Slip Into Something Victorian
Photography in the Victorian Era

One of the most important inventions of the nineteenth century was the development of photography. At the same time that men began to march off to war and wanted to leave their wives, mothers and sweethearts a memento, one photographic process replaced another and became cheaper, easier to produce, safer, and more durable.

Three photographic processes were especially popular at the same time: Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. These were one of a kind images which were almost always reversed left to right.

The Daguerreotype:

Period of Use: 1839 – ca. 1860
The earliest practical photographic process was the daguerreotype. Particularly suited for portraiture, the images created were so lifelike that some referred to the process as a “mirror with a memory.”

A daguerreotype was made by exposing an image on a sensitized silver-plated sheet of copper. As a result, the surface of a daguerreotype was extremely reflective. No negative was used in the daguerreotype process. The image is almost always reversed left to right. A photographer might have used a mirror inside the camera to correct this.

The Ambrotype:

Period of Use: 1851 – 1880s
The ambrotype was also known as the “glass Daguerrotype.” It was a variation of the wet plate process, and was less costly than the daguerreotype. An ambrotype was made by slightly underexposing a glass wet plate in the camera. The finished plate produced a negative image that appeared positive when backed with velvet, paper, metal or varnish, making it the 19th century equivalent of the “instant photograph.”

Because of the fragility of the material, both the ambrotype and daguerreotype were usually enclosed in a glass case.

The Tintype:

Period of use: 1858 – 1910s.

Also called Ferrotype or Malainotype, tintypes were another variation of the wet plate process. Photographers painted an emulsion onto a varnished iron plate, which was then exposed in the camera. The low cost and durability of tintypes, coupled with the growing number of traveling photographers, enhanced the tintype’s popularity

Tintypes came in a variety of sizes, were cheaper and sturdier than earlier processes, and could be mailed. Because of this, the tintype was extremely popular during the Civil War.



  1. Susan Macatee says:

    Great suject!

    My husband and I had a glass encased photo done at a Civil War reenactment in period dress. But I’m not sure if it’s a Daguerreotype or Ambrotype.

    In my work-in-progress, set during the Civil War, I use photography a lot. You’re right about it being so important for them to leave mementoes to loved ones either at home, or going off to the war.

  2. Jolie Mathis says:

    I love looking at old photographs. Your post reminds me of the scene in Cold Mountain where Inman agonizes over whether he should be so bold as to give Ada his picture before he goes off to war.

  3. Kristin-Marie says:

    The high-cost of portraiture during the Victorian era meant having one done was an important moment. The costs coming down changed society. Suddenly, not just the wealthier classes were immortalized.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: