Antique Portrait Techniques?

Discussion in 'Antiques and Collecting' started by nyoung, Mar 21, 2012.

  1. nyoung

    nyoung Subscriber

    Dec 10, 2006
    Medium Format
    I'm looking at two portraits of the same man dating from the mid-to-late 1870s.
    They differ in that the subject is obviously younger in one.
    They are alike in that they're 16x20 and it appears that he is wearing the same clothes in both - except in one the coat buttons are black and white in the other.
    Have been told that portrait photographers of the period would "draw" the clothing for their subjects - thus explaining the apparent sameness in the clothing.
    Does anyone know for sure if that was a common technique?
    Is there a good reference book on early portrait techniques?
  2. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

    Mar 13, 2007
    Multi Format
    I have an old photograph from maybe 1880 or so of my great grandfather. It is a full length portrait. After the photo was taken someone had an enlargement made of his head and shoulders (also very old). It is possible to see in this enlargement that there was a LOT of retouching work done either on the negative or on the original print. I think one of the reasons was that with an emulsion of 'ordinary' sensitivity and probably not much latitude, things tenses to get lost in the shadows or highlights. The exposure seems to have been optimised for his face. He was wearing a shirt and tie that, regardless of what colours they were, seem to have come out as very similar shades of very pale grey. Consequently, there has been pencil work to try and make his tie stand out. Also - his coat is very dark, as is the background. There is a bit more pencil work to stop him disappearing into the shadows. It isn't so noticeable in the original print - but looks quite crude in the enlargement.
  3. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

    Jun 21, 2003
    Multi Format
    aside from retouching as you mention, photographers often did "combination printing"
    where they would mate 2 ( or more? ) negatives together to make a print.
    they often did this with scenes that had a sky. an example of his was in the movie
    "photographing fairies" ... the photographer would ask a family to bring an old photo with them
    to his studio, and he would mate it with their dead son's photograph ( died in the war ) to give them one last
    photograph of their "living son" ...
    it doesn't seem too far of a stretch to imagine photographers exposing for clothes in one exposure and then the portrait for the second exposures
    and mating them in the darkroom. if they were still doing wet plate work they could easily peel the celluloid image, place it ontop
    of the other, and make a contact print with the 2 negatives. this could be done with 2 prints too, the same way
    we we would cut and paste elements from one photograph to another, rephotograph it, with pencil work to mask combination
    (this was the technique used in the movie i mentioned ).