I hope to learn how to determine (approximately) when a picture was taken and/or developed.

I have a few boxes of photos to be scanned but prior to doing so I would like to be able to have a better idea of the date — or at least year — they were taken, and then scan and take note.

The vast majority were taken in the early to late 90s. Prior to affordable point and shoot digital cameras, developers began to compete with the local Kodak developer via mail-away service. Then came the local drug store offering CD with hard copy prints. However, most of the pictures do not have any clear id for dates on the back of the photos. A few are completely empty of any info ... so that's out (unless there is info on the negatives I can look to) but most have some imprint of their own code: a combination of numbers, symbols, and letters but nothing I have been able to figure out from my own memory of when they were taken. I have asked the local shops, but those who work there have no history of pre-digital cameras.

If I recall correctly even the pre–mail-service developers printed the develop date, not actually when the photo was taken — and that is fine. I just need to flesh out a few years on some of these ... e.g. was that summer of 95, 96, 97?


2 Answers 2


I found the answer after viewing another site from a link posted here concerning archiving negatives. In sum, unless the lab added the date (which some did) there is no way to determine the date from the code on back of the photo. The code is used by and for the lab (developers) and relates to paper, color correction, etc., technical information that may be of value to those who shoot film and want to know more about might find this link helpful. http://photo.net/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0002dz

Additionally - I noticed the tag forensics was added here and find that appropriate, as a few others have asked the same question. My interest in knowing is purely for my ease of recall so I will just sit quietly and reflect back and guess as I do have a good memory. However, for those who may need to pinpoint the time / dates - there is another link related to the post above which discusses more in detail where to look on negatives or film if forensics discovery is needed.

Hope this helps someone else as I have searched on and off for a few years with no luck. I found your site today (directed from another topic) and look forward to returning.,

Thanks Jand

  • \$\begingroup\$ unfortunately that link is now broken \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 6:03

If you really want to get hard core, read the books on photo interpretation. I've got two by Dino Brugioni, who was part of the team that analyzed the Russian missles in Cuba during the cold war Cuban Missle crisis.

They would look at the length of shaddows to calculate sun location, or if they had the sun location, use the shaddows to calculate height and other distances.

For things like vacation photos of family, you can sometimes see background things such as cars that can help dating. You can some times use clothing styles, but that usually is only accurate to decades or so, not specific years like you want.


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