What is an Ambrotype?

What is an Ambrotype? - FilterGrade

Many people, whether photographers or not, have not heard of an ambrotype in a long time, or ever for that matter. Whether it be the digital age that’s taken the ambrotype away or simply the tedious process that it requires, they definitely seem to have disappeared in the past decade or so, but that still hasn’t stopped us photography nerds from getting to know more about this incredible photography process.

This art form is unique and impossible to replicate, which is what makes it such a fascinating way to show a visual and why many photographers still use this as a means to show their work. Without anymore waiting, let’s take a look at what exactly an ambrotype is.

What is an Ambrotype?

An ambrotype, in short, is an early form of a photograph in which the photo is created by placing a glass negative against a dark background. Ambrotypes were introduced in the 1850’s and are commonly called ‘collodion positives’ because you are creating a positive photo on glass by a variant of the wet plate collodion process.

After the positive image is created, the dark background is put in place behind the image so that you can see all of the highlights, shadows, and details in the positive image.

Similar to prints on paper, ambrotypes are viewed by reflected light and are unique originals, meaning that they can only be duplicated by using a camera to copy it. This is the same with various other forms of photography as well, such as Polaroid photos, daguerreotypes, and more.

Here are some examples of ambrotype photographs:

Unknown Artist- What is an Ambrotype? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: Unknown | Pvt. James House with Fighting Knife, Sixteenth Georgia Cavalry Battalion, Army of Tennessee | Photo from ArtBlart.com)

Frederick West Lander by Mathew B. Brady - What is an Ambrotype? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: Mathew B. Brady | Frederick West Lander | Photo from National Portrait Gallery)

Unidentified African American Woman - What is an Ambrotype? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: Unknown | Unidentified African American Woman | Photo from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs)

Niagra Falls - Platt D Babbit - What is an Ambrotype? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: Platt D. Babbit | Niagra Falls | Photo from the Library of Congress)

Many of the older ambrotypes from the 1850’s to the early 1900’s were held in cases made of leather or a weave in order to keep the photograph safe. Many times, the ambrotypes were given as gifts or tokens of appreciation and were held on to with great care.

Take a look at some modern-day ambrotype examples:

Giles Cement - Nick Offerman - What is an Ambrotype? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: Giles Clement | Nick Offerman | Photo from Giles Clement)

(Photographer: Driely Carter | Alexander Wang | Photo from Driely Carter)

Dave King - What is an Ambrotype? - FilterGrade(Photographer: Dave King | Alix | Photo from Dave King)

For more of our articles on alternative processing and analog photography, check out:


2 Replies to “What is an Ambrotype?”

  1. Barry Perhamsky says:

    So an Ambrotype is a wet plate with a black backing to create a positive.

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