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Early photos were the Daguerreotype, the Ambrotype, the Carte de Visite, Cabinet photos, and postcards. The Daguerreotype from used a metal plate, producing a reversed and positive image.


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In Capturing Naturewe travel back to a time when photography was revolutionising science, art and society. Sitting at the nexus of science and art, they tell both the story of pioneering research as well as the advent of photography in the young colony less than 20 years after the birth of photography in Europe.

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Your amazing contributions to the Moments in Time photo series have really blown us away here Archives Outside. In fact, it became our most successful series on the blog after just the second post! Many images in our collection have come to us with only the barest of details attached. A close rival in popularity to the photo posts is Useful Tips for Reading Handwritten Documents which became a long list of tips and tricks generated by comments from you and from State Records staff.

It got us thinking…. For instance, do you date photos from: the clothing people are wearing; the cars you see; the progress of building construction; the appearance of telegraph poles; an historic event…or something unusual? Any railway or tramway related photo with rolling stock in it can often be dated by reference to the date the rolling stock went into service. These dates are relatively easy to establish especially with locomotives and in many cases with wagons and passenger cars.

With a bit more research dates of station openings or changes of infrastructure such as als or track layout can be determined and used to date photos e.

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Sometimes the photos even have the dates written on them but constant republishing has hidden this or disassociated the image from the original with the date on dust storms at Broken Hill are a good example. Australian building architecture can often be categorised into different eras — Old ColonialVictorianFederationInter-WarPost-WarLate 20th Century present. Each era has a unique style which can assist in determining the history of a building and therefore, an estimate of a possible age of a photo.

For example, identifying eras where women started wearing pants instead of solely wearing dresses, or the different des of dresses can tell a lot.

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However, I find that basing a photo on clothing can be difficult in the subject area does not provide a good cross-section of individuals. Most Council Libraries have wonderful photo collections. Fashions and hairstyles. Keep them comming I love it. s on buildings, combined with research in a relevant directory are also a big help if you have access to them.

These tips are particularly helpful for scenes of city streets. Business names abound on street scenes, as well as the name of proprietors, and are great pointers. You can trace through directories when the business opened and if and when it closed. What a fantastic start!

How to date your old photos

And what a variety. Thank you for all these tips, our list is starting to expand already. I think it will be of great use to everyone here and to any newcomers interested in exploring old photographs in more depth. The rusty hulks have a Sarah Bernhardt connection, and possibly the photo is dated by the shipping lists in the Sydney Morning Herald. Almost too easy! And lastly, high resolution images. For example BobMeade and I got this photo down to the nearest minute! Thanks to lifeasdaddy and shaunahicks originally tweeted by FamilyStories. Who was the photographer of the image?.

Frank Hurley, for example, appears to be in the Sydney postcard game for about years prior to WW1 and during his time several sets of initials and marks are used on images.

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His images are distinctive due to excellent composition and professional reproduction. By contrast other photographers of the same period tended not to wash their bromides thoroughly and so their work is fading away. Technically imperfect. Details concerning the type of photographic paper used can also assist the dating process.

Kodak did not have a total monopoly. Thinking about the purpose or intent of the image helps and a bit of lateral thinking can do wonders! Why was the photo taken? A real challenge is to deal with the fact that the world changes a lot in years and, in the urban context, buildings disappear — indeed whole streets can become virtually unrecognisable.

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The northern end of Regent St Redfern is a classic Sydney example. Reference to old street maps can greatly assist here. In essence there are elements contained within the image which are traceable given the right set of records eg technologies, fashions, architecture, age etc and also elements that relate to the technical reproduction of the image.

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The pace of technical change has been rapid, especially in the 20th century. If the image was issued as a postcard then chances are other images of the same location will surface from rival photographic companies. Street scenes, public buildings, beaches, events and the harbour were repeatedly photographed thru time. Although the focus is to date a single image reference to other images of the same location or event can greatly assist a temporal placing. Mine are in no particular order.

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Barrie uses years of research to give addresses and dates of operation for many famous and obscure Australian photographers of the olden days. The information is generally not available online, and nor does Barrie grant permission for copying of his book within libraries.

If the commercial photographer who the photograph you have was only in business for a short time then this will narrow the date considerably. If you know the actual building in your photograph, perhaps you will find some information on the NSW heritage database.

By looking at various additions to the building, you may be able to narrow down a date range. For the identification of vintage cars, the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society has a of their successes and failures in photographic identification, and also provide a help service in this regard:.

This will only help if a copy of the photograph or negative is held in one of the major Australian collections and some minor ones and has been recorded with a date or year or an indication of the associated event. This technique can also be used on Flickr.

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Sometimes it is more difficult since Flickr is a worldwide photo sharing site but sometimes you can get lucky with the right search. Flickr also has many privately held old photographs ed which do not appear on Picture Australia. The last tip I have is to gain experience in getting a general idea of the date range a photograph may fall into by reading and looking at Australian pictorial history books. Our libraries all over the place have plenty, start checking them out, flipping through the photos and reading the captions, with particular attention to the date or period they were taken.

This background helps deciding where to start your quest for the date of the photograph you hold in your hand. I would like it if someone could suggest websites for helping with the railway side of dating photographs such as the rolling stock and dates of station openings and extensions mentioned above.

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A bumper list there, Bob, and excellent additions to our list! My strength is in identifying cars and trucks so I suggest the following tips. Obviously the overall body shape gives a clue to era, maybe manufacturer and model. If not then dateable try:. Is the bodywork an example of bespoke coachbuilding or mass produced — does it match any particular builders style of coachwork?

There is also one for Newcastle.

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Very good for dating urban images. For books out of print Ebay or the local library are another option. Using the NLA Newspaper search function is probably a good enough proxy for such information as matters stand. The subject area is vast in terms of both time and space, after all the NSW Railways have been turning wheels since Thanks for this extra information Robert, I will add it to the list.

These railway tips will certainly help to fill in the gap! Another useful way to date photographs is by the photographic process that was used — for example Albumen photographs had mostly stopped being used by the early s having been replaced by silver gelatine. Obviously some of these processes overlap, but they do give a starting point if no other clues are available.

As the other respondents have already noted fashion is an important method of dating photographs. This is a self-published book and is available for purchase on the internet.

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As one of the other respondents has noted the photographer can also give a clue to the date of production. Happy hunting! Great advice everyone. Thank you. Bob, I seem to recall when I worked in the Mitchell Library, there were very large albums of train photos. And a good tip about the albumen photos I was able to possibly identify some family members because of the cutoff date for those early photos.

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Alan Davies a long time ago helped me personally with a family group photo. Three of the young women in the photo were wearing a similar dress with black velvet bodice trim. He could nominate a date of, I think because it matched a similar dress in a carte de visite from the Freeman Collection.