Photographer Uses Civil War Era Tintype Camera to Capture Soldiers in Afghanistan

Tintype, c Ed Drew

The American Civil War was the first conflict in which cameras were widely used to capture the events and the people. Photographers would follow the troops, offering to take portraits of the men before battles to send home. They also photographed the aftermath to sell to newspapers. That’s the reason that the Library of Congress has a rather massive collection of soldier’s portraits from that era. The technology in use at the time was called “tintype” and produced a very distinct looking photograph. Now, a photographer named Ed Drew has used that same Civil War era technology to capture portraits and images from the current war in Afghanistan, and the resulting images are striking. You can find a collection of the pictures here. [via Reddit]


  1. avatar Dave says:

    That is f’n outstanding.

    1. avatar Mobile Infantry says:


    2. avatar ChuckN says:


  2. avatar Lemming says:

    Tin Types are sort of fashionable for the moment. See this, for example:

  3. avatar bontai Joe says:

    I like the look of them. I guess it’s true, whatever is old becomes new again.

  4. avatar Don says:

    Wow, that gave me the chills. I guess that’s what good art feels like!

  5. avatar BDub says:

    These are “tintype” style photos. They do not appear to BE tintypes. They are very cool, but I doubt seriously anyone is lugging the cumbersome original equipment around Iraq/Afghanistan to take them. They also show all the hallmarks of procedural post-processing to get the effects of a tintype – in layman’s terms, Photoshop.

    1. avatar Lee Duran says:

      According to the author, it is not photoshopped:

      Creating tintypes on the battlefield was a challenging experience. In between flying on combat missions, Drew found that his chemicals would react to the harsh environment there in ways that you wouldn’t see in the quiet safety of a photo studio. It made him “really appreciate every plate’s individual creation,” he says.

      1. avatar Justin says:

        Ah! You beat me! =)

    2. avatar Justin says:

      He really was doing tintypes. Here’s an article about it the photography site FStoppers:

      From the Article: “Collodion did not respond well to that (Afghanistan) environment,” said Drew, who used a Pelican case, dark case and loft space for a makeshift darkroom. “I only brought the essential chemicals so I couldn’t adjust anything. My developer oxidized super fast as well so I made do as best I could.”

      It’s pretty impressive. This article gets more into the technical details.

  6. avatar jwm says:

    I don’t know if this is true but I’ve heard that the most photographed American from the tin type era was Custer. He was the rock star of his time.

  7. avatar NxSW says:

    Does anyone know why the images are reversed? You can tell on the shots where the soldiers name tags are visible. All the words are backwards…

    1. avatar Lemming says:

      Optically, it’s the same reason a negative (anybody remember film? ) is backwards.

      The lens flips the image on the negative, then when you print the negative the enlarger flips the images again, so the print is forward.

      In a tintype the image is produced directly on the media in the camera. So there’s no second step that flips it back.

      1. avatar DaveM says:

        Wasn’t “Billy the Kid” thought to be left handed until some one realized “loading port”on his rifle was on the wrong side ?

      2. avatar MF says:

        Not all of the pictures there are backwards. Maybe the fotographer flipped them after scanning them.

  8. avatar Rodeo Jones says:


  9. avatar Matt in FL says:

    These are fascinating to me, and fantastic to look at. People tend to think of the “old days” as blurry and black & white, and modern times as crisp and colorful. But if you can make modern times look blurry and black & white, then imagine what the Civil War era subjects would look like if photographed in today’s crisp super hi-res. Those people weren’t any different than we are today.

  10. avatar g says:

    Fascinating… that’s some serious dedication to photography.

    1. avatar LongBeach says:

      Yeah he took it from cool photography, to geeky-but-still-cool photography, to hipster it’s-not-cool-unless-I’m-doing-it photography, and all the way back around to cool-a$$ photography.

      Off-subject: I deeply desire a sternum holster.

      1. avatar Joe Wright says:

        LongBeach , Join the military, they will be glad to give you one.

      2. avatar Al says:

        His eyes are up there, sweetheart.

      3. avatar g says:

        I ain’t an expert, but it looks like a Blackhawk style SERPA STRIKE mount…

  11. avatar Macbrun says:

    This is some outstanding photography. FYI: the sombrero is there because this group of AIRMEN (not soldiers. You may say I am picking nits, but it matters) are nicknamed Pedros. They are members of the pararescue jumper community of the USAF. “That others may live.”

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