A Look Into the Creation of Tintype Photographs of the Cast of Paramount's Yellowstone

What happens when you combine the stars of an award-winning modern-day Western television series, with photography methods that haven't been mainstream since the early 20th century? Check out the video to see what goes into the making of a tintype portfolio.

My sister is a huge fan of the Paramount Network series, Yellowstone. A couple of days ago, she sent me the link to this video, where Sarah Coulter, senior photo editor for the Paramount Network, shows a behind-the-scenes look at creating tintype images of the show’s characters on-location. It's quite an undertaking, and time is of the essence when it comes to capturing and processing these modern-day Polaroids, because all the action happens right there, in the moment.

It took a U-Haul trailer to carry what amounts to a rolling darkroom to the locations where the images were made, and a crew at the ready to make it all happen. Each person had a specific job in the steps of production; this is definitely not a one-person job. The process is time sensitive and labor intensive, and uses over 20 chemicals to arrive the final result. And all of this must be done in an extremely short amount of time.

It's really intriguing to see the process by which these tintype images are captured. Coulter captures the feel of each of these “new West” characters in a way that would be difficult to achieve in simple modern digital photography. Printed on thin metal sheets, tintype images rely on several different steps of chemical application, and an exacting timeline to apply all the steps while keeping the process wet throughout each step. The results are authentic and captivating.

I am intrigued with this medium, its look, and its process. Kits are available if you want to start your making your own tintypes, although you’ll have to come up with the camera and the chemicals, making the whole thing quite cost prohibitive. You can achieve similar results yourself with Nik or Alien Skin software applications, though simply clicking to apply digital filters cannot capture the feeling and authenticity of wet plate tintype development. I have a feeling nothing can substitute for the real deal.

Are any of you tintype photographers? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!

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3 Comments

Crystal Johnson's picture

I've always been fascinated with tintypes and the process. Really interesting seeing them do it, and still retain that look.

I use to do the process for a couple of living history museums in the Midwest and some commission work as well. The process, although very rewarding and fun, was very limiting when trying to use it for art, in the sense of portability and ease of use.

clark conway's picture

I love YELLOWSTONE and can't wait for Season 2 to start! I hope they decide to use a few of the photos in the intro to the show. The tintype portraits are perfect for the Western/Cowboy look. Nicely done!