Digital Photography Blog


An Intriguing Look at Photography’s History: Part 1

Posted by Fujifilm Australia

Photography has changed so much over the years; but where did it all start? You would probably remember the switch from film cameras to digital cameras and the introduction of camera phones – but who came up with the idea of capturing moments in time, and who developed the first camera? We’re going to take you right back to the beginning with a look at photography’s history.

The word photography itself is derived from the Greek words photos (light) and graphein (to write). The word was first officially used in 1839 by scientist Sir John F.W Herschel to describe the method of recording images through the use of light (or related radiation) on a sensitive material.


The Idea of Capturing Moments in Time Begins

The first known device to capture and project an image was the camera obscura, also known as a Pinhole Camera. The modern day camera obscura consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external source passes through the hole, striking a surface inside where it is reproduced and rotated 180 degrees (as the image is captured upside down). The earliest camera obscuras used this same technique to project and later capture and record images.

The first recorded mention of the camera obscura was in the 5th Century BC: The Chinese Philosopher Mo-Ti recorded the creation of an inverted image formed by light rays passing through a pinhole into a darkened room. Mo-Ti called this darkened room a “collecting place” or “locked treasure room”.

Aristotle showed that he understood the optical principal of the camera obscura in his writings (from 384-322 BC) when he recorded that he viewed the crescent shape of a partially eclipsed sun projected on the ground through the holes in a sieve and the gaps between leaves of a plane tree.

In the very early days, photography remained simply a concept until the 11th Century when an Iraqi scientist Alhazen gave a full account of the camera obscura. Even then, the camera obscura did not actually record images but simply projected them onto another surface.

The First Camera and Recorded Permanent Images

It wasn’t until the late 1820s that photography became similar to what we know today. The first known recorded image was created in France by Joseph Nicephore Niepce who used a portable camera obscura to expose a pewter plate coated with bitumen to light. This was the first recorded image that did not fade quickly and inspired the photography development processes that were to come.

The Daguerreotype Process: After the success of Niepce’s experiments, he collaborated with French artist and photographer, Louis Daguerre, which resulted in the creation of the Daguerreotype Process. This process was the forerunner to our modern film. A copper plate was first coated with silver and exposed to iodine vapor before it was exposed to light to create an image on the plate. This was an incredibly popular process until it was replaced in the late 1850s by emulsion plates.

Emulsion Plates: Emulsion plates, also known as wet plates, were a more affordable option than Daguerreotypes and took only 2-3 seconds of exposure time compared to the 15 minutes needed for the early Daguerreotype process. These benefits made them far more suited to portrait photography, which was the most common photography at the time.

The earliest form of this process, the calotype process, was developed by Henry Fox Talbot and used an emulsion process called the Collodion Process, rather than a simple coating on the image plate. Whilst these plates were much more sensitive to light, they had to be developed quickly, and it was during this time that bellows were added to cameras to help with focusing.

Dry Plates: In the 1870s, the process of photography changed dramatically again. Richard Maddox improved previous inventions to create dry gelatin plates that produced almost the same speed and quality of wet plates. These dry plates were attractive as they could be stored, rather than made as needed, allowing photographers much more freedom with their photography. The cameras were also able to be smaller and hand held. And, as exposure times decreased, the first camera with a mechanical shutter was developed.

In our next installment of “An Intriguing Look at Photography’s History”, we will discuss how cameras became the commercially produced items they are today. Subscribe to our blog today to have it delivered directly to your inbox.

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