A Brief History of Photography
Photography has technically been around for hundreds of years, and while the art of capturing photos has definitely progressed and changed over the years, it is still important to have an understanding of the history of photography to really appreciate it for what it is today.
What is the History of Photography?
It would take pages and pages to really do the history of photography justice, however, I am going to dive into a brief yet poignant history of photography that covers some of the biggest milestones in the progression of this art-form. Whether you are a professional photographer, an appreciator of photography or just someone who takes photos as a hobby—it is important to know the history of photography to really appreciate this art form for what it is.
Here are some of the biggest highlights and milestones in the unique history of photography.
History of Photography Timeline
5th to 4th Century B.C.- It may sound surprising that the history of photography dates back this far, but all the way back then, Chinese and Greek philosophers actually started to described the basic principles of optics and the camera. In the 4th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle discussed pinhole image formation in some of his work.
1021 A.D.- Hundreds of years later, one of the biggest inventions to move forward the development of the camera came to be with the invention of the camera obscura. This invention came from Iraqi scientists Alhazen and was featured in his work Book of Optics.
1664- Starting in 1664, Sir Issac Newton’s experiments with white light began to come to fruition when he discovered that white light is actually composed of different colors refracting that light off of a prism.
1685- The idea for a camera box that was small and portable was developed by Johann Zahn. However, it was another 150 years before the technology of the time was able to take that vision and bring it to life.
1837- Together with Joseph NIcephore Niepce, Louis Daguerre helped develop the first “usable” photographic process. This process was used to take portraits for years. That year, the first aerial photograph was taken in Paris by Gaspard Felix Tournachon. He took the photo from 520 meters in the air while on a tethered balloon.
History of Digital Photography
While it may not seem like a huge advancement by today’s standards, the history of digital photography can date back to 1948, when the first polaroid camera was developed. It was the first device that could take an instant picture. This camera known as the Polaroid Model 95 had a patented chemical process that delivered finished photos in less than a minute.
In 1975, the first actual digital camera was created by engineer Steven Sasson. This 8 pound camera from Eastman Kodak, recorded a single 0.01 megapixel black and white photo onto a cassette take. It took 23 seconds to take.
Both the first consumer camera to take color images on a single sensor (the QuickTake from Kodak) and the first digital camera to transmit images over the phone line (Olympus Deltis VC-1110) hit the market in 1994. Then in 1999 the Kyocera VP-210 came on the market. It was the first camera phone.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the Apple iPhone hit the market, which is still thought to completely revolutionize the way we think about and take digital photos today.
When was the camera invented?
The first physical camera was developed in France, in 1816, thanks to a man by the name of Joseph Nicephore Niepce. This “camera” was fitted with a microscope lens. However, this camera wasn’t exactly available to the masses, and it took a long time to create a camera that the average person could use.
From 1884 to 1888, George Eastman developed a celluloid based film in a small, portable box camera. This camera was called the “Kodak” which obviously became the eventual name of the popular camera company.
After decades in production at the Leitz factory in Germany, the first “Leitz Camera” became available and was for sale to the general public.
Who was the first photographer?
There is some debate on this, but many people give Josephy Nicephore Niepce the title of being the first photographer—thanks to his advancements in creating the first actual camera.
Ten years after creating the first actual camera, in 1926, he developed the Heliograph, which was used to create the first actual physical photo. The photo is known as View from the Window at Le Gras.
History of Color Photography
The first color photograph was taken by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell in 1861. The image was taken of a tartan ribbon. Color photography has come a long way since then, and has greatly impacted the world of commercial, online and fashion photography that we know and love today.
History of Commercial Photography
Commercial photography took off in a big way thanks to the color photography movement. However, the first instances of commercial photography being used actually can be dated back to 1850, before the first color photo.
This was one of the first times where photos were used to sell something instead of used to capture big moments. Of course, since then, commercial photography has only taken off, and it is impossible to imagine advertising today without it.
History of Online Photography
The development of digital photography and online photography most definitely go hand-in-hand. However, there were digital photos before there were online photos.
Since the mid 1990s, users from all over the world have been utilizing the internet, and some of the original pieces of online content were of course photos. Today, the internet is composed mostly of online photos—from tabloid images to photos to share on social media, to digital portfolios of today’s biggest photographers.
While photography pre-dated the internet by over 100 years, it is impossible to imagine the internet without it today.
History of Fashion Photography
Once the camera became easier to use and more portable, it began helping all types of photography take off—particularly fashion photography. The first serious attempt at fashion photography was in 1911 by Edward Steichen. This came after Vogue was purchased by Conde Nast and together they transformed the publication from a social magazine to a high-class fashion publication filled with photos.
Now that you have a general idea of the history of photography and the timeline and progression of how photography started and how it became what it is today—you can hopefully have a better and deeper appreciation for this beautiful art-form.