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

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, and 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, which 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 (1)
  • IanI-Kut
    3/11/2015 - 09:33 p.m.

    I didn't realize that in old photos people didn't smile. But I understand why they didn't smile now. They didn't smile because sometimes they had to sit for 15 minutes before the picture was taken. I wouldn't smile earthier if I had to what 15 minutes.

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