History of photography

The history of photography, from camera obscura to smartphone

Photography is so obvious that we sometimes forget which process was preceded before man could perpetuate an image, time of person. Making the first photo was preceded by a long period with occasional discoveries. That period lasted almost a thousand years. Read below about the successive milestones in the history of photography, from camera obscura to digital camera.

965: Camera obscura

The Iraqi Abu Ali Al-Hasa writes around the year 1000 about his findings about a partial eclipse that he has established with the aid of a camera obscura. He follows the solar eclipse in a dark tent in which he sees a projected image that enters through a small hole. The camera obscura forms the basis of modern photography and has been used for various applications for centuries.

1267: The first lenses

The British scholar Roger Bacon describes in 1267 the effect of glass balls as magnifying glass. The lens as an optical instrument therefore arises in this period, albeit in primary form. Around 1285, the first glasses make their appearance. Roger Bacon also discovered the spectrum of light by breaking light in a glass of water and then reassembling it.

1664: Prism experiment

It is the famous scholar Issac Newton who, with the aid of a prism, finds that white light is broken in colors and that these colors do not produce any other colors in the event of further refraction. Although Roger Bacon had already written about the spectrum centuries before, it is Newton who is widely recognized as the discoverer of the spectrum.

1777: Silver chloride and silver nitrate

Silver halides are compounds between silver and halides, such as chloride, which dissolve poorly in water and are sensitive to light. Wilhelm Scheele investigated the effects of the wavelengths of light on silver chloride and silver nitrate. He used a prism for this.

1825: The first photo

After the Frenchman Joseph Niépce made a photograph in 1816 that he could not fix, he succeeded ten years later to make the very first recordings with a camera. He did this in collaboration with Louis Daguerre, another inventor of photography. The duo used an improved heliogravure technique in combination with syrian asphalt. It is known that Niépce and Daguerre in 1822 could make photos that quickly faded. The oldest preserved photo is from 1825 and contains a 17th century engraving.

1834: Negative process

Until 1834 each photo is a unique one. It is the British William Henry Fox Talbot who invented the negative process this year, making it possible to make multiple prints of a negative of an image. In 1841, after long experimentation, he patented the calotype, a chemical process to print negatively on light-sensitive paper.

1840: Carl Zeiss

The German Carl Zeiss has made an important contribution to the improvement of optical instruments. He is a famous key figure in the history of photography. He was a notable manufacturer of lenses that were characterized by a very large aperture, enabling very clear images to be made. Zeiss produced lenses for microscopes and cameras and the company still has a leading reputation.

1871: Negative plates

The Briton Richard Maddox discovered in 1871 the lightweight gelatin negative plates, with which it could be replaced in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer (harmful) collodium process. Thanks to the negative plates, photographers could now use drying plates instead of their own emulsion. Important advantages were that negatives no longer needed to be developed and that cameras could be made small enough to be held in the hand.

1888: Kodak

The American George Eastman is the founder of mass production via photographic plates. The combination of two inventions formed the basis of Kodak, a company founded in 1888. On the one hand Eastman was the inventor of a machine that made mass production possible. On the other hand, he invented a lightweight camera that could make 100 shots with a roll of film. The owner of a photo camera could send the roll to Kodak and have the photos printed against payment. Kodak returned the photos with a new film role.

1904: Color photography

Although the first color photographs were already made in 1861 by Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron and Charles Cros, it would take decades before it was suitable for commercial use. Because the Lumière brothers get a patent in 1904 on the autochrome process, this is the only way for amateur photographers to use color photography until 1955. Particularly because of the impossibility of printing the color red correctly until then, color photography only took off in around 1950, only to become popular with the general public from 1980 onwards. Black-and-white photography is still being used, especially for artistic purposes.

1937: Polaroid

In 1928, Edwin Land laid the foundation for the first synthetic polarization filter, an invention that formed the basis for the Polaroid founded in 1937. In 1948, the first Polaroid Land Camera is sold, a device where the film is developed directly without the intervention of a laboratory. By spreading a paste consisting of developer and dissolved silver salt between film and photographic paper, a Polaroid device could deliver a photograph within a few minutes. Incidentally, a photograph can not be kept for more than 10 years.

1957: The first digital photo

In this year, a photo is placed on a computer for the first time at the National Bureau of Standards. For this purpose, a developed photograph was scanned with a computer that had the size of a living room. The computer has grown considerably in the same period, with Jack Kilby in particular doing important work. He is the inventor of the integrated circuit (the chip), which is still the basis of current computers.

1969: Light-sensitive chip

The physicists George Smith and Willard Boyle invented the light-sensitive chip (CCD) in 1969. This chip converts electromagnetic radiation into electrical charge, allowing image to be digitized. The CCD chips are still used in modern digital cameras, where the collected light is converted into an electrical signal via the lens.

1975: The first digital camera

In 1972, Texas Instruments obtained the patent for a movie-less digital camera that worked on analogue components. The first digital camera using CCD technology was invented by Steven J. Sasson, who worked for Kodak. Sasson made the first photo in 1975 with a device that was 3.6 kilos heavy. After taking a picture, it took almost a minute to write the picture and read it out again.

1990: Photo editing program Photoshop

The basis of Photoshop, the popular software for photo editing, was laid in 1987 by the student Thomas Knoll. After he had written a complete image editing program, he sold his software to Adobe, which it then put on the market in 1990. The modern Photoshop is for many photographers a major instrument for decorating and re-editing their digital photos.

1995: Cheap digital camera

From 1975, the traditional providers in the market have made digital cameras smarter, smaller and affordable. It took about twenty years before digital cameras were developed so far that they became accessible to the general public and it took another ten years for analog cameras to disappear from the streets. The developments were partly dependent on developments in the computer industry.

2000: Mobile phone with camera

In 2000, a mobile phone was introduced for the first time with a built-in camera. The Sharp Corporation telephone was only available in Japan. The built-in camera had a 110,000 pixel CMOS and photos could be viewed on a 256-color screen. A decade later, a quality digital camera usually belongs to a standard function on a mobile phone.


Digital economist and experienced user of stock photography for many purposes like blogs, advertising, websites and news media. Researcher of the market of stock photography. Loves to write about chances with visual content.

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