A photographer brings old-world portraiture to San Francisco

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From his airy studio in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district, photographer Michael Shindler is quietly putting a little “soul-stealing” back into the act of picture taking. Asking his subjects to sit still for a one-off tintype portrait, Shindler began Photobooth—a studio, shop and gallery space—in late August 2011 as a way of putting tangible value back into the typically digital medium.


Shindler captures a person’s image directly on a tintype or stainless ferrotype plate, then exposes them in the adjoining darkroom using a mix of chemical solutions. Because there’s no negative, the image on the plate is the only record of the moment captured with each subject. The uniqueness of the image combined with the intimacy of when it was taken elevates the simple portrait into something much more.

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Shindler spent several years honing his technique, essentially the culmination of meticulous darkroom experiments, before opening Photobooth. Citing landscape photographer Carleton Watkins as inspiration for a perfectly developed print, Shindler shares an attention to photo processing with the 19th-century photographer, but he assures us it’s people that interest him most. The tintype format allows him to draw out intriguing characteristics of a face with freckles, wrinkles and irises in high contrast.

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Fueled by a passion for the hands-on process of developing wet-plate collodion prints, Photobooth adds a human touch to photography, one portrait at a time. Walk-ins are encouraged, and prices span $50-80 a photo, depending on whether you choose a tintype or the stainless steel, mirror-like plate.

See more images in the gallery below.