There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.

ANSEL ADAMS (1902-84)


Sitting Still

In early photographs, subjects had to sit still because of long exposure times, and babies had to be held. If you wanted a photo which only showed the baby, one technique was for the mother to disguise herself as a chair or other part of the scenery. Collectors call these ‘Hidden Mother’ photos. The results appear ridiculous to our eye, but the photos were meant to be displayed in a frame which highlighted the baby, so the trick wasn’t quite so obvious.
Early photographic studios were equipped with support stands which helped adult subjects to hold poses in place. Another technique for keeping your subject still was to photograph a corpse dressed as in life, and pretend he was asleep; this was done quite often, when someone died and the family realised they didn’t have a photo.
Although we tend to assume that the solemn demeanour normally assumed by adults in 19th century photos was also because of long exposure times, this is actually a bit of a myth. Exposure times dropped very quickly in the early days of photography: in 1839 the first daguerrotypes needed 15-30 minutes, but within two years exposures were down to 20-90 seconds, and by 1842 a 10-second exposure was achievable. People were solemn not because they’d been waiting a long time but because having your photo taken was a solemn business.

A Victorian photographer would ask you to say ‘prunes’ to make you look more serious. If a photographer tells you to say ‘prunes’ today, he wants you to pout.

DIANE ARBUS (1923-71)

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.

'Photograph' is Greek for ‘writing with light’.

Polaroid Pictures

OutKast’s 2003 song ‘Hey Ya!’ popularised the phrase ‘Shake it like a Polaroid picture’. Despite the fact that this is bad advice, the Polaroid Corporation used the song in an attempt to revitalise sales.
According to official company guidelines, you specifically should not shake a Polaroid picture. Polaroid film develops behind a clear plastic window. The image never touches air, so shaking or waving has no effect on its dryness but can damage the image. Rapid movement during development can cause the layers of chemicals to separate, causing 'blobs' in the picture.
Polaroid was founded by Edwin H. Land in 1937. It produced cheap polarising filters for sunglasses - hence the company name. The Polaroid camera was launched in 1948. In the next 50 years, the company sold millions of cameras and a billion rolls of instant film. The camera was its flagship product until 2008, when production ceased. Polaroid also developed an instant movie system, Polavision. Unfortunately, it launched in 1977, just as videotape was catching on - and was a financial disaster.

There are 140 billion photographs on Facebook, over 10,000 times as many as in the US Library of Congress.

Photos of the Eiffel Tower are only copyrighted if taken at night (while the Tower is illuminated).

RONALD REAGAN (1911-2004)

I like photographers, you don’t ask questions.

Say Cheese

The equivalents of ‘saying cheese’ for a photographer in other countries include:
 Serbian: Little bird (iticheetza), German: Ant-shit (ant Scheiße) Korean: Kimchi
, French: Marmoset (oustiti, pr. wee-stee-tee), Argentina (and other Latin countries): Whisky, Denmark: Orange (appelsin)
 and Bulgarian: Cabbage (zele).

What many of them have in common is the ‘ee’ sound, of course – kimchee, whiskee, weesteetee, cheese, etc. Sadly, QI’s network of international correspondents reports that many of these local words are dying out, increasingly replaced by the English word ‘cheese’ or simply ‘smile!’ – American / Hollywood cultural hegemony in action, we suppose.


For a short period after the war, Hitler's brother Alois made money selling signed photographs of Adolf to tourists.

Lost wallets which have a photo of a baby on show inside are more likely to be returned to their owners.

In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries declared 'selfie' as their International Word of the Year.