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Camera: History of Photography

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

So in order to understand photography, I think it's really important to take a look at the history because I think it's it's really interesting and it also gives you some perspective on why photography developed the way they did now.

5th/4th BCE - Pinhole Camera

the first idea for a pinhole camera was kind of came up in the time of Plato so in ancient Greece and in china around the same time. people were kind of imagining doing sort of thought experiments for something that would someday resemble what would use hundreds of years later thousand years later in the pinhole camera.

6th BCE - Camera Obscura

now the next step is the camera obscura. the camera obscura is actually really interesting because it's basically a camera without film the idea is you've got an empty room and if you put a little tiny hole in the wall the light will come in from the other side and it will be sort of focus through that hole and then onto the wall on the opposite side. scene is being reflected on wall are sort of focused on wall through the hole and this is basically the foundation of photography. the only thing that was really missing was the chemicals for this.

1200-1600 - Film Chemical

these were discovered somewhere between 1200 and 1600. different scientists at different times realize that there was this sort of group of chemicals that were related to silver and one was silver nitrate and this turned out, in the end, to be photosensitive.

1694 - Photochemical Effect

this whole discovery of it being photosensitive was the first sort of formulated and organized by a guy named Wilhelm Homburg in 1694. when he realized that as he put it a photochemical effect. now the groundwork was basically laid for photography to begin.

1700-1800 - Focusing On Lens

from here from 1700 through the 1800s you see kind of a focus on lenses and on the sort of bettering camera obscura. so people put lens instead of hole and this would lead directly to the developments that would come in the 1800's.

1826 - Permanent Photo

in southern France Joseph Niépce was interested in the entire idea of photography and he wanted to develop some kind of camera and he had taken a camera obscura and he had worked around with these light-sensitive silver nitrates and at the same time, he had been exchanging letters with Louis Daguerre.

The earliest saved photographic image (Heliograph on pewter plate) from 1827 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, taken at Le Gras, France.

Joseph Niépce was the first person to really come up with a permanent photo and that's a really important distinction because a lot of people had made photos but it was this was the first permanent photograph lots of times they would make them and then they would soon deteriorate really quickly but this was the first one that would last and it lasted up until now you can see in the picture that you've got some buildings got maybe a field back and if you look really closely you can actually see that the sun moved so far during the day that it's actually exposed the walls on both sides so the lighting of the photo is actually a little off now this was done on a piece of pewter with some silver nitrate slapped on it and it took 8 hours to make this photograph so can you just imagine taking a photo that takes 8 hours to make you can't move the camera a single bit it's tough. this step simplifies and strengthen the power of photography and makes photograph something that you could take instantaneously things that so it wouldn't take eight hours to make a photograph.

1839 - Daguerreotype

so when Joseph Niépce died in 1833 and he passes all of his papers on to Louis Daguerre. he in just six years later comes out with the daguerreotype and this was a revolution. this was very very big news because the daguerreotype took the same process and basically made it something that could be done more quickly and more permanently so instead of taking 8 hours it would just take a few minutes to make a photograph.

this is one of the first to daguerreotype it's of a city obviously somewhere in southern France and you can see here a guy with his foot upon a sort of pedestal. this guy's actually getting his shoes shined and there are lots of other people walking around on these streets but this guy was the only person to stay still for the whole photograph the whole time it was being made and so he's the oh he's the first photographed human and well that we know of at least so very interesting. you know so this whole discovery really prompted a lot of activity.

1839 - Glass Negative/John Herschel

Fox Talbot was a british guy, he had been interested in the idea of photography or it wasn't called photography yet but and the idea of capturing images on silver nitrate plates as they would say back then.

Fox Talbot and John Herschel worked together on lots of different things and in 1839 sort of through their collaboration john Herschel came out with the glass negative. the glass negative was important because it was a better way of capturing the image and it was something that would become sort of a standard for sometime for almost really sixty years or something like that so the glass negative is developed and get the name down "john herschel" quite a famous astronomer in his own right as well as a developer of photography.

1840 - Calotype

just one year later Fox Talbot comes out with his own process and it was called the calotype it was a wet process that had some sort of paper negative and put a copyright on this and that is the reason that really the daguerreotype took off because the daguerreotype was bought by the French government and put immediately in the public domain that meant that any photographer could use it and so the daguerreotype basically within a couple of months became the standard form of photography for at that time and the calotype was a bit more expensive and it never became quite the hit like a daguerreotype.


now things went very quickly from here and within a couple of months of the daguerreotype being developed, it was already being used in the field and by the 1850s.

it was really common to see roving photographers travelling through the countryside of Europe and even in America and other places and doing these sort of mobile photo studios and because the whole I mean these days you can do everything they could do in this with a laptop and a camera and even a cellphone but at the time it took quite a lot you had a lot of chemicals you do a lot of mixing you needed a darkroom so everything had to be brought with you in the wagon.

it was very quick you could see here that prominent people Abraham Lincoln one of the early american presidents all being photographed early on because they realized the power and very fascinated by the idea of photography.

1860 -

now during the 1860s, the American civil war was photographed by Mathew Brady or most likely photographed mostly by his assistants and he sort of took credit for it. and this was basically this was kind of more the second incidents the Armenian war was really the first incident of photography being used in war and photographing war so kind of an interesting note in history.

now early studios would have looked something like this so pretty much any time from the 1840s onward you would have had a big huge camera you can see that is a massive camera and you've got this guy sitting here doing this very sort of stilted pose and the reason for this is because you've got this piece here holding his head and this was sort of a required piece of equipment for photographers at the time because the speed of the camera was still so slow you would have had to hold that pose between two minutes and maybe if your photographer had a really fast camera maybe 30 seconds. so that's really long time to hold your head very still for a photograph so it's pretty amazing. you'll sometimes look in the photos and you'll see that people blinked during the photos or things like that but stand type of machinery here on the back this sort of stand is meant to secure the head and it's often hiding behind the person in the photo you don't usually see it when you look at the actual photos but this is how people adapted to the technology as it progressed so things got better and they didn't have to use that anymore.

1870s - Dry Plate

now here is really where that step takes place where things really got a lot faster and really changed a lot. in the 1870s the dry plate comes out and it becomes really popular instead of having wet plates of copper or things like that that you had to put inside of a camera or like a pewter plate or something like that you would just have a dry piece of emulsion that was sort of like the film that you would be used to but on usually on like a hard plate, not on something that was soft.

now in the the1880s kodak really made some big steps in technology and really kind of came out with some things that would really forever change photography.

1894 - Dry gel On Paper

in 1884 George Eastman develops a dry gel on paper and so it basically sorts of the predecessor to the film that we would be using fifty years later.

1888 - You Press the Button and We Do the Rest

in 1888 they came up with the slogan you press the button and we do the rest they used to send cameras to their customers with a hundred photos in them and then the person could run around and take photos of all they want to their heart's content and then send them into the Kodak factory and get it developed.

1924 - 35millimeter camera

1924 was important because Leica came out with the first 35millimeter camera. The 35-millimetre camera really revolutionized photography in some pretty fundamental ways the reason is that before these cameras were just so big and heavy it was really hard to take them out and capture things in the way that you would experience them.

1949 - SLR

after world war two things really changed a lot and this is where things really kind of blasted out of the gate the first slr came in 1949. a single lens reflex which is a very special kind of camera that has become the industry standard for professional photographers.

the first digital image so this is actually a scanned image so it's not from a digital camera but it is the first digital image right there so from that moment on photography really need a lot of leaps and bounds.

1963 - Polaroid camera

very quickly in 1963 you get the polaroid camera.

1985 - Autofocus

in 1985 you got autofocus which really changed the way cameras worked with with consumers and really changed the kinds of cameras that consumers were buying.

90s - Consumer Cameras

it was definitely the beginning of the digital age and there were some early attempts at consumer cameras as well.

2004 - Kinda End of Film

in 2004 kodak stopped making film cameras so they started switching over to digital cameras. cameras got to be a lot bigger lot took a lot of different directions.

2011- Mirrorless Wave & video

mirrorless sort of wave of cameras that came in 2011 and the dslr has also got very big very expensive and started making video so that is sort of the story of photography.

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