Ambrotypes at Redbull
The Red Bull Photography team in the Red Bull Media House North America recently invited renowned tintype photographer Giles Clement to come to their offices to create some portraits and give a demonstration on his large-format ambrotype camera. For those not in the know, tintypes (photos taken directly on tin plates) and ambrotypes (photos shot directly onto glass plates) have been around since the invention of collodion in 1851. The medium knocked the popular Daguerreotype from it’s lofty perch, and was superseded by celluloid; fast-forward 120 years or so, and we are all carrying cameras around in our pockets, on cell phones.
He’s been exploring pushing the boundaries of what can be ‘done’ with this format, and has started to capture explosive, dynamic moments, something entirely in contrast to the stiff poses for which the medium is best-known (think Civil War portraits). His first attempt was Daniella Zlatarev, a dancer friend, whose grace and elegance he captured in mid-jump.
For our part, we brought in Mike ‘Hucker’ Clark, a BMX athlete of substantial skill, and tasked him with producing the action element. After borrowing a sketchy-looking ramp en route to the shoot, ‘fixing’ it with rolled-up magazines, and then weighing it down with over a dozen sandbags, Hucker was ready to go. Feeling a backflip just a tad dubious, he settled on getting serious air and leaping over the heads of two brave volunteers who were sharing an office chair below.
To give some details about the setup, the collodion produces a comparable ISO of between 1 (yes, you read that right) and 3. The lens used on Gile’s custom-built camera (this was only his third day of using it) would be a 500mm telephoto lens in the ‘35mm world’, but the huge format of the glass plates, at 16x20”, essentially gives a focal length of 35-40mm. Enough to get the action and background in frame. The lens is a f/4.5 Georz Dogmar, which dates from 1918.
Using 10,000 watts of strobe power, and leaving the shutter open for roughly 5 seconds, Giles was able to manually pop the strobe to capture the action creating what is essentially 1900’s high-speed sync. If you look closely you’ll see a bit of motion evident on Hucker, as the flash duration wasn’t quite quick enough to freeze him completely.
His first attempt wasn’t up to the standards he sets himself, with the background being somewhat underexposed, so he prepared another glass plate and asked Hucker to take flight once more, the resulting image being captured almost perfectly. We hope you enjoy the results as much as we enjoyed the creation process.