Some History About Smiling In Photographs

Published by Dr. Charles Gemmi

A Board Certified Orthodontist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics, Dr. Charles Gemmi has been a practicing orthodontist with Orthodontics Limited since 2000 and is a member of the teaching staff at Einstein Medical Center. Orthodontics Limited is a Diamond+ Provider of Invisalign in Philadelphia and Hatboro, PA.

CAN YOU IMAGINE HOLDING YOUR SMILE perfectly still for 15 minutes until the camera clicked? That’s how long it took for a photograph to expose in 1839.

Later, exposure times were significantly cut back, but it still took at least 20 seconds. To make sure pictures weren’t ruined, photographers asked their subjects to stay completely still and not adjust their bodies or facial expressions. No wonder people were so stiff and serious in old time photos! They were probably frustrated, tired and bored!

Now, snapping a photo takes no time at all. In fact, most people have an HD camera in their pocket all the time (called a smartphone). Today, when someone whips out a camera, it’s just second nature for us to flash a quick smile. But it wasn’t always that way. Why?

Why People Didn’t Smile In The Early Days of Photography

The Serious Nature of Formal Occasions

Photography was rare and expensive. Most people only had a few opportunities during their entire lifetime to have their photo taken. Therefore, when the rich were being photographed, they treated the “event” with the utmost seriousness. They preferred the thoughtful, tortured look to the playful kissy-face look that’s so popular today.

Poor Dental Health

In the 1800s good dental and orthodontic care was not widely available. Modern dental procedures designed to help people keep their teeth for life were unavailable—so, most people had missing, broken, chipped, or rotten teeth. And procedures to straighten or beautify teeth? Unheard of! Even if the technology had allowed them to show their smiles to the camera, they may have preferred to keep their mouths shut.

When Did Things Start Changing?

Starting in the 1900’s, we see more natural-looking, relaxed poses. But why did we start smiling? Well, we’re not really sure. But one theory is that a picture is our introduction to someone new, and when we meet someone new, we usually make a good impression with a welcoming smile.

Keep Your Smile Camera-Ready

  • Photographers recommend smiling three-quarters of the way, so your eyes stay open and your lips don’t stretch above your gum line.
  • Check your posture—a craning neck or a tucked chin can distract from a gorgeous smile.
  • Keep your smile healthy! A healthy smile is a beautiful smile!

Are You Still Holding Back Your Smile?

We live in a wonderful time where modern dentistry and orthodontic care allows us to enjoy healthy, beautiful grins. If, for any reason, you’re uncomfortable with your smile, let’s visit. We want you to feel 100% confident when you smile.

The 1800s are behind us, including the fashion and the seriousness. Thank you for trusting your smile to our practice!

Just For Fun!

Do YOU have a family or personal photo shoot story (good or bad, funny or serious)? Please tell us about it by posting in the comments section below or on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear it!

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