either.

I planned for a two second exposure, or, as when I do tintypes, “two hippopotamuses”. I triggered the shutter with a pneumatic bulb release under my foot (you can see the stomp before the ice gets dumped). Turns out I can’t really step on the bulb, count one hippopotamus two hippopotamus, dump a couple gallons of icewater over my head, and release the bulb all at once – I think I counted just over one second in the video – but given that there is some latitude in the development process it worked!

Icebucket challenge, old school style.

My 15 minutes of fame

Kari and Jonathan both contacted PetaPixel about the project, and the editor there picked up the story and published it on their site. It was a nice little writeup, and when friends started sharing it I got quite a few views:

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 1.38.42 PM

Green are people that actually watched it, I think, so it went from 0 when I first posted it to 38 one day, then about 60 the next, and maybe 8 the next.

Then PetaPixel posted it to their Facebook page.

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 1.39.01 PM

Note the “K” after the numbers on the vertical axis. But keep in mind the green line is actual viewers – topped out at about 2600 Sunday when they posted it. (Yeah, they posted it on Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend. Wonder what difference that made?)

The Trolls

As for negative comments and criticisms, there were fewer than I expected from going viral, but still some of the typical stuff.

The video shows that your in the reversed posotions. So this must of been a recreation of the picture you took. And if you were really processing the picture, you wouldn’t bring it into the light till it was in the fixer bath. [apply “sic” as needed throughout]

In the cases where it seemed worthwhile I “retaliated” by using it as an opportunity to explain tintypes and educate a little about tintypes in particular and photography more generally.

Tintypes are direct positives: as I’m sure you know, lenses reverse and turn the projected image upside down, and that is what the tintype captures. A film NEGATIVE from this camera would be reversed and upside down, then the printing process to make a positive “corrects” those things.

A tintype is a direct positive created in camera. I can rotate it to be right-side up, but I can’t flip it horizontally.

It’s not a recreation, this is the reality of the tintype process.

Also related to tintyping (remember, it’s not film), the plates are no longer light sensitive after the development process has been stopped (which did happen in safelight conditions). So it’s safe to bring into the light before fixer, in fact, but in this case the tray I was carrying WAS fixer, just to bring it out in front of the camera to capture the end of the fixing process (which, with tintypes, is amazing to watch).

There were plenty of people who, I think, were genuinely curious about things – and also illustrated how in the digital age a lot of photographers may not understand some basics about their tools.

Then there is this guy:


…I’m sure he meant “this has inspired me to do something related but not at all a blatant theft of an idea”.

I know it’s the internet, though, and arguing on it just makes everyone look stupid, so I didn’t engage the real trolls. Doesn’t mean others refrained. In one case I tried to be diplomatic, he doubled down, and…let’s just say “a friend” stepped in:


In any case, it was a fun ride, and hopefully a little wider exposure than usual!

Tech specs

Tintype on black aluminum plate, 3.5 in x 4.5 inch
1.5-ish second exposure at f/8


Thanks to Kari for playing along with my crazy idea. Check out her very cool tintype portraiture on her website:

I found DJ Dracula B.I.G.’s music on SoundCloud:

…which worked out better for my video that what I had originally envisioned.

Also a little thanks to Jonathan Adams, Luis Zeron, Alex Bilodeau, and Andy Bloxham: just watching you guys create and edit videos – seeing the behind the scenes and the end result – has helped me make better multimedia work.