The word ‘Photography’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘light’ (Photo) and ‘to draw’ (graphein) and was first used by the scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839, but people were creating images using light hundreds of years previously. If we take a look at the state and level of photography today, such as the advances of digital cameras, it is easy to forget that the first photograph ever was taken just 180 years ago.
The Camera Obscura box was first used in the 5th and 4th century BC in experiments by Chinese Philosopher Mo Ti and Greek Polymath Aristotle, to prove theories such as light travels in straight lines. It wasn’t until a summer’s day in 1827 that Joseph Nicephore Niepc, a French Inventor, took the first photo after he invented the first photosensitive substance using bitumen and lavender oil. Niepce’s heliographs, or sun prints as they were called at the time, were the prototype for the modern photograph, as they were the first picture to be taken using light to ‘draw’ a permanent picture.
The process was improved by Louis Daguerre by getting the exposure time down from 8 hours to only 30 minutes and as a result, the world of modern photography was born! Throughout the next 50 years, various methods for creating the negative image were invented including the first by British Botanist and Mathematician Henry Fox Talbot, allowing for more than one print to be produced. This kick started the public’s fascination with photography as studios sprung up around the world and the first ever portrait of a human being was taken of Robert Cornelius in November 1839. The first known colour photo was taken in 1877 by Louis Ducos du Hauron of a landscape in southern France, printed by the subtractive method which is still the basis for all colour photography, even today!
Throughout the 20th century there were many types of camera using different methods to capture the image, most notably so, the 35mm still camera and the Polaroid. The 35mm camera invented in 1913 revolutionised photography as it allowed for multiple negatives to be taken from a single roll of film and meant cameras could be small enough to carry. The Polaroid camera was introduced in 1948 and allowed consumers to instantly print any images taken, and was created in reply to the daughter of inventor Edwin Land’s question “Why can’t I see them now?”. They have since been used around the world by everyone from fire investigators to film directors as a means of collecting images.
The camera we all know today, the digital camera, was first successfully built by Kodak in 1978 but weighed a massive 3.6kg and the resulting image was only a measly 0.01 megapixel! It took a further 13 years of development for Kodak to bring out their first viable digital camera, the DCS-100, but this $13,000 camera could still only capture 1.3 megapixel images – way less than most people can capture on their mobile phones today! Over the coming years, the development of digital cameras made them smaller, more powerful and cheaper allowing them to become common place in our everyday life. The ability to view the pictures on the built in screen and the automatic focus and settings allows even the most amateur photographer to capture brilliant images.
This is of course by no means the complete list of the fabulous inventions from of the 19th and 20th century, as the great minds of that era discovered some wonderful things in their quest to capture images in greater detail – here we have tried to highlight the major events that have made photography the everyday part of life it is today.