Old Time Photos: Choosing a Portrait Studio or a Family Photographer

Throughout the years I loved the old-time photo studios where I got to dress in Civil War, pioneer, or Roaring Twenties garb, sit on period furnishings with the appropriate backdrops, and smile for the camera.

How about a cowboys and Southern ladies theme:

These pictures were taken in sepia-tone (the antique “yellowish” tone that old 19th century photos have). As I got older and started to have myself photographed in all kinds of historical outfits I put together, I started to wonder which is better, going to an old-time photo studio or having the photographer in the family take photos in a professional-looking setting wherever I chose.

Here are the pros and cons of old-time photo shoots, in a studio and on your own:

Getting a professional portrait done in a studio with the historical clothing they provide:

The Pros:

(1) Can’t afford reproduction clothing or actual historical clothing? A Photo studio offers the chance to dress up and wear these beautiful garments for a professional photo. The two studios I experienced were Flashback Old Time Photos in Ocean City, Maryland, and Servant’s Old Tyme Photos in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

(2) The backdrops at the studios are very nice and professionally done. They might include Victorian furniture, settings from the 1920s, etc. It depends on which studio you choose.

(3) It’s sometimes possible to choose your own accessories at old-time photo studios, such as gloves, hats, bags, and shawls. Hoop skirts are a real adventure!

The Cons:

(1) At one of the photo studios my family patronized, I had to pick a frame right there for the photo. Granted, there was a very nice selection of old-fashioned photo frames from rustic to classic, but the cost of the frame is figured into the final cost, making it illogical to go and buy your own. This eliminates choice.

(2) Usually, professional studios tell people how to pose for photos. If you’re asked not to smile and do it anyway, they’ll keep gently prodding until you make the customary pose.

(3) These clothes can be very fancy, especially if they’re from the Victorian era, and before, during and after the photo there’s always the worry (especially for children) that something will be torn, stained, or lost before the photo shoot is over.

(4) If other families are waiting for their photo shoot to be done, it can take awhile, especially if they’re getting one of those cute family portraits where the Dad is dressed in Civil War duds, the Mom is wearing a hoop skirt, and the kids are posed just so in 19th century garb. Being patient is a must.

(5) Photo studios can be very expensive.

Choosing a family photographer to make your *own* ‘professional’ historical-clothing portraits:

The Pros:

(1) Posing is much more relaxed. In my case, my father loves taking the photos in the family and is happy to help me organize any photo shoots in my historical garb. A graphics program can be used to tint the photo ‘sepia-tone’ and make it more realistic.

(2) You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get your portrait done at a photo studio.

(3) You can choose your own photo setting; when I owned a Civil War-era dress, I was able to pose with a cannon and at different sights along a Civil War battlefield. This was much more exciting than a studio backdrop!

The Cons:

(1) If you’re going for authenticity, most people don’t own *real* old cameras from the 1800s and early 1900s and many photo studios do.

(2) It’s much easier to get historical clothing dirty while being out and about than it would be if you just wear a ‘loaned’ outfit at a studio for half an hour.

Whichever option you choose, taking classy “old time” photos in period clothing is a lot of fun for everyone!

If you’re leaning on the professional photo op, contact us!

Cover Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

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