Research is always one of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction. When I read an advertisement in a 1900 London newspaper for a photographer who will come to your wedding or garden parties, I thought, perfect! In A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder, Frances and George are finally getting married. Photography wasn’t exactly new by that time, and it was exciting to learn that it had evolved to the point that the photographer could come to you. Frances and George lead busy lives. They would never have wanted to sit for a portrait like their parents might have done. A photographer who would come to the reception and take twenty to thirty minutes of their time taking several posed photos would be perfect. But how exactly did it work in 1900?
Luckily, I found an expert to help me out. Dave Wilson of The Victorian Photography Studio in Gettysburg, PA actually works in the wet and dry plate photography that was available in the Victorian era. Wet plate photography had to be processed within minutes of exposure. But in the 1870s dry plate photography came along, which allowed photographers to go out and about, photographing nature, or events, or weddings because the dry plates could wait for processing. Back in their dark rooms, the photographers could make paper prints from the glass plates using sensitized paper and light and the customer would have his portrait.
Though sitting for a portrait no longer involved maintaining perfect stillness for several minutes, taking photos outside of a studio, meant the photographer had no control of the surroundings. Unintentional photo-bombing could result in a “ghost” in the background—a figure in motion that looked more like a blur.
Flash photography, though improved, was still fairly dangerous for both the photographer and the surroundings. Since Frances and George are having their reception indoors at her brother-in-law’s elegant London townhouse, they decided natural light was safer for all concerned. Frances and George are about to have enough trouble at their wedding reception. They don’t need a fire as well.
If you’re interested in historical photography, click on the link above for the Victorian Photography Studio for more information.