Lucy Worsley's Royal Photo Album


A Victorian Photo Session

Ever wonder why Victorians always look so still and rigid in their photos? Staying completely still for 20 seconds, while relying on headstones and columns for stability, made portrait photography a challenge in the 1850s. Watch Lucy Worsley take on the tough task.

AIRED: August 16, 2020 | 0:01:38

(string strumming)

- [Narrator] What is it that Victorian's

in their photographs look so rigid?

- Well exposure times of this process varies

around twenty seconds or so.

- So you have to be utterly stiff

for twenty, thirty seconds?

If I move it spoils the picture?

- Well, yes, people would have head stunts

to hold them in place.

But until they would columns and pillars

to help to stay stable.

- You've just got to be as still as possible.

- Indeed, exactly.

- It's a good challenge.

(airy music)

(dial clicking)

- [Narrator] Fortunately,

I've been spared the head clamp.

(airy music)

(slide scraping)

- I'm going to take your picture

in three, two, one and...

- [Narrator] In the 1850's photography was

a past-time for the wealthy.

Victorian Albert actually had

their own dark room in Winsor Castle.

- Done.

(slide scraping)

You can breathe.

- Phew!

(water trickling)

- [Narrator] With a few more chemicals...

an image forms on the glass negative.

And voila, the Duchess of Worsley.

Magic, look! - Yeah, It's a very beautiful

process to watch. - I'm emerging!

- Yeah.

- Oh, I don't look very happy do I?


And I know that I wasn't feeling grim,

it's just that I look like I am.

And that gives me a new insight into Queen Victoria.

Perhaps she was giggling inside?