This weekend was my 55th birthday, and I decided to pull out all the stops and finally make my first daguerreotypes. For the edification of future students of the process I will also confess that my first two tries were total failures. I carefully prepared a plate, set up a lovely still life of a Japanese sword and a teacup, and managed to take this excellent specimen:

My First Daguerreotype

My First Daguerreotype

My second daguerreotype looked remarkably like the first. Sigh. I guess I have spent far too many years using cameras that take the work out of determining exposure. I wasn’t even close. I almost gave up, but then I got really annoyed. I decided to refume the second plate and then expose the hell out of it. I didn’t even bother to re-set my still life, I just pointed the camera at a random object and let the sun do it’s thing for a very long time. Here is the result, I call it “Sea Creatures” :)

My Third Daguerreotype

My Third Daguerreotype

It is seriously over-exposed, but it was a definite thrill seeing any image at all appear. It is too late in the day for more technical details, but I will post the lab notes tomorrow. In the meantime it is nice to know that I am now “A daguerreotypist” even if not yet “The”.


Two more furlough days down the tubes. I did succeed in devoting them to daguerreotypes, but didn’t make the progress I had hoped (what’s new?) :)

Today I had actually decided to take my first ever Becquerel D-Type but when I pulled out my small collection of plates, none of them really seemed to have an adequate level of polish. Call me Mr. Fussy, but I just don’t see the point of making a D-Type that you know from the get-go won’t be of the highest possible quality.

Sooooooo….. back to the tub of polishing supplies. I had a Mike Robinson clad plate that I had taken to a pretty high degree of polish in my last D-Type marathon, but it had what I can only refer to as “haze”. I hit it with the following:

A) 5 Min NuShine II S using the ROS with a foam pad and one of my new micro-fiber pad covers.
B) 5 Min 0.3 Micron Alumina Slurry (ROS & Etc)
C) 5 Min Dry red rouge
D) 5 Min Lampblack

Net result was a few places that seemed less hazy,  but overall not much improvement. I thought about starting over, but I seem to have trouble in the coarser end of the polishing compound spectrum. I have a tendency to chew through the silver clad layer before I know it.

I was getting annoyed, and when I get annoyed I usually get stubborn.

I knew that even very fine grit will polish metal if you give it long enough. I decided to just hit the plate with dry rouge for as long as it took to get to a perfect polish.

It takes about three hours and fifteen minutes.

Polished Plate - The hard way

Polished Plate - The hard way

The big milestone is that I was satisfied for the first time ever with my level of polish. I also learned a few things. I discovered that clad plates can have little pinhole defects in them. I had read about that, but now know what it looks like. I also learned a lot about keeping my polishing area free of contaminants – to prevent those maddening “squiggles” that I was getting from time-to-time.

I also know that I can make a perfect looking plate (I had been beginning to wonder). It isn’t a viable polishing method for the long term. I probably had more than an hour in the plate from the first effort bringing my time investment to 4 or 5 hours for one sixth plate. I hope I get to where I can be more efficient than that. I knew D-Types weren’t Polaroids, but good grief!

Any way, more experiments ahead. Today didn’t turn out to be D-Day (the sun went away behind a wall of fog) but I am getting closer. I guess I will have to admit that I am pretty stubborn. I have at least three different polishing “instruction sets” but I continue to be convinced that I can invent a better one on my own.

Speaking of stubborn, yesterday I continued my experiments with making mirrored glass as a potential daguerreotype substrate. In spite of published accounts of failures, I still want to see if I can make it work. The twin sirens of “less polishing” and “cheaper plates” continues to draw me on.

If you would like to read/see more, go to to my lab notes or the image gallery.

Hopefully stubbornness will turn out to be a good quality in a daguerreotypist.

Lab Notes 9/7/09

Here is a sample from my lab notebook…

Today is mirror day!

Experiments today
1) Check fit of slide in 35 mm
2) Do “sheeting test” on unwashed slide
3) Make mirror slides
4) Test drying slides
5) Examine polish
6) “Water Polish” with cotton ball
7) Dry polish with Lampblack
8) Put in fixer for 10 minutes
9) Heat with fixer to simulate gilding

Castle Temp = 55.7 degF @  8:30 AM

1) Slide seemed to fit just fine. Could not see any “bulge” when I shut the film loading door. Slide lines up easily on the film guides. I did note that the first slide had a spot of contamination. Note – shop for a diamond or carbide tip glass cutter to cut slides in half.

Other observations-A good place to line up the slide for consistency is along the bottom bare metal film guide and on the right “edge” of the film frame support platform. This centers the slide with 2 cm of “waste glass” on either side of the shutter opening.

2) Slide passes the water sheeting test. The water doesn’t all “slide off” but it doesn’t seem to bead up anywhere.

Castle Temp = 60.1 degF @ 9:15 AM

Took a quick break to fix broken ring flash and repair sealing surface on distilled water spray bottle.

—-Delete – lab glassware price list —-

Spent quite a long time setting up table saw with 80 tooth plastic cutting blade. Cutting plastic supports for small tray and setting up glass mirroring chemicals for the first time.

3) Made three mirror slides. 15 ml silvering solution was too much. (note tin solution can last 5-6 hours, but silvering solution has to be used up immediately) Will have to inspect slides before using. In spite of being advertised as “pre-cleaned” one had a piece of dirt that blocked the mirroring. A single pass of the solution left a very thin mirror layer. Cotton ball and cotton round scratched the silver layer (wet or dry)

4) Standing slides on end and drying with heat gun on low setting held 10-12 inches away seemed to work pretty well.

5) Looking for ways to remove residue left by mirroring solution. A) NuShine II S strips silver off immediately. No Go. B) What seems to work best is dry polishing with lampblack and a microfiber cloth using very light finger pressure. This is going to take some experimentation. I may write to the Angel Gilding people and ask what the residue is. The mirror looks very fine however with only a little polishing.

6) Water Polish – no go, see above.

7) This was good (Lampblack) see above.

8) Put in fixer A) Ammonium Thiosulphate – silver took on a “frosted appearance” in places right away. Then the silver started separating from the glass. (I only had Ilford Rapid Fix. I will have to get some Sodium Thiosulphate and see if it is any less destructive). B) Strong salt solution – even worse than the thiosulphate. As soon as a single drop hit the slide it frosted over and little bits of silver floated away from the glass until it was perfectly clear. It left a perfect round circle of bare glass.

9) Since fixer is no-go, I just heated the slide over the alcohol lamp bare and then with water. Bare (air exposed) heating damages the silver making it appear powdery white. Heating with water seems to have no deleterious effect. Was able to get water bubbling and slide too hot to hold. Silver stayed bright, shiny and intact.

Final experiment. Made 5 more mirrors. Wiped slides w/ dry paper towel, puffed w/ air and wetted on rack with distilled. Tin 30 sec per procedure, then silvered twice for 5 min each. 12 ml solution x2 (4+4+4) was able to mirror five slides fully with a small amount left over. Double silvering made a much more even and opaque covering layer.

I will have to try the silvering solution on bare copper.

Second Furlough Day

Not much to say about today that isn’t already in the Lab Notes. I didn’t quite make my eight hour committment. Oh well, “stuff” happens. In addition it was very overcast today, so I’m not sure how well a Becquerel daguerreotype would have developed. Nevertheless progess was made – and never mind perfection.

Lab Notes 8/17/09

Sample Lab Notes

1) Set up for plate polishing.
2) Cut out and zig-zag hem 15 microfiber rounds to use for polishing, Cut size allows five rounds per polishing cloth.
3) Polish off plate that was used for fuming test last time.

0.5 Mic alumina slurry 2 minutes – bare foam pad
0.03 Mic alumina slurry 2 minutes – bare foam pad
Nushine II S  2 minutes – foam pad with microfiber cover
Rouge 2 minutes – foam pad with microfiber cover
Lampblack 2 minutes – foam pad with microfiber cover

I noticed that the bare foam is starting to deteriorate and even though I vacuumed it off, it created a few “squiggles” on the plate (random single scratches as if from a piece of dirt). I think I will switch to using a fresh microfiber at each step. I will have to see if machine washing the microfiber rounds is successful. If not, I am going to start testing various disposables. I also had some problems with the dispensing tip of my slurry bottles being clogged with dried out polishing compound. I guess I am going to have to polish plates every day… :)