Tips On Dating Old Photographs

The date a photo was taken can help you understand its important historical context, but not all photos have time and date stamps. If you have such a photo, don’t worry – there are ways to figure out the time period it’s from.

In most cases, you can learn a lot about the photo without a professional photo service. But if the picture is ripped or damaged, it can be that much more difficult to pinpoint a date. Fortunately, repairing old photos can clarify details that could help you determine their age.

But if you’re working with an intact photo or just want a few tips before you start, here’s how you can date a photograph yourself.

Look For Any Notes Left By Family Members

This might seem obvious, but the first thing to do is look for any helpful notes any family member might have left behind. Sometimes they are written in the margins of the photo or on the back.

Older generations may have listed clues on an index card or frame. Keep an eye out for names, dates, or even the photography company – these can help date antique photos.

Look At What They’re Wearing

Another good way to tell the date the photo was taken is to examine the clothing you see in the photo. This method will take a little more research, as you’ll need to look up what trends were popular and when.

Chances are you should be able to get a good idea of the time period from the fashion. However, if the photo you are trying to date is a portrait, your references are more limited. Makeup styles and hair can give you a good idea if the images feature female family members, but it can be harder to date men’s portraits as their styles changed less drastically from decade to decade.

Check Out The Background For Clues

If there aren’t any good fashion markers, check the background for clues. Is there a car present that can help you date the photo? Or a building that might no longer be around? The environment of the photo can be just as telling as what the people in the photo are wearing.

Coloured vs Black-And-White

Black-and-white and sepia-toned photos can be from any era, as these methods of photography have been around since the late 1800s and continue to be popular even today. But if you have a colored photo, that can help you narrow the window down a little more.

If the photo is colored then it’s likely from the 1950s onwards. Color photos have been around for as long as photography has been around, but they were not popular among amateur photographers until this decade.

Ask Relatives

Take the photo to your other relatives and see if they recognize anyone in the photo.  Not only will you get a good idea of who is in the photo and when the photo is from, but you could also get some great stories about the people who are in the photo.

What About Antique Photos?

It’s not just the content of the photo that can give you a clue on its date – the type of photograph also says a lot about its age:

  • Daguerreotypes are the oldest type of popular photography, dating back as far as 1839. Daguerreotypes are very delicate and come in cases made of silk or velvet. They can have a distinct tarnish around the edges and can sometimes look like a photo negative, depending on the angle at which you view them.
  • Ambrotypes were introduced in the 1840s, replacing the Daguerreotype. Many people mistake them for daguerreotypes, but they always appear as a positive image no matter how you angle them.
  • Tintypes were popularized in the 1860s and 1870s. Tintypes are made with a very thin sheet of iron and tend to be dark with poor picture quality.

If you have an antique photo lying around and you have no other clues on how old it could be, it’s time to go to an expert. They can determine which type it is and narrow down the window of when it was taken.


There are many ways to date a photograph – follow the above steps and you’ll learn much more about the pictures you’ve been keeping around. You might even find a forgotten family heirloom or a valuable Daguerreotype!

Don’t worry about running out of clues. If you don’t end up with an exact date, you can always bring your discovery to an expert. Have fun sleuthing!

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