A Snapshot History of Photography

The Camera Obscura, which evolved through the 13th and 14th centuries was a simple way to capture an image and display it on a surface. Artists would then draw over that image to create a picture on parchment or canvas — the basis of modern day photography. Throughout the years, scientists and inventors have looked for ways to capture images permanently and store them safely on a variety of media.


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“Modern” Photography Begins in the 1800s

Experimenting with toxic chemicals such as silver chloride, silver nitrate and mercury, inventors developed ways to capture light onto glass and metal plates with varying degrees of permanence.

  • 1826 — Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor, experiments with capturing an image onto a piece of paper which is then developed with chemicals to make the image permanent, according to Photo Guru. Until then, images quickly faded with exposure to sunlight. It took eight hours of exposure to capture the image.
  • 1837 — Louis Daguerre develops the Daguerreotype process which captures an image on a copper plate electroplated with silver and then processed with mercury. At the same time, William Talbot created a similar process using glass sheets which created negative images. These would be used with special paper to produce the positive images. The exposure times were also decreased, and thus began a process that was carried forward for many years in photography.
  • 1850s — Stereoscopic photos were created, giving the viewer a 3D experience when looking at them through a special viewer. Positive images on glass and metal became popular in the U.S. The first color photograph was created using three black and white photos taken through red, green and blue filters.
  • 1871 — Up until now, photographic materials were often layered with chemicals, giving it the name “wet plate”. An English doctor, Richard Leach Maddox, developed a glass plate coated with hardened gelatin and silver bromide, ushering in the “dry plate” process. This opened up the possibility for many new camera ideas.
  • 1880s — George Eastman first introduced a flexible film in 1884, then a 20 foot roll of film, says Photo History. The first Kodak camera was introduced in 1888, then an improved model in 1889 that used the roll of film. In 1900, the Kodak Brownie was released and photography was officially available to the masses.

Technology and Film Advances in the 1900s

  • 1900 – 1930 — Various countries now get involved in camera and film technology. Nippon Kogaku in Tokyo forms and later becomes Nikon. German manufacturer Leitz creates a 35mm format camera for black and white movies. Eventually, the Leica is released as the first quality 35mm camera. Fuji starts making film and cameras.
  • 1935 — Kodachrome, a multi-layer film for color photography, was released and quickly became the standard for color photography. It was slow to be picked up by artists and professional photographers who preferred their black and white films.
  • 1963 — Polaroid releases the first instant film camera, making it possible for people to immediately see the results of their photographic efforts. This lasted until Polaroid’s bankruptcy in 2001.
  • 1987 — Canon releases its Canon EOS digital system with electronic lens mounts.
  • 1990 — Adobe releases Photoshop and the era of digital photo touch ups begins.
  • 1991 — The Nikon F3, a digital SLR camera, is released.

The Digital 2000s

  • 2000s — Digital technology expands into photography. Sharp announces the first camera phone in 2000. Improvements in flash technology result in smaller, faster and higher capacity cards. Disk drives become smaller and faster as manufacturers find ways for people to store all of their digital images.
  • 2010s — Cloud technology now provides unlimited resources for digital photographers. Services such asMozy online backup provide a way to safely archive images in the cloud. Flickr and Instagram provide ways to share photographs online. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets allow sharing of images anywhere at any time.

Creative Commons image by otisarchives3

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