History of Photography

A Brief History of Photography

It is in the man’s nature to be willing to stop the moment. Or at least capture it and later on enjoy the memories over and over again. That is exactly what photography helps us do. But once you realize how rich the past of photography is, your mind will get blown.

Camera Obscura

Of course, the history of photography does not start with someone simply inventing a camera. Firstly, the main optical concept was developed. And only later it became the foundation for photography.

Camera obscura is an optical phenomenon that people have discovered…at least a couple of centuries BC! Camera obscura literally means ‘dark room’. Imagine, you have this pitch-black room. You make a tiny hole in the center of one of its walls. Wow! You can see a projection of what it outside the room on the wall opposite to the hole! Even though the image is upside-down, the effect is fascinating.

Certainly, you could not record images in such a way. But this became the first time in history, when a scenery was projected onto another surface.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle mentioned something close to a camera obscura in his writings. But it wasn’t until the 17th century, when camera obscura finally became small enough to be portable. Moreover, during that time the first lenses were introduced that helped elevate the quality of the projected image.

Permanent Images

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was the first man to produce a permanent image. He would place a sheet of paper coated with silver salts at the back of a camera obscura. The trick here is that silver salts become black, if exposed to daylight.
In 1816 the first ever image was produced. It was an image of nature that Niépce could see from his window. But the image soon vanished, because the man exposed it to daylight. That was the so-called ‘negative image’.
A lot of chemical experiments had to be conducted, before Niépce found out how to make the image stay.


When Niépce met Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre real magic started to happen. Remember those old photographs where everyone looks extremely unhappy or even terrifying? Well, no wonder. In order to get a picture of themselves, people had to sit straight for around 15 minutes.
How did this whole thing work? Niépce and Daguerre found out that if you expose a copper plate coated with silver iodide to light and then fume it with mercury vapor and place that in a solution of common salt – a permanent image would appear.
Daguerreotypes were popular in the middle of the 19th century. Needless to say that such a work of art took quite a while to make and was expensive.


In the 1880s George Eastman created a flexible roll film. Now not only professionals could take photos! And you didn’t have to change the solid plates to capture a new image. Eastman came up with a self-contained camera that could hold 100 film exposures.

That certainly was a revolution in photography. Because any average person could now afford to capture priceless moments on something similar to our today’s disposable camera.

David Dean (http://daviddeanphotographic.co.uk) is the author of this article – he is a professional photographer based in Essex and as you can tell knows his stuff!

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