A transformation from the first photo visual to a visual world. Development of the idea of photography from 400BCE to the 21st century. A brief history of when photography was invented to what it has developed.
In the 21st century, where technologies are evolving every minute of the day, cameras are one of the evolving things we come across every day. From having a portable camera obscura to capture our image, we have now transitioned towards a digital camera and the digital age.
This digital age now allows us to keep cameras 24×7 with us. The digital age has equipped us with cellphones that help us click pictures and share them with our friends and family on different media. It is estimated that an average person takes around 15 images every day.
This means that we take more images in a minute than those taken in 150 years of the 1st photograph in 1826. This act of taking images that now seem simple was not this simple couple of centuries back.
If we closely look at the timeline of the development of cameras over time, we will see that we have come a long way. From having an impoverished camera obscura to having a high-tech digital camera to capture images, development in the technology and science behind using a camera has evolved significantly.
Did you know, the early cameras took 5 to 30 minutes of exposure time to click an image? But now, as we progress, we can take images as fast as 1/8000th part of a second.
What took this long for an image to capture in the early cameras, what was the science used in them, what development have we come across.
Going ahead, we will reflect upon each of the mentioned questions and know how this optical device came into existence.
The Invention of Photography
People often consider that photography began in 1827 by Nicéphore Niépce when the first photograph was taken on the reel, but the idea dates long before that. Although the physical form of the camera took a long time to develop, the concept originated way before in the 4th century BCE in the history of photography.
It is often a debate whether the idea or the product should be given precedence in the history of photography.
1. Camera Obscura (From a Dark Room to A Brighter World)
The earliest camera known is “Camera Obscura,” initially used in the 4th century BCE. It was popularly known as the pinhole camera, which functioned without lenses.
The Camera Obscura, which meant a dark room, was used by scientists to study optics and understand the various natural phenomena such as solar eclipses without damaging their eyes.
The astronomers also used it to study astronomy, which later came into use by painters. Several artists used this simple technique of creating pinhole images to paint realistic landscapes easily.
1.1. How Did It Work?
This pinhole camera is a simple box with a tiny hole on one side of a lightproof box. This tiny hole forms the aperture and lets the object’s light fall on the opposite side of the box resulting in the formation of the inverted image of the object.
This outcome of obtaining an inverted image from a pinhole is the camera obscura effect. This pinhole image is a natural optical phenomenon that became the fundamental idea behind the camera.
1.2. How Was It Used?
Scientists and astronomers then used this pinhole image to study various natural phenomenons and artists to trace the realistic images of the landscape.
But this concept could only give them an inverted reflection of the object but not an image. When scientists took further interest in studying optics, they took the pinhole camera to the next level.
In the late 16th century, technical improvements made it possible to adjust the brightness and exposure of the image to get a more defined image.
2. Development Over Time
The static technology in the 17th century became portable. A portable camera obscura was developed. Initially, it was a huge tent-like setup which was later concise to a handheld box. This made the photography portable, yet it couldn’t fulfill the demand of getting an image in hand.
2.1. First Photograph
Until 1826, we could not have one of the first photographs taken by a camera. During the 18th century, scientists experimented with various light-sensitive materials that could help get a photo from the camera.
Several materials were studied, but the first material used to get a permanent photo was bitumen.
The first image by Nicéphore Niépce was a series of trial experiments that took an exposure of 8 hours to get the first permanent image. The image was taken in France, which was a view from the Window at Le Gras, presently the oldest surviving photo.
Its exposure of 8 hours can be visibly seen as the sunlight illumines both sides of the buildings. The photograph shows the shift of the sun from one point to another over the time of exposure.
2.2. First Photographer
This made Nicéphore Niépce the inventor of photography and the first photographer in the history of photography. This was a brief history of photography, after which the timeline of photography gained a rapid pace.
3. Struggle to Get a Permanent Photo
3.1. Photo-Sensitive Material
Since the first used material, bitumen took a long exposure time for one picture to be photographed, there was a further hunt for materials that could give more efficient results.
Niépce, while taking his work ahead, met Louis Daguerre, who was an artist in Paris. On finding that Louis Daguerre was also looking for ways to create permanent photos, Niépce partnered with Daguerre in 1829 to continue his experiments on light-sensitive materials.
Niépce died in 1833, after which the work to find a suitable photo-sensitive- material was taken ahead by Daguerre, which was soon achieved in 1839. In January 1829, Louis Daguerre announced a complete photographic process in the French Academy of Sciences. This photography process was named the daguerreotype process.
Initially, the process was kept reserved for a few, which soon came into the public domain after the patents in the same year were filed.
3.2. The Daguerreotype Process
The Daguerreotype process used Silver plated copper plates to obtain the images. It followed a long process to get a permanent photo which is mentioned as follows:-
- Silver-plated copper plates were cleaned and polished until a mirror-like surface was obtained.
- The plates were sensitized in Iodine until they looked yellow rose.
- It was then transferred to the camera.
- After being exposed to light, it was developed over hot mercury for the image to appear.
- To fix the image, the solution of Sodium thiosulphate toned with gold chloride was used to fix the image.
3.3. Pros and Cons
This photography process required intensive care. Even this method took an exposure time of about 3 to 15 minutes, which was again a challenge for capturing portraiture. In the same year, Robert Cornelius took the first self-portrait using the daguerreotypes technique.
Further modifications were made to the sensitization process and the photographic lenses as a basic technology. This development led to a significant reduction in the exposure times to only minutes while taking a photograph.
4. Capitalization on Photography
Other photographers began to capitalize on this new invention. The Daguerreotypists began to invite celebrities and political figures to their studios to attract people to this newly developed technology.
Photo galleries were displayed as a publicity stunt to popularize photography. It was anticipated that people would want to be photographed after viewing the photo galleries.
After being widely publicized, it gained sudden and massive popularity. This led to an increase in the number of photo studios, and by 1850, there were around 70 daguerreotype studios in New York alone.
This rise in the number of studios further increased the number of photographers in the city, but the daguerreotype photography process was short-lived.
In 1851, a new process was developed that led to the decrease in the popularity of daguerreotype photography. This process was known as “The Collodion Process,” developed by Frederick Scott Archer.
4.1. The Collodion Process
This process used different photo-sensitive materials and followed another procedure. Its process demanded photographic material to be coated, sensitized, exposed, and developed in a dark room.
- The use of glass plates prepared the collodion process.
- The glass plate was then coated with collodion and made light-sensitive with further chemicals in a dark room.
- These wet plates were then placed in the camera and exposed while they were wet.
- After getting clicked, the plate was again brought to a dark room to be developed.
- After this, the photo became ready for printing.
4.2. Pros and Cons
After the popularity of daguerreotype photography, the collodion process took the limelight as it made photography accessible. Its acceptance reached the European countries along with the Americans.
A dark room for creating wet plates and developing was a necessity for which portable darkrooms were used. Although this new technology of using wet plates for photography became a dominant process, it has drawbacks. Otherwise, the picture quality would get deteriorated.
Soon after, photography made its way into newspapers. This entry of photography into newspapers made photographs and photography a part of newly emerging modern society.
5. Rapid Shift in The Timeline of Camera
As mentioned earlier, the camera’s timeline moved at a fast pace after the introduction of daguerreotype photography.
After daguerreotype and collodion photography, Kodak brought a revolution in photography by introducing film rolls in the Cameras.
In 1888, George Eastman of New York received a patent for the first camera and launched his own company, becoming the manufacturer of Kodak cameras and reels.
The entry of Kodak played a significant role in the history of photography. Kodak led to the worldwide boom of photography and made photography accessible to the middle classes.
Just like daguerreotype studios, Kodak lab was established worldwide. After its establishment, up-gradation in camera technology became a new normal. Soon after the company’s release, 35 mm cameras were launched by Kodak in 1913.
In 1917, Nikon came into the market and shortly became a competitor of Kodak. Meanwhile, the work on color photography began. In 1935, Kodak succeeded in developing colored film for the Color photo.
5.3. Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Cameras
Initially, Nikon began its work on the Leica model but soon directed its focus to developing Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Cameras. Nikon introduced SLR Cameras in 1959, which remained a popular choice among professional photographers for 30 years.
5.4. Colored Photography
In 1970, colored photography began to dominate the industry. After the emergence of colored cameras and reels, black and white films gradually became obsolete.
5.5. Digital Camera
The development in cameras was so rapid that colored photography was soon overtaken by Digital cameras and digital photography in 1973. Kodak launched the first digital system camera.
The technology in digital cameras was developed so that it provided ease of use even to the unprofessional and learners.
It equipped professional photographers with advanced settings such as control over exposure, shutter speed, aperture. Digital cameras brought a whole new user experience and opened several features to explore.
5.6. Phone Camera
After capturing the market for around 35 years, digital cameras were surpassed by phone cameras to capture images.
With the bloom of Camera phones in 2009, Kodak declined in 2013, while Nikon, Canon, Sony became the major camera manufacturer of camera phone and are now bigger camera manufacturers in the market.
The phone cameras in the contemporary world provide an equivalent user experience that is at par with the latest digital cameras. The newest smartphone performs multiple functions especially when it comes to digital photo and offers superior camera features in everyday life.
Digital cameras are expensive, provide limited features, and perform fewer functions compared to phone cameras. On the other hand, phone cameras are now equipped with high resolution, telephoto lenses, LiDAR scanner for night portraits, adjustable aperture, ISO, and a lot more.
The installation of a memory card has also resolved the storage issue in the phone cameras. Today, a 35mm 400 colors negative film costs around Rs. 10,000, whereas one can have more than 1,500 replaceable images in an 8GB memory card, which costs less than Rs. 500. This has made photography more accessible, feasible, and explorable.
The timeline of the history of photography can be summed up as follows:-
- 1827 – 1st Photograph
- 1851 – Collodion Process popularized
- 1880 – Kodak Company Emerged
- 1913 – 35mm Camera Launched
- 1925 – Leica model developed
- 1935 – Color films introduced
- 1947 – Polaroid Images generated
- 1959 – Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Cameras
- 1963 – Instant black and white cameras came into the market
- 1970 – Color photography dominated the industry
- 1973 – Digital Photography emerged
- 2009 – Introduction of phone cameras
7. Did You Know?
The history of photography has several things to note such as:-
> Nicéphore Niépce took the first-ever image in 1827.
> Anna Atkins is the first female photographer. She documented more than 10,000 photos taken by her.
> William Thompson took the first underwater photograph in 1856.
> J.W. Black holds the record of taking the first aerial photograph on October 13, 1860. It was captured from a hot-air balloon at the height of 2,000 feet.
> The image of a “Tartan Ribbon,” taken in 1861, is labeled as the first durable color photograph. James Clerk Maxwell took it by photographing the tartan ribbon thrice with red, blue, and yellow filters. It was later recombined to get the result of a colored image.
8. Photography and Future
Development in photography has already come a long way and yet holds massive potential to be explored. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI), things are changing rapidly and focusing on providing better quality and user experience.
Photography might also hold innovation by the inclusion of AI.
As we discussed the developments in Photography, we must not overlook the developments by photography. Today, we live in a visual world dominated by images, photographs, and visuals to deliver information. As we proceed, we adapt more to visuals than to text, which has increased the importance of ideas more than ever.
A photograph holds the potential to mold a person in a specific direction. It can convince, persuade, allure, evoke emotions, and even manipulate a person when used efficiently.
Several professions, such as advertising, cinematography, journalism, use images and photographs as a tool to communicate efficiently with their target audience. This tool, when used wisely, can have a tremendous impact.
So, that was the journey of photography summed up by us. Now you know when photography was invented, and who all were a part of the process.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article.
-Edited by Steffy Michael|12/7/22