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Digital Initiatives: Dating Photographs

Digital Initiatives department at the North Dakota State Library

Dating Photographs

Dating Photographs

No, we are not taking our photographs out for dinner and a movie. These resources are intended to help determine the date (as in the year) of photographs. Consult the information, handout, and resources on this page to learn more about determining the time frame of photographs.

It is important to have as metadata, or information (like the who, what, when, and where), on a photograph as possible. The more complete an item is, the more valuable it is. Even a date range or an approximation (like “between 1925 and 1935” or “late 1940s”) is better than nothing.

If a date is known, use a pencil to carefully and legibly write the date (and any other pertinent information) on the back of the photograph. Then future generations will not have to guess as to when the image was taken or who was in the photograph. More preservation tips are available on this handout.

If a date is not known, there are a couple different methods to help narrow things down. Closely examine these four categories:

  • Format
    • Different photographic processes and formats were used during different time periods.
    • Identifying the format and/or process can help provide a date range.
  • Details
    • Pay close attention to any items in the photograph.
    • Be on the lookout for things like props, cars, signs, buildings, etc., as these can help determine a date.
  • Photographer/ studio
    • Check the bottom or the back of the photograph for any information on the photographer or studio.
    • If a name is provided, research it and see if you can determine how long this person or studio was in business.
  • People
    • Examine the people in the photograph and look closely at hairstyles, clothing, and ages.
    • Clothing and hairstyles changed frequently over the years.
    • If you know the person in the photograph, ask yourself: How old does he/she look? Compare that to known dates (like birth, death, marriage, etc.).
Resources for Dating Photographs

Below is a list of resources that can be utilized to help determine the date (or time frame) of a photograph. The resources are organized into 4 categories:

  • Format
  • Details
  • Photographer/ studio
  • People


Resources for determining the date of photographs based on its format.


Resources for determining the date of photographs based on the details in the photograph (such as props, cars, signs, buildings, etc.).

Photographer/ Studio

Resources for determining the date of photographs based on its photographer or studio.


Resources for determining the date of photographs based on the people in the photograph (such as hairstyles, clothing, and ages).

IMLS logo

Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.