History of Photography – From Innovation to Art
Photography, as we know it today, was drastically different just a few years ago. Before the invention of the camera, people could only pass down crucial moments through word of mouth or writing, as static images on paper or screen were not yet possible. So, how did this not-so-little thing come into existence, and who do we have to thank for it? Let’s go down memory lane of the history of photography and see where photography and the camera itself took their roots.
Camera Obscura: The First Step Towards Modern Photography
The first camera wasn’t even technically a camera at all! Instead, it was a dark room with a tiny pinhole in one of the walls, which allowed light to pass through from the outside, projecting the subject on the room’s wall. However, because of the physics of light and how it travels in straight lines, the projection always flips upside down. German astronomer Johannes Keppler coined the term “camera obscura” in the 17th century while using his tent, though the phenomenon had been observed and utilized for centuries prior.
In 1021 AD, the Arab physicist Alhazen took a keen interest in and conducted extensive research on the camera obscura phenomenon. Over the next few years, others studied its light’s nature and physics. Finally, they very popularly used it for safely viewing solar eclipses.
Many years later, people added a convex lens to the hole, and artists frequently attached mirrors to project images onto the floor, aiding them in tracing onto a canvas.
Our photography equipment article can give you more information about camera lenses and other essentials.
History of Photography: The First Image Ever
As we mentioned, the camera obscura wasn’t a camera, and it definitely couldn’t take permanent pictures like today’s modern DSLRs or smartphones. Until the 19th century, people used to carry portable versions of the camera obscura (little boxes with the same pinhole method) and used it only for projections. But then, a French inventor named Joseph Nicephore Niepce tried something new.
First, he used the camera obscura to project an image to a plate of pewter coated in a bitumen substance. Then, he left the projection to sit on the plate for a few hours, which caused the exposed bitumen to harden. And then, the unexposed part is washed away with a solvent leaving the bare pewter under it.
This is how he made the first image in the history of photography, with the hardened bitumen being the light areas of the photograph and the dark spots being the pewter after clearing the unexposed bitumen.
The Evolution Of Photography
After Joseph Niepce’s death, his colleague Louis Daguerre inherited all his notes and continued to attempt innovation on the plate processing technique they had been working on. This resulted in the creation of the Daguerreotype. To perform the process, one had to expose a copper-plated coated in silver and iodine vapor to light.
He later developed the technique even further, using mercury fumes for better visibility while developing. From the release of the method in 1839 until the 1850s, Daguerreotype was the most common photograph-developing technique used by photographers.
Wet Plate Technique
Frederick Scott Archer and Gustave Le Gray both invented the collodion wet plate process at the same time in 1851. This technique used emulsion rather than coating the plates, which gave faster results when exposed to light (only a few seconds). However, users had to develop the plates in a dark room within fifteen minutes of exposure, which prompted them to carry portable darkrooms whenever they wanted to take photographs. Thus, this technique was also called the “emulsion technique.”
Dry Plate Technique
English physician Richard Maddox changed the game in 1871 when he discovered the dry plate technique for developing photos due to the wet plates causing him serious health concerns. This technique used a mixture of chemicals coated on glass in gelatine that could be stored and developed later.
The Creation of Film and The Kodak Camera
George Eastman developed dry gel on paper (film) in 1884 as a replacement for plates and toxic chemicals, eliminating the need for users to carry them around and potentially expose themselves to harm. Then, in 1888, he released his first-ever Kodak camera on the public market. This was a pivotal moment in the history of photography, allowing anyone to take pictures, not just professionals with equipment.
The Kodak Camera was a small rectangle with a button and had paper film inside the body. When people first bought it, the camera had a capacity of a hundred photos they could shoot before sending it back to Kodak to develop them.
Kodak promoted the camera with the slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest,” which changed the amateur photography game.
Instant Film Cameras
In 1948, Edwin Land launched his company, Polaroid, and the first-ever instant photo camera – the Model 95. This camera used a secret Polaroid chemical process that developed the photos inside the camera’s body in just a few seconds.
This camera was expensive, but its price didn’t stop the public from gaining more and more interest in instant photography. A few decades later, by the mid-60s, Polaroid had already released a few models with way lower, affordable price tags for anyone to start their amateur photo-taking.
Colors in Photography
It may not be so apparent that all photos until around the 1950s were shot and developed in black and white or sepia. That’s not to say that they didn’t try to make it work; it’s just that no one could. Until Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell took the first-ever colored photograph in history using three filters – red, yellow, and blue. He managed to mimic how our human eyes perceive colors through different color receptors (cones).
The First-Ever SLR Cameras
In the 50s, two Japanese companies, Asahi (later Pentax) and Nikon, introduced single-reflex lens (SLR) cameras. Camera manufacturers still widely use this method for modern cameras today.
SLR cameras use a moveable mirror inside the body, behind the lens, reflecting the subject up to the viewfinder so users can see what they are shooting in real time. Then, when someone clicks the shutter button, it flips up the mirror and allows light to pass through onto the material (medium) used.
The Digital Revolution: Then and Now
In 1975, Steven Sasson, a Kodak engineer, received the task from his boss to explore the possibilities of a standard film camera and a CCD chip. The CCD chip can turn inputs of light into electricity. So, naturally, Steven thought to try and make that light source the subject itself and store it onto the chip.
And it worked! Over a year, Steven and his colleague at Kodak worked on this film-less camera with only the CCD chip inside. They finally took their first digital photograph, which took the light in from outside and converted it into electrical impulses in the chip. Later, someone could memorize it as binary numbers and translate it onto a screen.
The camera was over 6 pounds and could have been better. In addition, the technology needed some work, and finally, in 1991, the first-ever digital camera (DSLR) hit the public market – the Nikon F3. Different manufacturers continued to innovate the digital camera, leading us to have what we have today.
This also led to companies releasing more and more pocket-sized cameras, like point-and-shoots. Then, as the technology advanced (and got way smaller), manufacturers guided amateur and professional photography toward a more compact size.
When Phillipe Kahn took a photo of his newborn child on his mobile phone and camera prototype, it changed everything. In an age where cell phones were becoming a crucial part of everyone’s routine, it was a no-brainer that people were interested in taking photos with them. It was 1997, and Phillipe excitedly sent his image to 2000 people via cell radio.
This prompted more companies to start integrating cameras into cell phones, like Sony Ericsson. These cameras were unmatched from the 2000s up until the release of the iPhone in 2007. Apple’s device seems weak by today’s standards. But look at how far they’ve come, beating out even Sony at their own game. In today’s age, you can’t go wrong with a smartphone’s camera. They all have fantastic technology, and all of them lend their success to the prior, more experimental subjects.
Whether you’re a professional photographer or love snapping pics for Instagram, you can’t go wrong with any modern camera you choose. But, as we just saw, technology has advanced so far, enabling us to carry the luxury of recording memories in our pockets.