How 21st-Century Tech Relaunched a 19th-Century Photo Studio

Tintype Photographic Studio, Silver and Cedar, has exploded in popularity over the past three years, thanks in large part to a captivated TikTok audience.

Matt and Katie run their wet plate studio in Phoenix, Arizona, which uses technology popular nearly 200 years ago in the 1860s, to offer their clients a truly unique photographic product.

But although the couple use instruments from the 19th century, the couple say PetaPixel that it is a very 21st century tool that they are using to grow their business.

“Right now, every portrait order for the last three months comes from TikTok,” Katie explains.

@silverandcedar So sweet 🥺 #phoenix #arizona #tintype #portraitphotography #vintagevibes #largeformat #blackandwhite #photographer ♬ Boats & Birds – Gregory And The Hawk

“As soon as the TikTok videos went viral, we were booked months in advance. It went further than that, and you can’t book more than two months in advance otherwise you wouldn’t have life.

The couple estimate they have made more than 2,000 tintype portraits, and the success has seen Katie quit her corporate job, and Matt, who is a tattoo artist and photographer, has reduced the number of days he inks skin.

tintype portrait

A surprise success

Initially, Matt and Katie were skeptical that such an old-fashioned business would work in today’s America. Matt was offered the opportunity to shoot live at a tattoo convention and wanted to do something different.

“I didn’t want to do something too simple like Polaroids or instant film, I wanted to do something more practical and make the experience a bit bigger,” says Matt.

“I always heard about tintype and I said ‘shit’ and bought everything I needed. I bought just about everything that was wrong initially, there wasn’t much information at that time.

@silverandcedar The Addams Family in the studio! #phoenix #arizona #tintype #tintypephotography #photographer #largeformat #vintagevibes #addamsfamily #halloween ♬ The Addams Family – TV Themes

Things looked ominous for the first two days of the tattoo convention as the couple “sat on their asses.”

“But then a few tattoo artists took their pictures and on the third day they all wanted their picture done. We met a ton of business owners and I emailed them to create pop-ups” , explains Matt.

Why Tintype?

In today’s endless, oversaturated digital media, Katie says people really miss “the tangible aspect of something they can pass down in their family”.

Tintype portrait

“It’s not on their phones or their laptops, everyone can look at their old photos, they have an outlet to create a family heirloom that they can pass on.

“A lot of people will tell us ‘we don’t have family photos in the house’ or we don’t take family photos.”

“They don’t have to do a million different poses or try a style they don’t want, they can just sit back and be themselves,” Matt explains.

“We don’t even encourage smiling because it’s more authentic, it’s more of an experience than taking 200 photos,” adds Katie.

@silverandcedar So much strength in this one! #tintype #phoenix #arizona #tintypephotography #vintagevibes #largeformat #portraitphotography #couples ♬ Rosyln – Bon Iver & St. Vincent

“People are nervous about one-and-done, but we’ve got it down to a science,” Matt says.

“It’s very hard not to love them because they look so cool no matter what, we’ve done over 2,000 portraits but we’ve only had five people winking.”

Tintype kit and method

Matt uses a Deardorff V8, 8×10 camera, with an old Petzval lens attached. The Deardorff can also shoot in 5×7 and 4×5. It will sometimes pass on a Kodak Eastman D2, it’s 5×7.

@silverandcedar Who wants a second part?! #tintype #photography #phoenix #arizona #alternativeprocess #wildwest #cowboys #largeformat #portraitphotography #western ♬ Living on the Sand – Colter Wall

Matt’s wet plates are made of aluminum, whereas in the 1800s plates were made of steel. Remarkably, Matt only has eight minutes to take the picture and process it, from the time he takes the plate out of the silver nitrate, if not the dry plate.

“So when we’re outside and I can’t park my truck close enough, I literally have to run from the pitch to the truck,” says Matt.

tintype portrait

tintype wedding portrait

The couple drag the large, old-fashioned camera with them on location. In fact, during Covid, they had a driveway portrait campaign where they would pull into a client’s front yard and take the shot from their truck.

In their Silver and Cedar studio, Matt uses a massive amount of strobe lighting, approximately 3600 watts of strobe power to expose the plaque. For comparison, an average Speedlite is around 200 watts.

“The ISO is around 0-1, there’s hardly any film grain, you can’t measure light, it’s a lot of trial and error,” says Matt.

@silverandcedar Tintypes just hit different ❤️‍🔥 #phoenix #arizona #tintype #tintypephotography #vintagevibes #portrait #largeformat #portraitphotography #souvenirs ♬ La Belle Fleur Sauvage – Lord Huron

The chemicals Matt uses are critical, the age of the chemicals and the temperatures they are exposed to are extremely important to the overall picture.

“My main target is my silver nitrate, if it’s not you’ll get weird pictures,” says Matt.

TikTok Tintype

The couple joke that they argued over using TikTok before generating three and a half million likes on their videos.

“We thought we would have to do some dances. The first video we posted had over 80,000 views and we didn’t know what was good about it, we were like ‘is this any good?’ says Katie.

Now the couple routinely have four portraits a day booked, three days a week, so at least 12 appointments every weekend.

tintype portrait

“A lot of the younger generation have never experienced film processing, so when they see it in their hand, they’re like ‘what is this magic?’

Other of their works can be seen on their website, TikTok and Instagram.

Leave a Comment