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The History of Photography: A Tale of Passions and Inventions

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Isn’t it exciting when you get your first DSLR and everyone wants you to take their picture with it? But photography is much more than just getting a high-end camera and clicking pictures.

History of Photography
The Art of Capturing Emotions

It’s capturing beautiful moments that you might never be able to see again. It is an art, of encapsulating and presenting stories which words can never express. It is a way of capturing realities in such a subtle way that it tends to become more real, more genuine than the actual reality.

Photography, the method of recording the images, has truly come a really long way in a comparatively short span of time. Nobody had actually thought of combining camera obscura and certain components that get altered due to the exposure to light until the 1800’s. It was quite an unimaginable thing. But, great inventions do happen when great minds think about it and put their effort into making it a reality. And so, the first camera was invented. Let’s take a look at the history of photography and immerse ourselves in the beauty of what was.

Etymology of Photography

"To Draw With Light"

The word “photography” was first used in the year 1839 by the scientist named Sir John F.W. Herschel. This word was derived from the Greek word ‘photos’ which means light and ‘graphein’ which means to draw. So the word ‘photography’ literally means ‘to draw with light’.

When talking about the technological background of photography, everything was made possible because of the amalgamation of innumerable technical discoveries by some great men.

The Pinhole Camera

The Pinhole Camera: The First and the Best (source)

The pinhole camera, also known as the Camera Obscura, was a great invention.

It was invented by Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham) who was a great name in the field of optics during the middle ages and lived around 1000AD. With his invention of the pinhole camera, he was able to explain as to why the images were upside down. The very first reference to the optics law (that made the invention of pinhole cameras possible) was observed somewhere around 330 BC by Aristotle, who wanted to know why the sun, even though shining through a square hole could make a circular image.

And thus started photography’s early evolution.

The Very First Photograph

The Very First Photograph

The first photograph was developed by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in the year 1827 with the help of a camera obscura. Camera obscura did exist even before that but, people used it only for the purpose of viewing or drawing. Niepce’s heliography, or sun prints, were created by letting the natural light in that would draw the picture on the surface. This is actually the prototype for the modern pictures. On a metal plate coated with bitumen, an engraving was placed which was then exposed to the light.

The engraving’s shadowy parts blocked the light but the whiter areas allowed the light to react with the chemicals present in the metal plate. When this metal plate was placed into a solvent, an image appeared. However, the only drawback was the fact that this picture took about eight hours of exposure to be created and would eventually fade away.

Other than him, there was also another Frenchman named Louis Daguerre who also was experimenting with ways to capture images. He did manage to reduce the exposure time and also keep the images from disappearing. Later he partnered with Niepce in the year 1829 and after several years of experimentation and Niepce’s death, a more effective and convenient method of taking pictures was created by him which was named after him.

Daguerre’s Method of Exposing Pictures

Daguerre’s Camera (Source)

Daguerre’s method of exposing the images worked by fixing the images on a sheet of silver plated copper. The silver was then polished carefully and coated with iodine. This created a light-sensitive surface. This plate was then fit into the camera and exposed for a few minutes. After the light created an image, this plate was dipped into a silver chloride solution. This whole process was rather effective and successfully created a lasting image that would not alter in any condition.

In the year 1839, the right for the daguerreotype was sold by Niepce's son and Daguerre to the French government. They also published a booklet that described the whole process. This whole thing became quite popular and within a few years of time, there were over 70 daguerreotype studios in the city of New York.

The Negative to Positive Process

The Negative to Positive Process
The First Ever Negative Picture

Henry Fox Talbot was the inventor of the first ever negative from which several positive prints were created. He was a mathematician, an English botanist, and a contemporary of Daguerre and created the negative to positive process. He used a silver-salt solution so as to make the paper sensitive to light after which the paper was exposed to light. The subject in focus was rendered in gray gradations while the background was made black.

This was the first ever negative image.

It was from this negative paper that Talbot created contact prints. This contact paper reversed the shadows and the light so as to create a rather detailed picture. In the year 1841, he was able to successfully perfect this whole process and named it calotype which in Greek means a beautiful picture. He, therefore, is always remembered when people talk about the history of photography.

Wet Plate Negatives

Wet Plate Negatives

The wet plate negatives were created using a viscous solution of collodion which was then coated into silver salts that were sensitive to light. This process was invented by an English sculptor named Frederick Scoff Archer in the year 1851. The wet plate was able to create a more detailed and stable negative because the surface used was glass. Once it was found that light-sensitive materials could easily be coated on glass plates, photography advanced. The only issue with the glass plates was the fact that they had to be developed rather quickly before the coating of emulsion on it dries. A portable darkroom hence was a necessity for this process.

History of photography
Tintype Photography

Similarly, Tintypes was another medium created by Hamilton Smith in the year 1856. For this process, a thin sheet of iron was used to create a base for the light-sensitive materials which helped in creating a positive image.

Dry Plate Negatives & Hand-Held Cameras

Photography’s Early Evolution
The Introduction of Hand-held Cameras

After the success of several mediums, people tried their best to invent more advanced mediums. This is when the dry plate negatives were invented in the year 1879. This was basically a glass negative plated that was coated with a dried gelatin emulsion. The greatest advantage of this was the fact that they could practically be stored for a much longer period of time. This meant that the photographers no longer needed to carry the portable darkroom as was the problem with the wet plate negatives.

The photographers could now easily hire technicians to develop their pictures. Usage of hand held camera was also made possible as the dry plates absorbed the lights quickly. With the advancement of technology, dry plate negatives & hand-held cameras became very popular and are always mentioned in the history of photography.

Flexible Roll Film

Roll Film
Flexible Roll Film

Now that people had started discovering newer ways to make photography more efficient, flexible roll films were also developed. George Eastman, in the year 1889, developed a film whose base was unbreakable and could be rolled easily. For this process, emulsions were coated on a film base with cellulose nitrate and that made the invention of box-cameras a reality.

This whole period in the history of photography was divided into monochrome process and color process. The inventions and advancements that happened at this stage were what led to the development of modern day photography. With such inventions in those times, films were created to replace the photographic plates, which were quite heavy to carry. Along with that, the need to carry dark rooms, boxes of plates as well as several toxic chemicals were also eliminated.

The Kodak Camera: “You press the button, we do the rest”

It was in the month of July in the year 1888 that the Eastman’s Kodak camera was launched with the very popular slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”. With this invention, literally, anyone could take a picture and leave the difficult parts of processing the images to others. However, photography was widely made available to the public in the year 1901 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera. Of course, this was an expensive option but was a great invention and no one could deny that.

method of recording the image
Kodak Brownie

Color photography was also emerging, it was tested and experimented by many but the results lasted for only a few hours. In the year 1860, two French inventors named Charles Cros and Louis Ducos du Hauron, separately came up with a nearly identical idea exactly on the same day.

The interesting part? They were complete strangers to each other.

They spoke about methods which could be used to view a set of three colors which were filtered. These were black-and-white pictures which were presented in color without having to actually present them. This color process focuses on using this for making full-color prints on a piece of paper.

The Era of Color Photography

History of photography
The Era of Color Photography

A new era of color photography began with the invention of the Kodachrome film that was available for 169mm home movies in the year 1935 and 35mm slides in the year 1936. This was able to capture the green, red and blue color components in about three layers of emulsion. A very complex operation of processing created complementary magenta, cyan and yellow dye images in those three layers. What this did was create subtractive color images.

This process became widely popular and was used so as to serve special purposed till about the year 1950’s. Technology advanced, but, this process of using multilayer emulsion was used until the year 2015.

Digital Photography

Photography as art
The First Ever Scanned Photo

A team, led by Russell A. Kirsch at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in the year 1957 created a binary digital version of the wire photo drum scanner. This enabled to transfer the alphanumeric characters, diagrams, photographs and other graphics to a digital computer easily.

The resolution of the first ever photo scanned was of 176x176 pixels. In the first generation digital cameras, the image-capturing optoelectronic component was known as the charge-coupled device and was invented by Willard Boyle and George E. Smith in the year 1969. This was invented at the AT&T Bell Labs wherein the lab was already working on PicturePhone as well as semiconductor bubble memory. These two ideas were combined and the design of the Charge Bubble Device was crafted. Digital photography has grown ever since.

Dr. Michael Tompsett from Bell Labs found out that this CCD could be used as an image sensor. These days CCD has been replaced by the Active Pixel Sensor which is most commonly used in the cell phone cameras. This was, of course, a great invention in the history of photography, and has made it possible for the people of today’s time to actively store and share pictures.

The Introduction of Smart Cameras and Modern Day Photography

Introduction of Smart Camera
The Introduction of Smart Cameras

It was somewhere around the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s that compact cameras were introduced. These cameras were capable of making the image control decisions on their own. These cameras were smart to calculate the aperture, shutter speeds well focus on their own while the photographers could concentrate on the subject.

Modern day photography
Naturalistic Photography

These days photography is establishing genres like documentary photography, wildlife photography, naturalistic photography and much more. It was Kodak that had produced the first professional camera which was quite advanced. These days you can get the cameras produced by several manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, Pentax etc.

The modern day basic cameras are well capable of capturing high-quality pictures and the Smartphone are also so advanced that the pictures captured by them can be used to print a high-quality image.

Photography has come a long way, but it is important to always keep in mind the history of photography, and how it all started.

We hope this article helped you to understand and know more of the history of photography. Photography as an art is a vast area and has wide possibilities. It is up to you to see the beauty of nature and capture it.

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