Short history of photography

«Photography is the art and technique of obtaining lasting images due to the action of light»

As John Ingledew presents in «Photography», a basic introduction for students across the visual art, the brilliant thing about photography is that anyone can take pictures and every photographer has the chance to create images in his own unique way. Photography is a potent and powerful force, able to tell huge stories in single images.

As with everything, for using a camera (or any other tool) in the most efficient way is necessary to know its history. This is the reason why I think that briefly review the history of this art is a good way to begin this blog about photography, which is a very young medium and is now developing  very fast.



Photography was born in response of human beings’ concerns to register their context in the most accurate and instantaneous as possible. It was in ancient Greece where concerns were raised by an explanation of the luminous phenomenon. This led philosophers to observe the effects of light in all its manifestations.


Camera obscura

For centuries these were just ideas until an Iraqi scientist developed something called the camera obscura sometime in the 11th Century. Even then, the camera did not actually record images, they simply projected them onto another surface.

The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, inverted (thus upside-down), but with color and perspective preserved. The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation.

Permanent images

Photography as we know it today began in the late 1830s in France when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a portable camera obscura to expose a pewter plate coated with bitumen to light. This is the first recorded image that did not fade quickly.



In 1839, Louis Daguerre made public its process for obtaining photographs based on silver called Daguerreotype, which solved some technical problems from Niepce’ initial procedure and reduced the necessary exposure times.

Daguerreotypes were the forerunners to our modern film. A copper plate was coated with silver and exposed to iodine vapor before it was exposed to light. To create the image on the plate, the earlier Daguerreotypes had to be exposed to light for up to 15 minutes.

In 1839 Daguerre patented his invention in France, when the new art was baptized as «Photography». By that time, the Daguerreotype was much more popular as it was particularly useful for portraits, common custom among the bourgeois middle class of the Industrial Revolution. It is a fact that because of the huge demand for these portraits, much cheaper than painted, photography was boosted enormously.

Emulsion Plates

Emulsion plates, or wet plates, were less expensive than Daguerreotypes and took only two or three seconds of exposure time. This made them much more suited to portrait photography, which was the most common photography at the time. These wet plates used an emulsion process called the Collodion process, rather than a simple coating on the image plate.

Two of these emulsion plates were ambrotype and tintype. Ambrotypes used a glass plate instead of the copper plate of the Daguerreotypes. Tintypes used a tin plate. While these plates were much more sensitive to light, they had to be developed quickly. It was during this time that bellows were added to cameras to help with focusing.

Dry Plates

In the 1870s, photography took another huge leap forward. Richard Maddox improved on a previous invention to make dry gelatine plates that were nearly equal with wet plates for speed and quality. These dry plates could be stored rather than made as needed. This allowed photographers much more freedom in taking photographs. Cameras were also able to be smaller so that they could be hand-held. As exposure times decreased, the first camera with a mechanical shutter was developed.

Cameras for everyone

George Eastman founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented the roll of film, which replaced the glass plate, thereby managed to make photography available to the masses. The roll of film would also be necessary for the invention of cinema, because its use was in the creations of film pioneers like Thomas Edison, the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès.


Smart cameras

In the late 1970s and early 1980s compact cameras that were capable of making image control decisions on their own were introduced. These «point and shoot» cameras calculated shutter speed, aperture and focus; leaving photographers free to concentrate on composition. While these cameras became immensely popular with casual photographers, professionals and serious amateurs continued to prefer to make their own adjustments to image control.

The Digital Age

In the 1980s and 1990s, numerous manufacturers worked on cameras that stored images electronically. The first of these were point and shoot cameras that used digital media instead of film. By 1991, Kodak had produced the first digital camera advanced enough to be used successfully by professionals. Other manufacturers quickly followed and today Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other manufacturers all offer advanced digital SLR cameras. Even the most basic point and shoot camera now takes higher quality images than Niépce’s pewter plate.



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