Evolution of Photography from Its Beginnings to The Present

Nowadays, we take more than a trillion photos every year. Modern digital cameras can capture photographs that can be hundreds of times higher in quality compared to the earliest photos. Today, all you will have to do is to press a button to capture professional-grade images without having to shed sweat. However, things were nowhere near as simple in the past.

Explore the evolution of photography from its beginnings and over the centuries.

Beginning of Photography & Key Improvements

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura is the first camera in history. It was not exactly a device but a system that comprised of a dark chamber with a hole in a wall. The light from objects outside the box was projected onto the opposite wall to create the image. Interestingly, you can find this concept documented in ancient Greek and Chinese literature thousands of years before the creation of Camera Obscura. Giambattista della Porta, an Italian scientist, is the first to demonstrate the use of Obscura and a lens in the 16th century.

The Father of Photography

Joseph Nicéphore Niepce was an inventor from Charlon-sur-Saône near Paris. He is considered the father of photography. Around 1826, the amateur inventor used a Camera Obscura and a pewter plate to create the first photograph. He named it the “View from the Window at Le Gras”, as it captured a view outside from his country estate’s window. It took 8 hours of exposure to produce this photo.

Untitled Design
View from the Window at Le Gras - Circa 1826

The Term Photography

Kodak Brownie
Kodak Brownie - The 1st Commercial Camera

Sir John Herschel coined the term photography. The term has its roots in the Greek words ‘fos’ and ‘grafo’, meaning ‘light’ and ‘to write’, respectively. In 1839, he created the first glass negative. During this time, the process became much simpler and quicker. However, it was still a long way from widespread public adoption.

During this time photography was often used as part of the work by painters; most of the applications revolved around portraits of individuals or families. Eastman Kodak’s easy-to-use cameras were reliable and began to be used widely in 1888. Kodak Brownie is the first commercial camera that became available to the masses in 1900.

Colour Photography

Tartan Ribbon
The 1st Colour Photo - Tartan Ribbon

Louis Ducos du Hauron and Charles Cros were two French inventors who developed multiple colour photography methods and patented them in 1862. Still, it took almost half a century more for a practical colour plate to become commercially available. The first colour photo was that of a tartan ribbon captured by James Clerk Maxwell, a physicist, in 1861.

It was in 1907 when photographers could find the first easy-to-use colour plate available in the market. The concept used a screen of filters that filtered RGB light to develop a negative and reversing it to produce a positive. The modern photo development technology is a version of this process.

Interesting & Lesser-Known Improvements

There are other exciting improvements that most people do not know about in the field of photography.

Boulevard Du Temple By Daguerre
Boulevard du Temple - 1838
  • Louis Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temple from 1838 is the first photograph of a human.
  • Niepce collaborated with Louis Daguerre to develop a technique called the daguerreotype, which lead to the creation of the modern film technique.
  • Emulsion plates became gained momentum for portrait photographs. They required 2 to 3 seconds of exposure and were not as expensive as daguerreotypes.
  • In 1870, Richard Maddox created dry plates that offered the same quality and speed as emulsion plates and could be stored.
  • Steven Sasson was just 24 years old when he created the first digital camera in 1975. He was working at Eastman Kodak at the time. Despite this, Kodak wasn’t too happy with a finding that could change the industry forever.
  • Kodak developed the first digital camera for professional use in 1991.
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