Victorian photos

Cowboys in the studio

Cowboys in the studio

During the old west era, photography was a popular way to capture a moment, but the process of taking a photograph was slow and deliberate. It is because exposures were so long that you seldom see anyone smiling. Holding that smile started to hurt after a while, and as you dropped your smile, in all likelihood you moved your head too, meaning that your face would show up in the photo as out of focus.

The process of making a photo required that light exposed silver, changing the ions and leaving a latent image. After using chemicals, the silver was washed away leaving the image on a glass negative. The amount of light required was significant, so the majority of photographs were taken inside of studios in controlled environments where the photographer could get as much light into the room at once as possible. That meant that a person who wanted a photograph brought everything into the studio to try and recreate their likeness as they usually were. This was great for the real cowboy, but what about the want-to-be cowboy? Photographers back then, just like the “old-tyme” photo studios of today had props to meet the needs of their patrons. Many studio cowboy photos were staged, using props that the photographer had on hand to make the photo.

That makes it hard for the old photo collector to purchase a “genuine” cabinet card without knowing the person who is actually in the photo to determins if they were a real cowboy. There are signs of authenticity, but you really need to be an expert to know what to look for.

You can recreate the old time photo look with various apps or photo manipulation software.  There are some key things to remember though if you want them to look “authentic”.  Remember these tricks.

1. Don’t smile
2. Have the photographer take a long exposure. A sudden hand movement will add blurriness which will add authenticity
3. Try not to look directly at the camera. have a slightly “off in the distance” glare. If you have more than one person in the photo, be looking in slightly different directions
4. Wear old fashioned clothes, it’s more fun that way!



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