Why dont people smile in old photographs? (Smithsonian.com)
Why dont people smile in old photographs?
Lexile

Assign to Google Classroom

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?

Assigned 156 times


COMMENTS (239)
  • gabriellej-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:30 a.m.

    You are told to say cheese when a picture is taken because it looks like a natural non-forced smile. People Do not smile in old photographs because it shows character. I learned that not smiling in pictures shows character from Kanye West..

  • gabriellej-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:30 a.m.

    You are told to say cheese when a picture is taken because it looks like a natural non-forced smile. People Do not smile in old photographs because it shows character. I learned that not smiling in pictures shows character from Kanye West..

  • emrar-boo
    2/10/2015 - 11:31 a.m.

    We are told to say cheese in photos so it makes it look like you're happy and it gives the picture a lot more meaning when you look back at it. If we didn't smile in pictures, then it would seem so bland, and boring and it would look like you weren't a very happy person.

  • elsat-Sch
    2/10/2015 - 11:43 a.m.

    I have always wondered why old pictures people didn't smile! I now understand that most cameras then took almost 15 minutes for the picture to be taken, that would be a long time to hold a smile!

  • matthewpop-Sch
    2/10/2015 - 11:48 a.m.

    I can't believe that they used to have to sit still for 15 minutes just to take one picture. I'm glad I didn't live at that time.

  • JoshSBlue
    2/10/2015 - 12:02 p.m.

    You are told to say cheese because it helps you smile for the picture. If it needs to be a nice picture so you smile and say cheese. If you were to say something else, like potato, it wouldn't work.

  • joeym-Sch
    2/10/2015 - 12:02 p.m.

    I think it is weird that it takes 15 minutes to take a photo. I could not wait that long to take one photo. It is also weird that some people only had one picture taken their whole entire life.

  • kevik-4
    2/10/2015 - 12:13 p.m.

    In this article it talks about why people did not smile in old photographs. The reason the photos took fifteen minutes to load. If a photo took fifteen minutes people could not hold a smile that long that why people did not smile in old photos. Most people only took one photo in there lives so it was a big deal to do so. That is kind of sad that no one could smile in a photograph so we could not see a actual image that a person smiling in the early 1800's. These days I think my mom is taking to long taking a photo talk about fifteen minutes for one photo.

  • Kaylab-5
    2/10/2015 - 12:26 p.m.

    This article is about why people din not smile in their pictures during the 19th century. This is because the pictures back then took so long to take and were very rare. Most pictures took up to fifteen minutes to take. Some people only got one picture taken of them their whole lives. I would not be able to survive without a picture. It is hard to imagine what life would be like now without cameras and technology.

  • brandi1018
    2/10/2015 - 01:00 p.m.

    This is very interesting! The good thing about this is that there is something diffrent then and the difference caused them to event something better. Although i would hate to have to hold a smile for 15 mins. An interesting thing about this is that how much we smile in our pictures now and how easy it is to take a "selfie". This is something i didnt know and is very amusing.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT