History of Photography

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Photography has evolved over the years. In approximately 200 years, cameras have developed from being a plain box which took fuzzy photos to the high-tech mini computers present in modern-day DSLRs and smartphones.

In this article, let’s trace the history of the scientific art form called photography!

First Cameras

first camera

The basic concept of photography has been doing rounds since the 5th century B.C.E. The camera obscura was developed by an Iraqi scientist in the 11th century.

Instead of recording images, the cameras initially projected them onto another surface. The images were inverted, they had to be traced for creating accurate drawings of real objects.

The first camera obscura had used a pinhole in a tent for projecting an image from outside the tent into the blackened area. Camera obscura became small enough to be portable only in the 17th century. Basic lenses for focusing light were also introduced during the time.

First Permanent Images

first permenant image

Modern photography had its inception in the 1830s in France. A portable camera obscura was used by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce for exposing a pewter plate coated with bitumen to light. It is considered as the first recorded image which did not fade quickly.

From there on, photography progressed very quickly. Daguerreotypes, emulsion plates, and wet plates were all developed simultaneously somewhere around the 1800s.

Photographers had experimented with a variety of chemicals and techniques; with every type of emulsion.



Daguerreotype is dubbed as the forerunner of the modern film.

  • A copper plate which was coated with silver was exposed to iodine vapor. Following this it was exposed to light.
  • For creating the image on the plate, the early daguerreotypes were exposed to light for up to 15 minutes.
  • The daguerreotype was very popular until it was finally replaced by emulsion plates  in the 1850s.

Emulsion Plates


Emulsion plates/wet plates were less expensive compared to daguerreotypes and required only 2 or 3 seconds of exposure time. This made them ideal for capturing portrait photographs. Several photographs from the civil war were created on wet plates.

The emulsion process used by the wet plates was called the collodion process. Bellows were added to cameras during this time for helping them to focus.

The ambrotype and the tintype were the two common types of emulsion plates. In ambrotypes, glass plate was used instead of the copper plate that was used in the daguerreotypes. Tintypes were using a tin plate. In those days, photographers needed to have chemistry on their hands! Most of them traveled in wagons that functioned as a darkroom as well.

Dry Plates

dry plates

In the 1870s, photography developed even further. Thanks to Richard Maddox. Photographers started enjoying much more freedom in taking photographs. Smaller cameras which could be hand-held were developed. The first camera with a mechanical shutter was developed during this period.

Cameras for Everyone


Photography became accessible for common people only after George Eastman started a company called Kodak in the 1880s.

Eastman developed a camera which had a small single lens which required no focusing adjustment.

It was only in the late 1940s that 35mm film became affordable for most people!

Horrors of War

Horrific scenes of World War II were captured by several photojournalists.

The trend of capturing decisive moments in history which emerged then shaped the face of photography forever.

Instant Images

instant camera

By the 1960s, Polaroid models were available in plenty in the market. Their prices had dropped too, making them affordable for more people.

Polaroid stopped making their famous instant film in 2008 and kept their secrets with them.

Advanced Image Control

Asahi (which later became Pentax) introduced the Asahiflex and Nikon released its Nikon F camera in the 1950s. For the next 30 years, SLR-style cameras dominated the market.

Smart Cameras

smart cameras

Compact cameras which were capable of making image control decisions on their own were introduced In the market in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The automatic cameras were an instant hit among casual photographers then.

Digital Age

digital camera

Kodak introduced the first digital camera in 1991. Today Canon, Nikon, Pentax and other companies are producing advanced digital SLR/DSLR cameras.

These days we can take high-quality pictures using smartphones as well!


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