How did we invent photography? It all started with the camera obscura.
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The history of photography
Photography is the art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film.
The word “photography” was created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), “light” and γραφή (graphé) “representation by means of lines” or “drawing”, together meaning “drawing with light”. Many pioneering inventors contributed to the history of photography; however, the first permanent photograph was made in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
The first photograph
The first photograph ever taken was by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827. It shows the view from an upstairs window at Niépce’s estate, Le Gras, in the Burgundy region of France. The photograph was taken on a pewter plate coated with a thin layer of bitumen, which was exposed in the camera for eight hours. This exposure time was necessary because early photographic plates were not sensitive to light. The bitumen hardened where it was exposed to light and remained soft and gooey where it was shielded from the light — creating a permanent image.
The camera obscura
It is often said that the camera obscura was the first camera. In its simplest form, the camera obscura is a dark room or box with a small hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it forms an image. This image may be recorded onto a piece of paper or another surface for later viewing.
The earliest known mentions of the camera obscura are found in Chinese texts from the 4th century BC. It is also mentioned in Aristotle’s “On Sense and the Sensible World” from 350 BC. In this work, Aristotle describes how the image formed by a small hole in Plato’s cave is inverted (upside down).
The first recorded use of the term “camera obscura” is found in a book by Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner in 1555. Gesner used it to describe a wooden box that he had seen which had been used to project images.
The daguerreotype, an early type of photograph, was invented by French thinker and artist Louis Daguerre in 1839. It produced very sharp images on a sheet of copper coated with silver halide, but the process was quite complex and the resulting image could not be reproduced. In 1841, William Henry Fox Talbot, a British scientist, patented the calotype process, which produced a negative from which multiple positive copies could be made. This was the first commercially viable form of photography and quickly became popular.
The first negative-positive process, the calotype was invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1841. It used paper coated with silver chloride, which darkened when exposed to light. A later version used actor Talbot’s favorite material, sensitised with potassium bromide instead.
The wet plate collodion process
Photography as we know it began in the early 1800s with the development of two competing processes, the daguerreotype and the calotype. But it wasn’t until 1850s that photography emerged as a mass-market technology with the introduction of a third process, the wet plate collodion process.
The wet plate collodion process was an improvement over the daguerreotype and calotype in several ways. First, it was cheaper and easier to use, making it more accessible to amateurs. Second, it allowed for negative prints, meaning that multiple copies of a single image could be made. And finally, it resulted in sharper images than either of the other two processes.
The wet plate collodion process involves coating a metal plate with a sticky substance called collodion, which is made from gun cotton dissolved in alcohol and ether. The plate is then placed in a solution of silver nitrate, which gives it a light-sensitive coating. Once the plate is exposed to light, it is developed in a solution of pyrogallic acid and fixed with hypo (sodium thiosulfate).
The final step is to varnish the image to protect it from moisture and fading. This varnish also gives wet plate photographs their characteristic glossy finish.
The dry plate process
The dry plate process was the first reliable and commercially successful method of producing photographic images. It was developed in the early 1880s by Richard Leach Maddox, a London doctor who was investigating the possibility of using light-sensitive colloidal solutions to make medical X-rays.
The gelatin silver process
Photography, as we know it today, was the result of many different inventors and improvements over time. The first practical photographic process was the daguerreotype, invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1839. However, this process had several limitations that prevented it from becoming widely adopted. In 1841, another Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, improved on Niépce’s process and announced his findings to the public. This started a race to develop a workable photographic process that would be suitable for commercial use.
One of the major breakthroughs came in 1851 when Frederick Scott Archer invented the collodion wet plate process. This allowed for longer exposure times, which in turn made it possible to take photographs outdoors. In 1871, Richard Leach Maddox developed a dry gelatino-silver process that further reduced exposure times. These advances made photography more accessible to the general public and opened up new possibilities for its use.
gelatino-bromide papers were introduced in 1884 by William Henry Fox Talbot. These papers were easier to use than previous wet plate processes and quickly became the standard for amateur photographers. Professional photographers continued to use the gelatin silver process because of its superior quality. However, with the introduction of color photography in the early 1900s, gelatin silver prints began to lose their popularity.
Color photography was first possible in 1861, when Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that certain color effects could be produced by the superimposition of different color images. In response to Maxwell’s discovery, a number of processes were developed for creating color photographs. The most successful of these was the Autochrome process, introduced in 1907 by French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière.
Digital photography is a form of photography that uses digital technology to take, process and store photographs. The main advantage of digital photography over film photography is that it is much easier and cheaper to edit and print digital photos. You can also store more photos on a memory card or computer than you can on a roll of film.
Digital cameras can be either DSLR cameras (which use a mirror system to allow you to see what you are taking a photo of through the lens) or mirrorless cameras (which do not have a mirror system, so you need to use the LCD screen on the back of the camera to see what you are taking a photo of).
DSLR cameras have been around since the early 1990s, but mirrorless cameras only became widely available in the late 2000s.