Estimating year photo was taken or printed?



My wife's father was born in Queensland, Australia in 1930. He died in 1989. She has only 2 photos of him. One has no markings on the front or rear and nothing to identify the year taken. What avenues are available to estimate the year the photo was taken?

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Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 673

4Are you able to estimate the individuals age from the photo? – Site Designs – 2012-10-31T20:02:29.250

8Even general questions about dating a photograph are better framed in the context of an actual photograph. Are you able to post the mystery-date photograph to a public site and include the link in your question? In the alternative, perhaps circle me on G+ (see my Genealogy.SE profile); send me the image and I'll add it to your question. – GeneJ – 2012-10-31T20:03:00.727

2A basic description eg, black & white or colour, size and possible period (life span of subject, broad age category of subject) would narrow down the question and elicit a more specific answer. – Sue Adams – 2012-11-01T10:29:04.597

The photo is about 4cm wide by about 6 cm long. There is an additional border on the left side of 4mm. The top, right and bottom do not have a border and look like they have been cut. The cuts are straight and not done by scissors. The photo is sepia in color and looks like it would crack if rolled/bent. I will try to upload the photo later. – Gerald – 2012-11-18T05:48:17.363

5Could we ask him to stand up, please? – GeneJ – 2012-11-20T00:19:04.067



This needs more work, but adding to the fun:

  1. His jacket. This looks late 1940s early 1950s to me, has a short "Ike" feel to it. Not yet greaser style; not yet denim. See the greaser look in the "Rebel Without a Cause" picture on pg 57 of the scribd file: Fashions of the Decade 1950s.
  2. Trousers. They have cuffs (back in fashion after the war) and are not too slim fitted (greaser) but not exaggerated either (as were some in the late 40s); not denim. See the Dacron ad on pg. 37 of the scribd file: Fashions of the Decade 1950s.
  3. His shirt; the collar, width of the front placket, etc. I thought I would fair better working on this than I did. I can only note that it is relaxed and has the casual/crumpled look.
  4. His hair. This seemed it could be misleading. (He's obviously having so much fun!)
  5. No wedding ring.
  6. Sandals/no socks. This should tell us something, but I wan't able to find good information.

P.S. If I only had two photographs of my dad, I'd want this to be one of them. Check out that smile--he's lovin' it.


Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 8 477

4+1 for "If I only had two photographs of my dad, I'd want this to be one of them". Couldn't agree more, this is a great family photo. – fbrereto – 2012-11-20T21:14:26.327


Some questions to ask about photographs:

  1. Can you estimate the age of the people, particularly if there are young children or pregnant women involved?
  2. Can you make a guess based on the style of clothing?
  3. Does the background of the image yield any clues?
  4. Are there any identifying marks that indicate who took the picture? The name of the photographer or the studio, its location, etc.?
  5. Is there any writing on the back? What language? To whom was it addressed? Post mark?

Gene Golovchinsky

Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 8 011

1As to points 4 and 5 (although they are good), the OP states there are no markings at all. – American Luke – 2012-10-31T22:21:34.300

3Understood; might still help the next person looking to date a photo. – Gene Golovchinsky – 2012-10-31T22:49:38.607

2@Luke - there may be some faint watermark-type marking on the photo paper used – warren – 2012-11-01T20:04:11.693


Dating photos relies on a combination of:

  1. internal evidence - clothing, subject matter, composition, props, etc
  2. identification of people in it - what age were they when the photo was taken? how does this fit with known birth dates?
  3. production processes - different materials (eg. type of photographic paper) and chemical processes resulted in characteristic types of photo. Standard sizes of commercial prints have changed over time.
  4. photographer - photographer's marks and advertising can be used to identify the photographer, hence the period the business operated.

Jayne Shrimpton and Maureen Taylor's books are good references, but they concentrate on the 1850-1950 period.

The scanned image shows a black-and-white print. The informal outdoor setting suggests it was taken by an amatuer photographer. I think this print has been cut down from a larger original because prints usually had white borders on all sides.

Commercially processed prints tended to come in standard sizes, which is derived from the size of the negative. Typically commercial processesing produced contact prints (exactly the same size as the negative) and enlargements of the whole negative, which maintain the aspect ratio of the negative. Unfortunately in this case, we do not know the size of the original print, so we can't deduce the size of the negative.

As othe answers have suggested, the 1950s is strongly indicated. At that time, colour photography existed, but was not as widely popular and affordable as black-and-white.

Sue Adams

Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 2 995


I would try to track down the source of the photo. If your wife didn't take it, then she must have got it from someone. Who did your she get it from? Maybe it was her brother or uncle. Maybe they took the picture or got it from someone else.

Once you track the source steps of the photo as to how it got to your wife. See if the person at each step might have other photos taken from that day and place. Those other photos would provide more important clues and maybe even indicate the event (birthday, get-together, location) that the photo was taken and enable you to get a more accurate date.

In addition, I would also contact all my wife's first cousins, and send them a copy of the photo and ask them if they could help identify it. One of them may have at one time seen the photo and it or others from the same event or copies of those may have somehow come into their possession. While doing so, ask your wife's cousins what else they know or heard about your wife's father.


Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 16 148

My wife found it in a box of old photos after her mother died. This was the only one she kept. Her sister took the rest of the photos and unfortunately, she destroyed them all. Her older sisters were born 1950 - 1952 and do not remember the photo or location. My wife only met her father on one occasion after the mother separated. None of the people in his new life had any idea of his daughters, let alone where he had been and when. – Gerald – 2012-11-19T23:52:55.010

@Gerald - thanks for the extra info. See my "in addition" in my answer. – lkessler – 2012-11-20T00:15:18.430

My wife says her mother left him when she was 3, so that would be about 1962. We both think the photo would have been before separation, as her mum and dad did not see each other again. – Gerald – 2012-11-20T00:45:08.550

@Gerald - Is it possible to get any documents about their marriage? Church records? – lkessler – 2012-11-20T00:47:35.933

@lkessler - I have been watching this progress and would like to know what could be gained by the wedding documents? – Those Legs – 2012-11-20T00:54:06.557

They were married in Brisbane in 1948. They were both 17. No one knows how long they had been seeing each other. – Gerald – 2012-11-20T00:56:43.820

@ThoseLegs - Parents of the father can lead to census records (with ages), siblings and other information that could help Gerald track down him and his family. – lkessler – 2012-11-20T00:59:51.380

None of her cousins have ever met their grandfather, the sisters have not seen him since the separation and none have any photos or recollection of him. – Gerald – 2012-11-20T06:49:22.150


An additional avenue for investigation may be "who took the photograph?" Does it appear to be a posed studio portrait or a snapshot?

There were fashions in how amateur snapshots were printed that may help you to narrow down the time period. Compare these two for the width of the white border and the presence (or absence) of a deckle edge.

Two 1950s photographs

Other relevant features might include whether the surface is gloss or matte (or even textured in the 1970s); the presence of perforations on two edges only (machine-printed in strips); or even the size of the print (sometimes an indication of relative prosperity).

Although there may be nothing written ON the back of the photo, look closely IN the paper. Many manufacturers of photographic paper incorporated a watermark in their products. That may also help you to identify a probable time for the creation of the image.


Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 13 238

what time periods are your samples from? – Rusty Erpenbeck – 2012-11-01T22:41:22.963

@RustyErpenbeck I just realised that when I enter a description (Two 1950s photographs) for an image, it is visible only in Edit. Not awfully useful! The narrow border deckle edge is from circa 1956 (based on my stylish clothes) and the plainer version is probably 5 years later. – Fortiter – 2012-11-02T00:49:12.920


Eyeballing the age of the man in the photo I'd say he's between 20-35 years old. If he was born in 1930 that puts the range of the photo between 1950-1965.

The composition of the photo is interesting. Given his relaxed posture, his smile, him looking down at the camera, and the tilted angle of the photo itself leads me to think his picture is being taken by a child or a girlfriend in a very lighthearted moment. I'm not sure if any of that helps close the gap of when the photo was taken, but if it was your wife's mother (his girlfriend at the time) who took the photo, the year they met to the year they got married would be a bounds to the photo's age (otherwise he'd be wearing a wedding band). The fact he has no wedding band would suggest to me he's on the earlier side of the above range, maybe mid-to-late 20s in age.

The fact that this is a black and white picture could narrow the date the photo was taken, assuming you can accurately figure out when consumer color photography was becoming more commonplace in Australia.

Assuming she is still living, what details does your wife's mother know about the photo?


Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 4 906

My wife's mother died some years ago. The photo(s) were found while cleaning out her belongings. – Gerald – 2012-11-21T12:22:03.320


Not being a fashion person, but looking at his face, I estimate he is in his twenties, so that would make the photo the fifties.

Those Legs

Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 680


Judging by the hair style, jacket and cut of the shirt I would hazard a guess at mid to late 50's.

The fact that you say it is sepia in colour and that it looks like it would crack if bent would seem to back that up as by the early 60's photographic paper was becoming more robust.

In terms of archiving the photographs (which I know you didn't ask about) I would highly recommend getting a high resolution scan of the images and having them restored. Most of the time, you find that much more information is in the image that you previously thought and your wife could have a bigger version on show.


Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 1 372


His hair looks like late 1950s/early 1960s, and his collar and sandals seem more late 1960s, at least by USA fashions. Was the photo taken in Australia?

Rusty Erpenbeck

Posted 2012-10-31T19:45:38.893

Reputation: 3 576

My wife assumes it was taken in Queensland Australia. It was possibly around Brisbane or Townsville, as they are the only areas she knows he lived until older. – Gerald – 2012-11-20T00:34:28.523

6Looking at the stumps on the house, the height would indicate around Brisbane rather than Townsville. If that is the case, you could exclude the time spent in Townsville. – Those Legs – 2012-11-21T12:26:30.550