A Beautiful Video of the Daguerreotype Process

The way film photographers feel about digital photographers may be the way daguerreotype photographers feel about the film guys. Working with dangerous chemicals, buffing out silver coated plates, spending an entire day preparing for, taking and developing one shot; that’s what daguerreotype photographers love to do. It’s the difference between “crafting a photograph” and “just snapping away.”

In this short film — put together by photographer and videographer Patrick Richardson Wright — Seattle-based photog Dan Carrillo talks about that craftsmanship, as well as the beauty and permanence of daguerreotype photography that keeps him doing it when others say “why bother.”


The process of making a daguerreotype starts with a silver-plated copper plate. That plate is first buffed and polished until it looks like a mirror. Then the plate is sensitized to light over iodine and bromine in specialized, light-proof boxes.

The plate, now yellow-rose in appearance, is then transferred via a light-proof holder into a camera, where it is exposed. Originally, this exposure could take as long as fifteen minutes, but improvements to the sensitization process (adding silver halides) and better lenses eventually dropped that number below one minute.

Finally, once the plate is exposed, it’s developed or “brought out” over hot mercury, fixed by immersion in a solution of sodium thiosulfate and then washed with distilled water. The final step is to tone or gild the plate using gold chloride, yielding, as Carrillo puts it “something that is unlike any other type of photograph.”


Carrillo fell in love with the daguerreotype two years ago after taking a workshop at the Eastman House. But if you’re thinking of trying it out yourself, be warned: even after deciding he wanted to do this, it took another year to acquire and/or build all of the materials he would need. For now, you can watch the video and be inspired by the entire mesmerizing process.

To see more from Dan Carrillo, check out this video covering his wet plate colloid process or head over to his Flickr stream.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Mark!

  • Scott M.

    Wow! Very cool. Nice video and results are beautiful.

  • chubbs

    This is wonderful, the passion and craftsmanship involved!

  • Ingemar Smith


  • Daniel Mora

    “We are Printmakers first and foremost.” As my fav photography teacher always reminded me.

  • Tom

    says most photos today are just snapshots or ordinary photos and pretends to be artistic, has a flickr full of snapshot material.

  • PD

    Amazing labor of love. I’d love to try it, though I wonder about the possible health hazards of using hot mercury (vapors). do you have to wear a breathing mask/SCBA?

  • Greg McKay

    I’m not sure which is cooler. The daguerreotype process or the shooting and editing work in this video. Well done Patrick and Dan!

  • chris

    Some chemistry points I would like to share, if this hobby should be tried, check to ensure that the chemicals being used of are disposed of properly and not disposed of down the drain.

  • Gary O’Brien

    And that the process involves working with vaporized chemicals which can be very harmful to health. This article seems to completely ignore safety precautions.

  • kgelner

    Even that would not be enough, as the skin can absorb mercury (especially in vapor form). I’m assuming he has a very well sealed box or a very good venting system with a scrubber.

  • Jake

    I think you made up the “pretends to be artistic” part yourself. All he was saying was his own reason for taking daguerreotypes.

  • Agustin

    You need a special Fume hood, the type used in laboratories to avoid exposure to Mercury fumes. The consecuences of inhaling Merury over time would be Lung cancer and brain and kidney sickness. Wonder why most Daguerreotypist died young in the XIXth century.

  • Omar Martha

    If he was taught at the eastman house then he knows how to do it safely. A lot of people who do dags actually use fume hoods to work under. It’s not really exciting or pertinent info so i understand quite well why it’s not in the video.

  • Gary O’Brien

    Thanks, Omar. I can see from the tools he’s using that he gets the safety aspect. I worry about the DIY’er who might try to take this on.
    Of course, someone in that position isn’t going to figure this process out from the video :)
    Thanks for helping me see my comment a bit more clearly.

  • Kit Fritters

    Wow, an intelligent exchange of information without name-calling or insults. What kind of alternate universe have I slipped into? Did “Crush Groove” win an Oscar? Is RR still president?

  • Tony Arnold

    Having just found a family taken daguerreotype that must date back to late 1800’s I wanted to remind myself how it was achieved. Excellent film. The great thing about the finished article is that it’s a one off and cannot be copied. In my mind it has a greater intrinsic value than a ‘paper’ reproduction from a negative. The fact that it couldn’t be reproduced is why the process failed to compete with Fox Talbot’s negative process that enabled prints to be made from negs.