History of the Camera and Photography

Photographs have become  large part of our lives, from pictures we see on the internet, to ones we take of cherished memories. Photography has had a long history, even before the commercial use and widespread joy of cameras.

Early Origins of Photography

Alhazen, who lived around 1,000 CE was a great student of optics and invented the first pinhole camera, also called Camera Obscura and was able to explain how it worked, and why images were turned upside down. The first showings of optics were pronounced by Aristotle around 330 BC, who questioned why the sun could make a circular light through a square hole.

The Beginnings of Modern Photography

In 1827 a Frenchman named Joseph Nicephore Niepce made the first photographic image with a camera obscura. Niepce's heliographs or sun prints became the prototype for the modern photograph, by allow the light to make a picture. Prior to Niepce, artists had used camera obscura to copy images onto paper. Niepce's pictures were plates set on metal with a chemical coating. After being left in the sun for eight hours, the images became outlines in the chemical coated plates, creating an image. The images had a short life, and faded soon after.

Fellow Frenchman, Louis Daguerre also experimented with ways of capturing images on paper, but it took him nearly twelve years more for Daguerre to reduce exposure time to under 30 minutes and allowed images to last. Daguerre invented the first practical means of capturing an image in 1829 and formed a partnership with Joseph Nicephore Niepce to improve the process he had developed.

Eventually Daguerre developed a more convenient method of capturing pictures, and named it after himself, the deguerrotype. The process fixed the image onto a sheet of silver-plated copper. The silver was polished and coated in iodine, which created a light sensitive surface, then the plate was put in a camera and exposed for a few minutes. The plate was then bathed in a solution of silver chloride, which  created an image which was long lasting and not sensitive to light.

Tintypes were patented in 1856 by Hamilton Smith. This process used a thin sheet of iron which was used as a base for light sensitive material, rendering a positive image.

The use of Negatives in Photographs

The negative to positive process was pioneered by Henry Fox Talbot who was an English Botanist and mathematician, also a contemporary of Daguerre. Talbot sensitized paper to light with a silver salt solution, then exposed the paper to light. The background became black, the subject was shades of gray. Talbot made contact prints, reversing the light and shadow to create a detailed picture. By 1841 the process had been perfected and was called a calotype.

In 1851 Frederick Scoff Archer, an English sculptor invented the wet plate negative. This used a solution of collodion paste like substance which coated glass with light sensitive silver salts. Because the glass plate was stable, it provided an excellence base for photographs, giving sharp images. Wet plates needed to be developed very quickly before the emulsion dried, so this required a portable dark room.

In 1879 the dry plate was invented, which was a glass negative plated with a dried gelatin emulsion. Dry plates could be stored for a period of time and photographers no longer needed portable darkrooms for development.

Finally in 1889 George Eastman invented film with a base that was flexible, unlikely to break and could be rolled. Emulsions coated on a cellulose nitrate film base such as Eastman's made the mass produced box camera both possible and popular. In the 1940s commercially viable color films other than Kodachrome which was introduced in 1935, were brought to market.

Through the early days of photography pioneering, many people experimented with both science and art. Today things have changed very little, although the cameras are mostly digital, have changed in complexity and sophistication, the drive of early photography pioneers lives in some small part in each person who experiments with photography.