Jonathan A Lewis Photography

Feb 9

The Other Camera Test

I titled this entry The Other Camera Test to distinguish it from Andy’s recent Camera Test. Alas, my test wasn’t of a castle, nor of anything remotely daguerreian.

Camera Test

I got a new camera with the idea of using it for daguerreotypes. It’s an old plate camera from India in the format of 6 1/2″ x 12″. I put in a lens I pulled out of a photocopier a few years ago and attached it using a foamcore lens board. With a foamcore shutter/lens cap I made the exposure 15 second exposure on to a piece of VC RC paper. It came out quite nicely, no fall off and the focus seems pretty good. It ended up a bit contrasty but who knows what you’re going to get when using VC paper without filters. I’d like to try an exposure focused at infinity but I’ll have to wait for a spare moment during the day.

A heat removal device is currently under construction to help relieve the heat that builds up in the plate during development. At the moment it’s looking more like a small time travel device…


Jan 25


DagWell the first image taken on one of my new plates was less than a masterpiece. It was overexposed, underdeveloped, fogged, and out of focus. At least there was an image… and the framing was close to what I intended. I’ll just go down the list of problems:

These plate are significantly faster than the pure silver plates I was using before. I had somewhat anticipated this and reduced the exposure by a little over a stop but it wasn’t enough. Reciprocity also might have something to do with it. I have yet to find a reciprocity curve for dags and I’m sure it’d be a rather onerous task to produce one. The amount of UV might be yet another problem.

This bit of info was given to me by John Hurlock on the DagForum. I was a somewhat surprised but it makes sense now that he pointed it out.

This is also a product of the new plates. They’re much thicker than before and thus absorb much more heat during development. When I took the plate out after 3 hours under the light, it was so hot I couldn’t touch it. To fix that I’m going to make a heat sucking apparatus that I’ll talk more about once it’s complete.

The thickness of the plates causes the surface to move out of the focal plane of the lens when I have it taped to the back of the film holder. This is especially a problem since the depth of focus is so small when the lens all the way open. I suppose I could stop down but then my exposures would get much longer. I’ll have to think about this one…

There are lots of things to change and fix but that’s all part of the fun. Plus, this was only my 14th exposure…

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Jan 23

Inaugural Plates and the New Era

I’ve been very busy with all things daguerreian the last few weeks. Unfortunately a lot of it is only indirectly related to my daguerreotypy. Alan Bekhuis, Andy Stockton, and I launched the redesigned and revamped resource for contemporary daguerreotypes: We took and and combined them into one, well organized, ever expanding website. In addition to the galleries, resources, and forum, we’ve added a wiki which promises to be an invaluable addition to the site and daguerreotypy in general. Check it out, it’s well worth a visit!

The copper plates I was polishing in the previous entry were sent off to the platers on Tuesday and I just got them back today. My very first silver plated copper daguerreotype plates! No more of those tiny pure silver plates, these are beefy 16 gauge copper quarter plates plated with a 1/2 mil. of fine silver. You could take someone out with one of these plates! Can you tell I’m excited? Anyway, I’m very pleased with the results. The plates look beautiful and with a 4 day turn around time (including 2 days in transit!) I just can’t complain.

As for cost, I have figured that they run about $20 each (excluding shipping). The copper cost me about $7 per plate and the plating came to around $13 each. Looking at the prices that people sell plates for on the forum I think it’s a pretty good deal. Mike Robinson was selling his clad sixth plates for $27.50 a piece and Eric Mertens was selling quarter plates for $35 a piece. Though if I had the extra money to spend I would certainly consider buying pre-made plates. Polishing the copper takes quite a bit of time and effort as does wrangling all the various materials and services together. Also, the plates that have been pre-made come from people who really know what they’re doing. My plates can’t make such a claim.

Thinking of people who really know what they’re doing, Jerry Spagnoli managed to get an amazing daguerreotype of the presidential inauguration! The screen capture above shows it but you really must see the larger version here.


Jan 4

A New Year

DagThe holidays are finally over and the new year has begun. The image on the left is a daguerreotype taken during the last sunset of 2008. The fancy circular mat was made with a circular paper cutter on some heavy black paper. This is the fourth keeper of 2008 out of eleven exposures. It is also my first successful outside shot. ‘Successful’ being defined by the fact that I’m keeping it. It could have used a little less exposure but I like it none the less. I especially like the backwards numbers. Life always looks better in a mirror, doesn’t it?

My goal for 2009 is 100 keepers but I hope it ends up being more. On New Years Day I made two more keepers, that’s 2% of my goal. I took one of my girlfriend for me and one of me for her. They have yet to be scanned but I think they came out well. Only a minute exposure and I just couldn’t stand still. I got two more 2 3/8″ square plates from Santa Fe Jewelers supply for the shoot. According to their computer I had gotten 26 gauge fine plate silver but they sure seemed a lot thinner to me this time around. Perhaps I’ll get 24 gauge next time. My dad gave me 50 cents to try a sterling silver plate. We’ll see where that goes.

I get paid on the 16th and I hope to have my copper quarter plates polished and ready to plate by then. While my girlfriend was in town the weather was good enough to polish but now that she’s gone it’s gotten cold again. Perhaps I’ll polish a plate a day in the cold. I discovered that there’s a cellar type place beneath my apartment that has a couple of benches and has electricity. My girlfriend is convinced there are zombies but I’ve been down there a couple of times now and have found no evidence of their mischeif. I think it’ll be a good place to polish since I can do so after work when it’s dark out.

I got some new buffing wheels while at SFJS. They’re muslin wheels like I had but this time they’re 3″ instead of 5″ and they’re more gentle on the silver. I got a green compound that I’m using after the rouge for a final polish which also seems to help. I’m trying to keep it simple and not get too caught up with the millions of compounds and wheels. I did get a sample pack of polishing paper that range from 400 to 8000 grit. I haven’t played with any of it yet but perhaps they’ll be of some use.

Another 2009 goal is to start selling daguerreotypes. That’ll help alleviate some of the financial strain that comes from such an absurd (yet divine) form of photography. Naturally I live in one of the few places where there is already a daguerreotypist operating. I’ll have to come up with a way of differentiating my dags from his and hopefully make a little money.

In other news, Andy Stockton, a fellow daguerreotypist in the making, has posted a day by day list of his activities and acquisitions in the pursuit of daguerreotypy. It’s a fantastic resource and I need to go though day by day and see what I can learn. If only I could have been so organized…


Dec 18

Take Two

Camera ObscuraThis is my second exposure in the camera obscura. It started around 8:30am and finished around 5:30pm which makes it about a 9 hour exposure. Developed again in Dektol, this negative had a lot more density than the previous 2 hour exposure. The only problem this time is the light area on the left. It was caused by me trying to leave the room without letting in too much light. Other than that I’m happy with the results. If you look closely at the snow on the wall toward the top of the image you’ll see that it all melted during the day. All that’s left is a ghostly visage of the snow that once was.

Tonight I spend about 3 hours in my darkroom making some prints for a guy I work with. They came out well in my opinion but we’ll see what he thinks. It’s fun printing other people’s photographs because they don’t come with the memory of the place and time of the exposure. The print itself is all I know and I don’t project some abstract recollection about the tonality or contrast of the actual scene.

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Dec 16


Category: Other Photography

Camera ObscuraMy night in a camera was, all in all, a success! The sun came up around 7 and I shut the camera off at around 9. That’s a good 2 hour exposure. Waking up with a giant image on the wall was a very strange and very cool at the same time.

The development in Dektol also went well. I used a dilution of 1+9 from the stock solution and developed the 4×5 sheet for about 8 minutes at 20°C. The neg was rather thin and the Dektol made it very grainy as you can see. I think a full 8 hour exposure would yield a much better negative. Perhaps that will be tomorrow’s exposure…

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Dec 15

The Night in a Camera

Camera ObscuraTonight I will be sleeping in a camera.

We’ve had quite a bit of snow and it’s not supposed to stop for a couple more days. My work decided to let us all slide home early and it seems we have a two hour delay tomorrow. So what did I do with my spare time? Made a camera of course!

I’ve made a camera obscura once before and got some okay images out of it (as you can see to the left). The biggest problem I’ve found is that you only really get one image per camera. You can take that image multiple times and try to dress it up and change the room around but it’s really only the same image. Now that I’m living in a different place than the first camera I figured I’d try it again and this time it will be in my bedroom. Another problem with the camera obscura is that taking a photograph of the image is very time consuming. So what I’m going to do is make sure my bedroom is as light tight as it’s going to get (except for the ‘lens’) before I go to bed, turn of the lights, open the shutter, and then go to sleep. By the time I get up the camera should have been getting an image for at least a couple hours… I hope. If not, I’ll have to figure something else out. My previous images were made over 8 hours during a fairly bright day. This one will only be a couple hours during a snowy day. The odds are against me…

My developer ran out while developing the final 16 rolls of film that had been sitting in my fridge for quite a while. So once I get the negs from the 4×5 camera (exposing in the camera obscura) I’m going to try developing them in dektol, my paper developer. Apparently you can develop film in dektol at a dilution of about 1:10 for the same amount of time as D-76. It increases the grain but it’s better than nothing. I realize in performing two experiments at the same time (camera obscura and dektol as film developer), I’m just asking for trouble.

On the daguerreotype front nothing much has happened. I got my copper plates and they are very nice indeed. Much better than the copper I had obtained locally. The plates are all drilled and I’ve spent a little time polishing them but a combination of laziness and inclement weather has prevented me from polishing all ten plates to my satisfaction. I’ve been suppressing the urge to use my buffer in the living room as I’d like to live to be an old (healthy) daguerreotypist.

Alan Bekhuis, master daguerreian artist & artisan and co-conspirator of, has started a journal detailing his processes. Only a few posts in and it’s already a great resource. Check it out!

Jonathan Danforth, a great daguerreotypist and someone always willing to give advice, recently posted a entry entitled 2008 in Daguerreotypes. It’s a nice tribute to the past year of the most exquisite form of photography ever invented.

CardsIn other news, I’ve joined a new photography group here in Santa Fe. The aim is to take pictures. We’ve done so a few times and had assignments and you can find my photos for this group here. It’s nice to physically meet with people and discuss photography and take pictures. Our most recent assignment consisted of making holiday cards. I shot a couple of images, developed and printed them in my darkroom (bathroom), cut and glued a couple of each image to some nice paper and voila, cards! I don’t think they were as holidayish as the others wanted but I then I haven’t been a big fan of the holidays for quite some time. I think they’re a nice compromise. Hopefully the weather clears before our next meeting.

And finally, I changed the header image of this site. The previous image was getting a bit old and change is nice every now and then. It’s a photograph I took while wandering around Times Square with my girlfriend a couple months ago.

Anyway, I’m going to attempt to be more diligent with this blog, as well as everything else photographically related. We’ll see how it goes…

And now, for a night in the camera!


Oct 31

Real Plates

Category: Plates

Mirror Image It’s time for real plates. Originally I got 4 6×6 plates of pure silver and in the course of my trials I have used 3. The fourth plate has a big dent in it and since I’m not fond of dents in my images I’m going to put it aside… for now.

A while back when I was in New York visiting my girlfriend I was lucky enough to be introduced to an old daguerreotypist by the name of Harvey Zucker. During the course of our meeting (of which I’ll talk more about in a subsequent post) he gave me a couple of his old quarter plates to play with. So far I have just used them as an example of a good polish with the exception of one plate. I exposed that one for my normal amount and it came out very over exposed. I’m guessing it’s because his polish is so much better than mine… or I sensitized it differently… or the moon was on the wrong side of the sky. It’s hard to attach an absolute cause to a bad plate. Though I solely attribute luck to my good plates.

So instead of using all the plates I have been given, I want to make my own. Harvey’s plates work very well and I want to keep them unused until I can duplicate their perfection.

Last week I got some copper from a local jewelers supply to polish and have plated. Easier said than done. The copper was so rough that I used my father’s buffing machine, which is much more powerful than mine, with a rubberized wheel to try to smooth the plates out. After about 5 or so hours I packed them up and brought the home for some more buffing. Upon closer inspection they still had major scratches and lots of little holes across the surface. I put those plates aside as well.

Today I ordered new copper plates from a print making supply company (suggested by daguerreotypist Jonathan Danforth) that are supposed to be fairly polished to begin with. I’m hoping this will alleviate my copper woes. If all goes well I should have some brand new quarter plates in a couple weeks!

Happy Halloween!

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Oct 18


Dag 2 Well I made another successful daguerreotype! After a rather underexposed attempt I re-polished the plate and tried again. So I have two (somewhat) successful images out of three attempts. Pretty good but I doubt my luck will last.

I’m still at the phase where the process is more important than the image. So after polishing, sensitizing, and loading up the camera I started looking around for things to photograph. It was nighttime again so I had to construct an image. Thus this oddly lit image of what I happened to have at arms length: two old cameras and a homie. I believe this might be the first ever daguerreotype of a homie! If I’m wrong please let me know, I’d love to see the image…

For reference this image was exposed for 30 minutes at f/2.8 and developed for 3 hours under rubylith and a 200 watt light at a distance of about a foot. The odd thing about this image is that I forgot to take off my camera’s UV filter. Perhaps the lights I used don’t use much UV.

A lot has changed since my last post. Most importantly I got a buffer. A 1750 rpm, 1/3 horse power buffer with muslin buffing wheels. It doesn’t have a lot of power but I’m not going to be polishing meteorites either. It has made a world of difference but I have a long way to go before my polishing is anywhere near perfect.

I have also gotten an enlarger and the rest of the paraphernalia that goes along with it. I love printing sliver gelatin and as soon as I get a couple more items I’ll be printing away. It’s odd considering an enlarger as the contemporary way of creating photographs.

Despite printing silver with my enlarger and occasionally eyeing a digital camera (the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II looks amazing!), I think my passion will lie with the daguerreotype.

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Aug 30

A Starting Point

Category: Daguerreotypy

First Daguerreotype! Last night, in a fit of impatience, I decided to try making my first daguerreotype.

Only hours earlier I had gotten some buffing compound and worked on buffing, by hand, one of the 6×6 pieces of silver I had purchased months ago. It was hard work and the finish was less than a perfect mirror (or even a nice polish) but I decided to try to expose it anyway. So I sensitized it to what seemed to be the second cycle yellow with a tinge of red, popped it in the camera, and took a picture. Well, the “took a picture” was actually a 45 minute exposure of my computer screen (the brightest thing around). Then I put it under some rubylith and a 200 watt light, turned on a big fan to keep it cool, and went to bed. Five and a half hours later (around 2 am), not being able to sleep anyway, I took it out, fixed it, put it in some water, and went back to bed.

In the morning I had a daguerreotype!

I was amazed that it had actually worked despite my general ignorance and abysmal polishing job. I cut up some thick black paper for a mat and with a cover glass I had had cut long ago I sealed the package with some Filmoplast P90.

It’s not a great image but it’s a starting point. My polishing will only get better and in the next couple of weeks I’m going to invest in a buffing wheel. The dag seen in person is much better than the scanned image you see here. The scratches are harder to see and the image brighter if viewed correctly.

Now the real work begins…


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