Visual Heritage Photo Restoration and Picture Framing Melbourne Australia

History of Popular Photography

Example of a well preserved Daguerrotype, similar in look to an Ambrotype

The Daguerreotype

Invented by Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839, the Daguerreotype was the first photographic process to become commercially viable. A delicate positive image on a plate metal base, the Daguerreotype was often housed behind protective glass in ornate casings of wood, leather and velvet. The plate was exposed directly in the camera without negative, duplicates were not possible and each Daguerreotype was unique. The Daguerreotype boasts a stunning degree of clarity, unmatched by many of today's photographic processes. Long exposure times of up to 20 minutes meant that the Daguerreotype was initially reserved for landscape and object photography. Advances in the process enabled portraits to be taken with shorter exposure times of around a minute. To counteract movement, the sitter was rested against a series of neck and body braces. Reserved mainly for the middle and upper classes, a single portrait cost the equivalent of a weeks average wage. Despite its practical weaknesses, the Daguerreotype captured the populations imagination and inspired the refinement of the photographic process.

The Ambrotype

While visually very similar and almost indistinguishable from the Daguerreotype, Ambrotypes first appeared in the 1850's. The image was produced on a glass plate and sandwiched into a case with a black tin backing. To tell the difference between the two you can hold it up at an angle. A Daguerreotype will only be visible at certain angles and look obscured at others. An Ambrotype on the other hand can be easily viewed at any angle.

Next Chapter > Tintypes