History of Photography

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

This is a brief summary history of photography. See the PDF download at the bottom. I have done the research for my Foundation Diploma in Art and Design. Use it, if you find it helpful. I will be glad to provide value. Tell me if you like the content like this or not. And as this is the art blog, some history is always great! So let’s start from the beginning.

History of Photography 1

400BC-1040AD – Mozi, Aristotle Ahazen were the first mentioners of the camera obscura. To me personally, that was very surprising as I thought that photography was not thought of at those times. It feels unimaginable to live without photography, but it is equally weird to learn that photography comes from far back.

History of Photography 3


Arabian astronomers used this camera to trace a path of the stars.
It was just a dark room with a small hole in the wall. In other words, they were using a camera obscura. Camera means room and obscure in Italian means dark. It is just showing how genius the past generations have been

History of Photography 5

1490 – Leonardo Da Vinci recorded detailed descriptions of camera obscura and was used to trace things and help with the creation of different art and paintings.

History of Photography 7

1664-1672 – Sir Isaac Newton discovers that white light is composed of different colors by refracting white light off a prism.

History of Photography 9
History of Photography 11

1700 – Camera obscura devices become increasingly common. Artist like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Caravaggio used the camera obscura. Those are some of my favorite artists and it is explaining how they could capture such level and realistic facial feature.

It had opened my eyes as an aspiring artist to the idea of tracing and that one may argue as cheating and one may say only a tool, the person who cannot draw, that will not help to achieve any great results in the artwork itself.

History of Photography 13

1724 – Johann Heinrich Schulze was working with silver chloride when he realized that the silver particles change color after exposure to sunlight.

He used to fill up the flask full of chalk and silver chloride and he would put the stencil on the flask and hold it in the light for a while, then take it off and see that silver had blackened and acidized. It was the basic principle of photography. Those were the basic tools for creating an image.

Before cameras, inexpensive portraits were made by cutting ‘silhouettes”, a process sarcastically named after French Finance Minister Etienne de Silhouette, who had proposed taxing the rich so heavily that their outline would remain.

History of Photography 15

1826Heliography. Joseph Nicephore Niepce took the first photograph. It took him eight hours of exposure. In central France made a still camera. His original goal was to make physical copies of lithography. Naples needed drawings, but he could not draw she decided to use camera obscura and trace images.

Niepes had built a tiny camera obscura, about 1 inch wide on each side. He pinned the paper to the back of his camera with silver chloride. He was thrilled to get an image on the paper. Lights and darks were reversed and he had no idea how to make a normal looking picture.

He knew that artists use an acid compound in photography. He had coated a plate in assault instead of silver, placed a translucent image on a plate and exposed it to the sun. It was a radical idea that has worked. He could copy works of art. In summer 1826 the greater triumph would come.

He used a crude camera obscura that he had and put a plate on the back of his camera, stuck it out of his studio and exposed it for the view out there for eight hours. The result was that though the first photograph. When I saw the image myself the first time it was astonishing to see what it looked like.

History of Photography 17

1827 – Soon after this discovery, the stranger wrote a letter to him asking what he had done to achieve what he was doing. Daguerre was a famous artist. He used camera obscura to draw the perspective on his paintings. Niepce and Daguerre finally met in January 1827. Both of them were determined to find a better solution. Shortly both of them became partners.

History of Photography 19

1829 – The new breakthrough was discovered, and that he had succeeded to make a breakthrough. Daguerre, on the other hand, did not want Niepce to publish the results he believed that there was some money to be made so he had advised him to delay his publication in order to perfect his process as he had claimed that he had a better and a faster lens. That was completely not true.

History of Photography 21

1834 – After 2 years of Niepce death, he had a major breakthrough. He found a new way to obtain an image from a camera. Niepce had chemically treated a metal plate, placed it in the camera and took it out immediately, then heated over mercury vapors.

It was an astounding finding that would change the course of photography, yet no record remains what led him to this discovery. He had made an announcement, but he had a problem as the images faded away over time.

History of Photography 23

1835 – Daguerre made an even more important discovery. He wrote in his notebook by exposing paper in his camera for several hours. Lights and darks were reversed.

He played that shadowgraph on another chemically treated piece of paper, exposed it to the sun and then created a copy. The lights and the darks were now back to normal. It is what we consider as a positive or a print. He did not understand the magnitude of his discovery so as a result he had played his notebook aside and had focused on something else.

1837 – Daguerre was passionate to find the solution for the photograph to stay on paper. In 1837 Daguerre announced that he had found the solution. He had bathed the plate in a salt solution that had stopped an image from disappearing. It was Daguerreotype.

History of Photography 25

1838 – Also at this time The first aerial photograph was taken by Gaspard Felix Tournachon of Place De L’ Etoile, Paris. It was shot from an altitude of 520 meters in a tethered balloon.

1839 – January 1839 his discovery was presented to the world.
January 25, 1839 ( Birthday of photography) Tolbert had made a photographic exhibition where he had presented his ideas. His ideas brought him no financial gain, little reward, and a lot of trouble. Daguerre was the one who had gained great fame.

History of Photography 27

August 1939 – the photographic process was announced to the French Academy. The men were thrilled. Within the hour, men ran to the nearest chemistry shop to purchase the equipment needed to produce Daguerreotype.

The French government awarded Deguerre with 7000 francs and to the Niepce son 5000 francs. Degurotypes were becoming increasingly popular, there were different guides on how to do that.

History of Photography 29

French government declares and buys his work. That was the first photo of a human with exposure of 7 minutes. While Daguerreotypes were getting more and more popular, it had a lot of problems.

The equipment was too big and bulky, the exposure time had lasted for too long, the chemical was cautious. The term photography means to ‘draw with light” It comes from Greek, ‘photos’, meaning light and ‘graphien’ meaning to draw.

Robert Cornelius was the first person who took a selfie.

History of Photography 31

1840 – After the year of Daguerreotype photography was being used by amateur photography to capture pictures of exotic places and show them to the world. It was not easy to have such a hobby as the equipment was too heavy, chemicals were too toxic.

In France, there was a lot of enthusiasm for Daguerreotypes but then they were getting very disappointed by the limitation that the photography has had. In order to capture a personal portrait, they had to be still for 15 minutes with directly glaring into sunlight and metal stamps that had to hold the head together was too evil looking. The incentive to improve the invention was very strong.

Henry Fox Talbot, calotype camera. William Talbert returned to the research that he had abandoned and he knew that his original process was slow and imperfect. So he came up with an important improvement which was to place the wet paper in a short time. He could develop the image later through further chemical treatment.

The process was fatter and the image was far sharper. That process was called calotypes. Those still could not produce portraits. The portraits only made 5 minutes to sit and enjoy. Instead of sharing, he patented process what brought him no financial success. He passed away due to heart failure in 1877. He is the founding figure for the photography that we use today

History of Photography 33

1850 – In the United States, the Daguerreotypes were very popular. In the 1850s the galleries were spreading everywhere. The Daguerreotypes came in leather pockets like a piece of jewelry, it flashes like a jewel. The photo studios were everywhere. As exposure time very long people never smiled in photos and even used drugs to keep still.

From the 1840s to th1860 the Daguerrotypes had a glorious run. Then they were discovered to be so fragile that even fingerprints were damaging. Portrait by a reputable salon would cost as much as a 1000 dollars at today’s prices.

That just shows how people were valuing photography back then whereas now we just take millions of pictures and would never pay 1000$ just for one picture with a lot of discomforts.

As the portrait photography became popular, erotica became popular.

1851 – Frederick stock archer is an English sculptor that had made a significant improvement in photography that most photographers abandoned the calotype and the daguerreotype. The new process was called Collodion. He covered the glass plates with a compound made of gun cotton and either. Unlimited prints could be made from the glass and the images were very sharp. The colonial process would dominate until the 1880s then the dry plates would replace it. Despite all of the improvements that had been made it still continued to be conversion and illusive hobby. Different people became sick due to the constant exposure to chemicals.

A revolutionary improvement would have to wait until the whole concept of the camera itself would be rethought. Photography was nowhere near perfect when it was discovered. The hobbyist were the ones that had a lot of ideas that would improve.

The exposure time became shorter, cameras started to come in different ways and shapes. I did not know that some camera were even to use both photographic techniques such as daguerreotype and Calotype backs. Also, I found out why old cameras had accordion bellow, and it was to help to keep the image in focus at various distances.

Cameras varied in sizes from small then to bigger than a man. Stereoscopic images were becoming very popular, as it gave the startling illusion of 3 dimensions. Many inventors had focused on making photography more profitable.

1854 – Andre Diaz a Parisian that had designed an ingenious camera in 1854 that allowed up to 8 exposure or negative taken on one plate. He called them calling cards. They were widely popular as well as cheap to make. They started to sell photographs like Queen Anne, and they were selling like hotcakes.

History of Photography 35

1855 – In the second decade of photography abroad was captured on the range of different cameras. But one arena was not yet captured and that was the arena of war. In 1855 the Crimean War was raging on the North Coast of the Black Sea.

Roger Fenton an English lawyer, turned to photography and set sail to Balaclava Harbor with 36 Crates of photographic equipment weighing thousands of pounds. His plates were so slow that he could only film the before or the after the battle. He had developed his pictures in extreme heat in a wine merchant carriage that he had converted into a dark room. His war photographs shocked people.

A few years later, Americans would get the same taste of reality. Mathew Brady would yield heavy wagons of photographic equipment very close by the battle lines and sometimes on the battle lines. They had pictures of the dead, the dying, and every phase of the American Civil war.

1860 – Julia Margaret Cameron took photography to a higher level. In the 1860’s she set out to 1860 create photographs that were art. She used dramatic lighting as well as used the ideas from the classics. She had transformed her chicken coop into the dark room and did photographs of her family and friends. She even photographed Darwin, poet Tennyson and the childhood inspire Alice. She is one of the greatest geniuses.

History of Photography 37
History of Photography 39

1861 – First photoshop- The head of Abraham Lincoln was placed on a more noble body. I had no idea that such things like that had such far origins. 1861 was also the time for Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell produced the first color photograph.

1865 -In the decade after the Civil war, the development of dry plates and the invention of mechanical shutters were finally allowed to record motion accurately.

1870 – Eastman, young bank Clerk in Rochester New York took up photography as a hobby in the 1870’s. He had invented a workable emulsion. He designed a coating machine to apply it to the plate. Eastman took money from his saving, sailed to England and applied for patents both for his emulsion and coding machine. The Emulsion had sold modestly well and importantly he was building a reputation for reliability.

History of Photography 41

1871 – Richard Leach Maddox invents the gelatin dry plate. This discovery led to the invention of dry plate photography, a less cumbersome process that did not require the photographer to use a darkroom tent for immediate plate development as had been required by wet plate processes.

1873 – That would turn out to be highly profitable for Lelan Stanford, a former Californian Governor, had made a 20,000 dollar bet with his friend in 1873, that all of the horse’s hooves left the ground at the same time during the gallop

1877 – Stanford had turned to the camera to prove his theory. As a result, he had hired Edward Muybridge was a British photographer living in San Francisco. Muybridge had invented a fast mechanical shutter.

Muybridge lined 24 Cameras in a row in a row of a few pace track at Leland’s in the farm in Palo, California.

Every shutter mechanism was controlled by a string and as the horse was running along, it broke the string and the picture was taken. The photographs did indeed show that all of the horse’s hooves came off the ground at the same time. Stanford won his bet. It helped with the further development of motion pictures.

1884 – After two more years of constant experimentation he started to sell the paper base that he had called the film. He also had designed the holder for the film.

History of Photography 43

1885 – George Eastman founded Kodak

1887 – He invention of flash powder changed all that in 1887, but it was not without danger. It caught people’s hair on fire, acid smoke in the air and occasionally exploded.

1888 – He had sailed to England to patent a name that would be very memorable. He called his company “Kodak” as he thought that this name associated with the sound of the camera shutters. The first product under the name of “Kodac” would change photography.

It was a camera half a shoebox of about 22 ounces in weight. It was not a small camera by any means, but he had added something ingenious, he added 50 rolls of film that would be capable of making a hundred exposures.

History of Photography 45

The camera cost $25, then he also said for extra 10$ he would reload the camera with film and print the pictures.

His slogan was that you press the button and we do the rest. It had opened up t the niche of new customers as even amateur photographers.

The Kodac care came to the market and he had sold 25000 and set the course for future photography. In the next century, Kodak would present cameras in all sizes and shapes possible.

History of Photography 47

There was even a camera that was marketed to children that were a brownie. There was a camera targeted at women that included lipstick.

They would reach into every sphere of amateur and professional photography. Eastman real genius lay in his business sense. His advertising campaigns were brilliant. He constantly played on the feelings of desire and loss. He was also responsible for the discovery of the moving picture.

Although there were major improvements and there was still a challenge to turn the black and white world into color. The evolution of camera and photography allowed to turn in to business and science. X-Ray, news photography were just some of the uses. People had rapidly accepted its usefulness but only a few as art. In fact, most of the early photographers did not see themselves as artists.

1900 – Only in 20th century Alfred Stieglitz who started to see art in photography. He had opened an art gallery where he had exhibited for 30 years photography side by side with contemporary works of art. The notion of photography as art came slowly, although it helped to open the eyes to the problems and even initiate the child labor laws as it started to be seen as unacceptable.

History of Photography 49

Two Parisian brothers, Claude and Louise Lumiere made an ingenious breakthrough in color in 1904. They died separate batches of tiny granules of potato starch in one of the three primary colors. They combined the different color granules on film. They acted like miniature filters. Their fill autochrome rendered the exquisite colors but was expensive with very limited sensitivity to light. Only a handful of photographers used it. Eastham a department researched color

1925 – Oscar Barnack was the evolutionary 31-millimeter film. It allowed photographers to go mobile and capture the moment.

1930 – The invention of the flashbulb. Using a flashbulb produced neither noise nor smoke when the charge was fired. This provided an opportunity for using flash in places where flash powder use was questionable or simply dangerous. The first photos using the “Sashalite” flashbulb were published by The ‘Morning Post. It is so interesting to see what it was made of without much success.

1934 –Edwin Land was walking down the broadway in New York City, on a college trip. He had come up with an idea that what if there was a filter that would cut the glare of the car’s headlights. He left Harvard and worked intensely for 3 years in New York City. He had successfully achieved. Kodak immediately saw potential in his work. In 1934 Kodak had signed a contract with Land and he was in business.

History of Photography 51

1948 – He had developed 3 years. Lands film consisted of positive and negative with the chemical seal in between them. When the photographer exposed film through the rollers at the back of the camera, the chemicals spread across both sheets. Processing and developing the film within minutes.

The first camera was sold for $89.50. Over 5 million of those cameras were purchased within the first five years today. Polaroid pictures are the direct positives of the modern equivalent of a daguerreotype.

1949 – First SLR camera arrives. I was surprised that the first SLR camera didn’t have the kind of viewfinder we use today! It was built in Hungary in 1948, and resembled a rangefinder camera, using an intricate system of mirrors to project the image onto a small viewfinder.

In 1949, Zeiss built on this design, launching the first SLR with a pentaprism viewfinder. Despite their utility relative to rangefinder or large-format cameras, these SLRs weren’t perfect, as they lacked features that even film SLR users of the ’70s would take for granted.

History of Photography 53

1957 – The first digital image created The first digital photo actually came almost two decades earlier in 1957 when Russell Kirsch made a 176×176 pixel digital image by scanning a photograph of his three-month-old son. The low resolution was due to the fact that the computer they used wasn’t capable of storing more information.

1975 –The first digital camera- Steve Sassen Mr. Sasson, all of 24 years old, invented the process that allows us to take photos with our phones, send images around the world in seconds and share them with millions of people.

The same process completely disrupted the industry that was dominated by his Rochester employer and set off a decade of complaints by professional photographers fretting over the ruination of their profession.

1985 – Autofocus Legendary German camera maker Leica spent nearly 20 years patenting technology that would take focusing out of the hands of photographers. As with the 35 mm still, camera the company created in 1925, Leica stood ready to once again revolutionize photography, this time with an autofocus system.

But after spending the last part of the 1970s working on prototypes, Leica dropped plans to bring autofocus to consumers. Leica figured its customers already knew how to focus their cameras.

History of Photography 55

2000 – The first cell phone with a built-in camera was manufactured by Samsung and released in South Korea in June of 2000.

The SCH-V200 flipped open to reveal a 1.5-inch TFT-LCD, and the built-in digital camera was capable of taking 20 photos at 350,000-pixel resolution, which is 0.35-megapixels, but you had to hook it up to a computer to get your photos. The camera and the phone components were essentially separate devices housed in the same body.

History of Photography 57

2004 – Kodak changes to digital. It feels as we know Kodak has filed for bankruptcy in 2012. It feels like they transferred too late and they were a mostly filming company, they had missed the opportunity

2012 – Kodak file for bankruptcy. I find it sad to find out one of the great brands of the 20th century go down for the count and file for bankruptcy. The analysis of what went wrong isn’t just as simple as saying they were overtaken by photography’s move to digital imaging.

History of Photography 59

Now – Today we have insanely powerful cameras that just in seconds take pictures and share it online. Photography is a global passion and brought photography closer together. Today taking pictures became a normal thing to do. We share 2 billion pictures on Facebook every day. Whats app processes over 900 million pictures every day.

The photography may be said as became our 2 nature. Today, photography as an art form demands an explanation. Some suggest that the future of photography is going back to the past. I love photography myself and I think it is great what social media offers for us, to share our creation online for the world to see.

future? – We have seen it all. The future is 3d photography with 3d printing. This is what they are figuring out on it. I feel like they will transform the feel of photography. I am so excited for the generations to come and see how it all changes, and in my opinion, the change will be for the better.