Why is it that people depicted in old vintage photographs , would not smile?

Why would there be lack of emotion or  no facial expression in old photographs and portraits?

15 Answers

  • Sumi
    Lv 7
    1 month ago
    Favourite answer

    Back then the ISO of the medium used was less than 6 (not a typo).  The exposures were so long that people simply could not hold their smile long enough to not cause blur.  In fact, it was necessary to use metal braces hidden behind people's heads to keep their heads from moving during the exposure.  This is why nobody smiled in early photographs.

  • 1 month ago

    they might be dead. 

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    Tricky business photography at the time,

    it didn't do to be too ambitious:

    First the Governor, the Father:

    He suggested velvet curtains

    looped about a massy pillar;

    And the corner of a table,

    (Of a rosewood dining-table).

    He would hold a scroll of something,

    Hold it firmly in his left-hand;

    He would keep his right-hand buried

    (Like Napoleon) in his waistcoat;

    He would contemplate the distance

    With a look of pensive meaning,

    As of ducks that die in tempests.

    Grand, heroic was the notion: 

    Yet the picture failed entirely:

    Failed, because he moved a little,

    Moved, because he couldn't help it.

  • keerok
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Can you hold a smile for 5 minutes straight without moving a single strand of muscle in your body? I imagine cameras before went even longer so they had to stand very still for very long. It takes a number of muscles on the face to smile. Holding it is another issue. Smiling then is out of the question.

  • What do you think of the answers? You can sign in to give your opinion on the answer.
  • 1 month ago

    bad teeth...

    Add to that trying to stay still for more than a minute. It can get rather painful around the lips, and any motion could spoil the set-up. Photography was expensive back then, and one didn't want to waste a single plate.

  • Magma
    Lv 5
    1 month ago

    Because photography was only a new invention, it was seen along the lines of posing for an oil painting. Plus they were long exposures, so if they moved their faces, it looked like a blurred dead expression 

  • 1 month ago

    Smiling subjects were comparatively rare until the 1920s, when "ordinary people" had access to cameras. Long exposures only explain the first 20-30 years of photography - after that it's more a matter of convention among professional photographers, who took their style guidelines from earlier portrait paintings.  

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    Because photographers of the past did not tell their subjects to "say cheese."  That means people who smile mainly do it by faking a smile.  Do you smile when you go shopping for groceries, or when you stand in line to vote?  Probably not. People who smile almost all of the time are probably viewed as someone who is abnormal. We may smile briefly when we meet our friends or family but we do not do it for hours at a time Smiling is not what we normally do most of the time. So why do it when we take photographs? Do we fake an orgasm when we take a photo? Of course not. So why should we fake a smile when we take photographs unless we are really happy (e.g. when we go on vacation). No one is smiling when their mugshot is taken after being arrested, for example. So it makes no sense to smile every time our photos are taken. It does not make sense now and it did not make sense in the old days either.

  • 1 month ago

    If you mean the really old ones, it is because the cameras were so slow that people had to hold still for a long time while the lens was open.  Some of the old photographers had stands similar to what labs use, that they would but behind you to hold your head still.

    Getting your picture taken was not a pleasant experience.


    Now I often see wedding photos where nobody is smiling because the Bride and groom are just plain wore out.

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    It too a long time to get an exposure so they had to sit still for a long time. That was also the fashion for painted portraits where people had to sit still for even longer. So they couldn't hold an expression for that long they put on a plain face for such a serious thing as a portrait. 

     Nowadays with very quick selfies you can do whatever you want and take as many pictures as you like! So there's more variety.

    Attachment image
Still have questions? Get answers by asking now.