Why dont people smile in old photographs? (Smithsonian.com)
Why dont people smile in old photographs?
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You asked us, why don't people smile in old photographs. Technology is partly to blame.

The Daguerreotype, the first widely used photographic process, was invented in 1839. The exposure time in those early days was really long, sometimes lasting up to 15 minutes or so. Way too long to hold a smile.

But that timing was cut down pretty quickly, so there was more at play here than just the tech.

Although it was less expensive than having your portrait painted, getting your picture taken still wasn't cheap. Some people had just one photo snapped their whole entire life. That made the event a pretty important and formal deal.

Unlike portrait painters, photographers weren't trying to capture an instant in their subjects' lives, but more of an ideal of that person. Plus, back in the day, the classy just didn't say, cheese."

So, picture equals sourpuss.

It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century when cameras became portable and easier to use, that pictures turned into casual snapshots, and smiles became more common.

Now, we can't get enough of those pearly whites.

For more stories like this, check us out every day at smithsonian.com

Critical thinking challenge: Why are you told to say "cheese" when your picture is taken?

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COMMENTS (239)
  • jaysons-Tho
    2/10/2015 - 10:59 a.m.

    Wow 15 minutes to take a photograph just wow technoligy
    has change so much thank you world I really feel sorry for the 1800 they must get really
    tired.

    • JulietteG-Rei
      2/10/2015 - 11:32 a.m.

      I agree with you it takes them 15 minutes back then and it takes 2 seconds in this generation another thing that supprises me are cell phone they are not the same

  • arifv-Tho
    2/10/2015 - 11:02 a.m.

    The camreas were cheap but it took 15 minutes to take picture. I cuold not hold my smile that long for a picture. the camreas take pictures quick.

  • chrisr-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:12 a.m.

    I rarely smile in my pictures anyway. Well I use to when I was young. I guess people feel they are to old to say "cheese" and smile. I think its easier to just smile rather than say "cheese" every time.

  • brookebo-Tho
    2/10/2015 - 11:12 a.m.

    because wen you say cheese you lips move up so you can smile and cheese at the camera with your friend or eny won

  • kimj-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:13 a.m.

    You are always told to say cheese because when you use the prefix "ch" with a double 'e" it shows your teeth which leads you to smiling.

  • laurenm-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:15 a.m.

    It says in the article that back in the day the classy people didn't say cheese, but i guess it's classy to say cheese when you are getting a picture taken.

  • kyrap-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:15 a.m.

    I think that when you are told to say cheese in pictures, it is meant to make you smile. If you are told to say cheese while taking a picture and you don't smile, you're lying. Why not say something that makes you giggle while taking a picture? I would not know how to explain why people feel the need to say the name of this delicious dairy product in order to smile, but that's just the way its always been.

  • tanaizham-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:19 a.m.

    i don't always smile in a pictures because i don't like my smile or its because the person taking the picture is taking to long to take it.

  • raysharda-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:19 a.m.

    I think you are told to say cheese when taking a picture because it shows your your teeth.And it causes
    you to smile so that he picture will look good.

  • serenas-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:19 a.m.

    You are told to say "cheese" when your picture is being taken because, when the word is said you teeth are exposed in a smiling manor. The word is short and sweet with great effects.

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