How can I get the original date of a photo?

Determining when a digital photo was originally taken can be important for a variety of reasons. The date helps provide context, verifies when an event occurred, and assists with organizing large collections of images. Luckily there are a few straightforward methods to find the original date of a photo.

Check Image Metadata

The easiest way to find the original date is to look at the metadata embedded in the image file. When a photo is taken on a digital camera or smartphone, the date and time are normally saved as metadata along with other information like camera settings.

Here’s how to view metadata:

On Windows

– Right click the image file, select Properties, and go to the Details tab. Look for Date taken or Date created.

On Mac

– Select the image, press Command+I, and look for Date created in the More Info section. You may need to click the disclosure triangle to expand it.

On iPhone & iPad

– Open the Photos app, select the image, tap the (i) icon in the upper right, and check Date.

On Android

– Open the Google Photos app, select the image, tap the (i) icon, and look for Date.

Metadata should provide the original date the photo was taken. However, it won’t be present if the image file is stripped of metadata or Shot on film and digitized.

Examine File Creation Date

If metadata is missing, the file creation date can provide a clue about when the photo originated. This date may reflect:

– When the photo was first saved or exported from the camera
– When the digital file was generated by scanning a film photo
– When the image was downloaded from online or transferred to your device

So it provides an approximate time range for when the photo could have been taken.

Here’s how to find the file creation date:

On Windows

– Right click the file, select Properties, and look for Date created.

On Mac

– Select the file, press Command+I, and check Date created.

On Android and iPhone

– Install a file manager app to view file details. Popular options include Files by Google, Astro File Manager, File Explorer, and Documents by Readdle. Open the app, navigate to the image, and look for its creation date.

The file creation date offers useful context if metadata is missing, but only pinpoints when the digital file was made, not necessarily when the photo was taken.

Verify Using Photo Location

If a photo contains location data, you can cross-reference its place and time period to help confirm when it was taken. Here’s how:

Check Location Metadata

Many digital cameras and smartphones embed GPS coordinates in the metadata, showing exactly where the photo was captured. View the metadata details and look for location information.

Do a Reverse Image Search

If no location metadata is present, try a reverse image search on Google Images or TinEye. This looks for online copies of the same photo that may include place and date information.

Identify Landmarks

Carefully examine what’s shown in the photo itself. Recognizable landmarks, buildings, signs, or geographical features can provide clues about the location. This gives context about when the photo was feasibly taken.

If you can pin down where the image was shot, cross-reference historical information about the area to estimate a time period. This verification technique requires more sleuthing but can help narrow down the original date.

Enlist Genealogy Resources

For very old family photos with no metadata, genealogy resources can provide assistance. Here are some options:

Search Family Records

Look through any family documents, letters, journals, or archives that may reference the photo. These can potentially include dates taken.

Talk to Relatives

Reach out to grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, or older family members who may recognize old ancestral photos and remember when they were taken.

Post in Genealogy Forums

Share the photo in genealogy forums or groups on sites like and Reddit. Other members may recognize people or settings and provide time period context.

Consult Genealogists

For photos with very little information, professional genealogists have expertise dating old family photos through forensics, research, and historical knowledge.

Using genealogy resources takes more time and effort but can successfully date mysterious old family photos when no other information is available.

Analyze Physical Attributes

The physical attributes of both prints and film negatives can also provide clues about the original date:

Print Format

The size, design, and construction of the print can indicate the time period when it was likely produced. This includes gauge, base material, coating, etc.

Print Condition

Analyzing the print’s fading, discoloration, and other signs of aging can help broadly estimate when it was printed.

Film Format

Recognizing technical aspects like film size, shape, and emulsion can help date both negatives and prints.

Lab Marks

Any stamps, markings, or labels from photo labs on prints or envelopes can identify when the photo was processed and printed.

Studying physical photo attributes provides approximate time ranges and works best alongside other dating techniques. Taking the print or negative to photography experts can also help reveal useful date clues.

Search Online Records

If the photo has people, doing some research online can turn up useful date information:

Scan Faces

Use facial recognition from Google Photos or another app to scan faces in the image and potentially match to identities.

Search Social Media

Do social media searches on sites like Facebook to try finding the photo or people in it. Check their profiles for possible date context.

Search News Archives

Look through online newspaper and media archives for any matching photos that may have publication dates.

Search Genealogy Databases

Check genealogy databases like for dated records, documents, or family trees relevant to the photo subjects.

Online record searches can provide precise or approximate dates for vintage photos containing identifiable people. Useful context may also appear through social media connections.

Use Date-Related Objects

Examining the items, technology, and other objects shown in a photo can indicate a time period when it was taken. Some examples:


Hairstyles, jewelry, accessories and clothing evolve over time. Recognizable fashion can pinpoint general decades or styles.


Cars, trucks and other vehicles have distinguishing designs unique to different eras that can identify timeframe.


Building styles and interior decor also change over the decades and contain visual clues about when a photo was shot.


Dated objects like early computers, telephones, TVs, cameras can all provide general time period context.

With some analysis skills, the visible contents of a photo can independently estimate when it was likely taken. Just match objects to their timeframe.

Final Verification Steps

After using any of these photo dating techniques, take a few final steps to verify accuracy:

– Cross-check dates from multiple sources to confirm consistency.

– Have someone knowledgeable independently analyze evidence and derive date.

– Note any potential uncertainty or date ranges rather than absolutes.

– Re-evaluate if new contradicting context emerges.

Getting the original date of digital or print photos is part detective work, part research skills. But combining metadata, online records, visual analysis and genealogy resources can successfully determine or estimate when historical images were captured.


Finding the original date a photo was taken provides invaluable context and verifies the genuine history of an image. Though digital metadata usually supplies the date directly, photos predating digital cameras require some deeper investigation techniques. Analyzing physical attributes, recognizing scene contents, leveraging genealogy resources, and searching online records can all help approximte the time period a vintage photo was shot. The date often requires piecing together several subtle clues. But with clever detective work and the right research strategies, unveiling the original day a meaningful photo was captured is an often rewarding pursuit.