Is it possible to determine whether a photograph was taken in the last years of the nineteenth century or the first few years of the twentieth century? Dating a photograph requires you to use your best genealogical research techniques, but it can be done.
You need to research every photographic clue and follow the leads to uncover the truth that is usually hidden in the elements of the photograph. Photographs offer many clues about ancestral lives, if you know what to look for. Then, using a magnifying glass, sweep across the image making notes of any details.
There are also websites that collect details of photographers. Again, look online for different sleeve shapes through the ages and try to find ones that match those in the photograph. For the 20th century, dress length can be quite revealing.
Always judge by the younger women in the photograph if possible.
Studio furniture and chairs look as if from a fine country house.
1890s Women wore tailor-made suits and plain with little ornamentation (brooch at the neck), hair in a bun with no fringes.
Internal details are the little things that we take for granted in most pictures -- the objects in the image.
1860s If you look at the image of the standing person in the photo (or lady sitting on a chair) and you can see both head and feet with a carpet some old furniture and studio props such as a curtain, the man may have a jacket buttoned only at the top and the woman has a down to the ground wide dress and her ears cannot be seen for the hair covering it and the back of the card has a simple print for the photographers name and the cardboard feels a bit thin - it is from the first half of the 1860s. Men wore lounge suits with matching waistcoats by the middle of the decade.
1870s If the portrait is a half or three-quarter (no feet) the ladies hair is less severe, with perhaps a curl, and perhaps much jewellery and perhaps sitting down in a more casual way, clothes trimmed with lace or tassles.
Boxes of old photographs can sometimes come down the family with no indication of who the sitters are.
With a date, you can narrow the field of possible suspects and even, sometimes put a name to a face as it stares back at you from the past: Look at the format.