History of Photography

history of photography

“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”

– David Alan Harvey

In the last century, we have seen some magnanimous technological advancements. We have seen how development in communication has radically changed the way humans interact. Photography is the most accessible medium of visual communication. Photographs have an inherent ability to describe timeless moments of everyday life and capture the essence of emotions in a person or a place. History of photography plays a key role in learning about the development of video.

‘Photography’ comes from the Greek word for ‘drawing with light.’ It is nothing if not the most remarkable amalgamation of science and art. Photography is as challenging to describe as are words. Both can be infinitely complex.

However, still taking a shot, I would say, “ Photography is the art of capturing light, a generated or captured the reality of the real world.” Photography is not only about capturing moments but it is an art of teleporting from past into the future.

Here, tracing the path from the first photograph ever taken to stills. From the creation of a motion picture, leading to the emergence of short videos, we will discuss a little about everything. Let’s start with some critical milestones in the history of photography.

Milestones in the history of Photography

We started with only being able to draw with light but being able to capture it was the real game-changer in the history of camera and photography.

The First Camera: Obscura

Principle of Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura is the first camera by humans. It is a dark chamber or room with a lens or hole at one end through which an image has been projected onto a table or wall opposite to the hole or lens.

Obscura is based on the principle of projecting an image of a scene onto a wall through a tiny hole in a screen. The resulting image on the wall is inverted—upside down and left to right.

The word ‘Obscura’ in Latin stands for the darkroom. In the 4th century BC by Mozi, who correctly documented and described the phenomenon mentioned that Obscura occurs because light travels in straight lines.

For hundreds of years, this technique was used to observe solar eclipses without damaging the eyes of the viewer. During the 16th century, it was used as an aid for drawing. The object or subject of the image was made to stand outside and the image was reflected inside on the drawing sheet for the artist to trace.

Soon, portable versions were made which gave way to the next step in the development of the art and science of photography.

The invention of photography: 1816

It was in 1816 that a partially successful photograph was captured. The credit for the invention of photography has been given to the French inventor, Nicéphore Niepcé. He was the one who took this very first partially successful photograph and invented heliography.

Camera by Nicéphore Niepcé

This image he took was using a small camera that he had created himself using silver-chloride coated paper. It took him eight hours to capture this image. As silver-chloride darkens with exposure to light it is able to capture the image effectively. However, it was impossible to remove the remaining silver which made the entire sheet go black after a point in time.

Daguerreotype: 1833

Let’s now talk about the first publicly available photography process. After the death of Nicéphore Niepcé, his partner Louise Daguerre founded the world’s first photographic process in 1833.

He used a sheet of copper plated with silver and treated with iodine vapor which resulted in him being able to permanently capture an image. He called his invention a daguerreotype. Soon after, in 1839 Daguerreotype became publicly available.

Robert Cornelius, an American, combined his expertise in Chemistry and metallurgical processes with his interest in the Daguerreotype and became the first person to shoot a self-portrait in late 1839. He has the credit for having clicked the first image of a man in the history of photography.

The Talbot controversy: 1840


Soon, after the Daguerreotype was announced to the world in 1839, a man named Willaim Harry Fox Talbot, an Englishman claimed to have found a different process called calotype or talbortype to achieve similar results. His camera was simple but required high-end lenses and plates.

This however did not end with Talbot. Another man, Hippolyte Bayard came forward claiming to be the first photo guy in history and the real inventor of photography. He used silver chloride-covered sheets to not only click pictures but print them as well. A single sheet was used for both purposes. His process was called ADirect positive method. It was a faster process and brought Bayard both fame and money.

The invention of film & the Brownie Camera: 1888-1900

George Eastman invented a film with a flexible base. A base that didn’t break and could be rolled, both for storage and capturing images. Not only did he invent the film but he also invented the small camera called “Kodak”. Even though the design of this camera was quite simple it was the first camera ever to use a celluloid film.

Celluloid Flm (Source: Studiobinder.com)

The kodak camera was nothing but a small wooden box with a fixed focal length and a single shutter speed. It was however available to the public with a pre-loaded 100 exposure film which could be sent back to the company for the development of pictures once full.

First Kodak camera

The flexible base film became a game-changer. It became the go-to for the moviemakers and led to the birth of motion pictures. The flexible base was in use till the 1920s when technological advancement helped the industry grow further.

In 1900, after Kodak came to the Brownie camera by none other than the legendary George Eastman. Brownie cost a mere 1 dollar. It was a game-changer. People started capturing fun, happy and entertaining moments of their ordinary life. They didn’t need any professional training to just simply document their lives. This is when the concept of “ Snapshots” was born. The ease removed the formality of photography.

Modern SLR’s: 1920-1948

The Kodak boom as I call it led to a worldwide demand for cameras which attracted new players like Leica, Canon, and Nikon. The camera technology kept on evolving. SLR or Single Lens Reflex camera is a mirror and prism that reflect the process that allows the photographer to view through the lens what the image will look like. This is where the development of the cameras as we know them begins.

In the late 1920s, the first reflex camera came into being. This camera was good for both personal and professional use. Franke & Heidecke Rolleiflex medium format TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) was the name of the same. Later, the first SLR camera was Gamma Duflex, created in Hungary. (1948)

Twin Reflex Camera

This development also led to the development of color photography. The colored film was first introduced for movies and later for still cameras. This was a turning point in history as now the processing of the film rolls, a new industry of photo processing and development was born.

Polaroid: 1963-1972

This was the time when capturing memories became easier. People now had instant access to their memories without sending the film away for image development. Edwin Herbert Land was the mastermind behind the first instant film camera development. He experimented with light-sensitive polymers. Later, these polymers play an important in the use of polaroids. He kept improving the product and finally, one creation ended up being the best.

In 1972, Polaroid the famous folding camera. It reached millions of homes. However, with all its development, polaroid is not good for use in a professional capacity. As the quality of the image was not good enough for magazines or newspapers.

Digital Sensors: 1950s-1990s

Steven Sasson, an engineer of Kodak, made the first-ever Digital camera in the world. However, many scientists and developers worked on it for decades. The first proper Digital camera came up in 1991.

No matter how much Kodak tried, it ultimately failed in Digital revolutionization and Nikon and Canon took over the significant market share, rendering the film cameras obsolete.

21st Century: Stills to short-videos

It started with a partial image and led to a multi-billion dollar industry in every currency. We used stills to create motion pictures. From motion pictures, we made short films, and then the flow came to vlogs and short videos. Today the market majorly has by DSLRs and mobile cameras.

Apple’s iPhone brought us full circle as it put the camera in everybody’s hand. Mobile photography has inadvertently taken us back to the snapshot era. Now, with cameras in hand, it gave rise to platforms like Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Pixabay, and many more that either sell images or are a platform to connect with people for either business or pleasure. 

Not only do image-specific platforms pop up, but we also have unique short-video platforms which have given space for creators to grow and show off their various skills to the audience and become a star in their own right. Apps like Youtube shorts, Rizzle, Moj, Josh, Tiktok have given space to people to perform.

If there had been no photography, none of the above would have been possible. No movies, no short videos, no vlogs, no nothing. The history and evolution of photography have led to the introduction of an entire entertainment industry segment. Let’s see what awaits us in the future of photography.

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