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Smiling in Photographs


Have you ever looked at old photographs and wondered why people never used to smile when getting their picture taken? I have wondered this for years, but after doing a little research, I’ve come up with a few good reasons why our ancestors seem like such serious people.

  • Exposure time. Cameras have come a long way over the years. In 1839 it took approximately 15 minutes for a photograph to expose. Can you imagine how hard it would be to hold still for that long and not get a blurry picture? Improved technology cut down on exposure times significantly post-1839, but it still took at least 15 to 20 seconds to take a picture in the black and white era of photography. Photographers asked their subjects to hold still and not use any facial expressions that were hard to maintain for that long.
  • A Formal Event. In the 1800s getting your picture taken was a pretty costly and rare event. As a result, when those who could afford to get their picture taken did so, they treated the event with seriousness.  People thought a smile made them look goofy and ridiculous. A smile was something that immortalized a person, and they certainly didn’t want to go down in history looking like a fool. If you were only going to get your picture taken a couple times in your whole life, you’d probably avoid that awful kissy face as well.
  • Poor Dental Health. Dental care is a completely different animal today than it was 100 years ago. We now understand what causes cavities and have so many cosmetic procedures available to save and repair teeth. Back in the day, however, if you had a bad tooth, the only treatment really available was extraction. As a result, people held onto their chipped, broken, or rotten teeth for as long as possible until they had to be pulled out of necessity. Many people were reluctant to smile in photographs to avoid the embarrassment of showing their toothless, rotten smiles.

Old Picture No Smiling

When did all this start to change? It’s a little ambiguous, but somewhere in the early 1900s more smiles started to show up in photographs. The reason for this is best explained as combined improvement in photography technology, changing cultural norms, and advances in dentistry. Essentially picture taking became more instantaneous, it became less of a special and defining event for someone’s life, and dentists were able to repair teeth and make people’s smiles look much better.

Do you have anything that is keeping you from smiling in photos? We are all extremely lucky and blessed to live in a time when anyone can achieve a beautiful smile. If you have broken, chipped, or misaligned teeth that keep you from smiling big when someone points a camera at you, we’d love to help. Give our Orem dental office a call today. Some cases might require a little more extensive work involving crowns, veneers, or orthodontic treatment, but you’d be surprised to see what a difference something as simple as a little teeth whitening can make for most people. Additionally, it has been well proven that our smiles can be very much linked to our confidence levels. Don’t delay one more day; we can help you improve your life greatly just by making your smile a little more attractive!

-Nicolas K. Young, DMD

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