Those beautifully vivid 19th century photos–the imagery so sharp you feel as if you can touch the fabric, the buttons, the hair–required people to remain really still for several seconds. The slightest movement would soften the image.
Studios stocked props, literally, to steady their subjects. Outside the studio, photographers enlisted anything from tent poles, as in a portrait of Grant, to trees, as in the photo of the pensive officers.
The dismal, corpse-littered aftermath of battle was all the photographers had to take: men fighting just won’t stop and pose. Children and animals are much the same.
Okay, we knew all that. But it took me a while to put that fact to work solving something I’d wondered about: why are people in old group photos often touching each other? Answer: To steady themselves for the sharpest picture possible.
The long exposures can make streetscapes in photos look deserted. Animals and people in motion are “erased.” Sometimes, though, you can spot their ghosts. See the “ghost” men on the corner, facing the two men on horses?