The Invention of Photography: The Key Facts, Figures and Important Dates

The Invention of Photography

In this article, I will tell you about the invention of photography, its brief history, and show you the very first photos taken after the invention of photography. As usual, photography is believed to be invented by one person; but it is not.

Photography was invented not by one person but by a whole galaxy of passionate people. The history of photography comes from time immemorial, from the camera obscura.

And it was like this: the incredible seething of photographic life began in 1839 when Daguerre published his important message about the invention of photography. In 1839, Hippolyte Bayard demonstrated positive prints in Paris, and John Herschel read in the Royal Society (Academy of Sciences in England) his report on the method he invented to fix photographs using soda hyposulfite still used in every photo laboratory. And before that, for more than 100 years, photography made its way to light.

But long before these events, the first person to prove that light, and not heat, makes silver salt dark was Johann Heinrich Schulze (1687-1744), physicist, professor at the University of Gall in Germany.

In 1725, while trying to prepare a luminous substance, he accidentally (as always by accident) mixed chalk with nitric acid, which contained a little dissolved silver. He noticed that when sunlight hit the white mixture, it became dark, while the combination, protected from sunlight, did not change. Then he carried out several experiments with letters and shapes, which he cut out of paper and placed on a bottle with the prepared solution – photographic prints were obtained on silvered chalk.

Professor Schulze published the findings in 1727, but he had no idea of ​​making the images found in this way permanent. He stirred the solution in the bottle, and the image disappeared. This experiment, however, gave impetus to a whole series of observations, discoveries, and inventions in chemistry, which, with the help of the pinhole camera, a little over a century later, led to the discovery of photography. And for this, he must be thanked very much.

The Invention of Photography

And yet, where was the beginning of photography? Where is the starting point? The chemical prehistory of photography begins in ancient times. People have always known that the sun’s rays darken human skin, sparkle opals and amethysts, spoil the taste of beer. The optical history of photography goes back about a thousand years.

The very first camera obscura can be called “a room, part of which is illuminated by the sun.” The tenth-century Arab mathematician and scientist Alhazen of Basra, who wrote about the basic principles of optics and studied the behavior of light, noticed the natural phenomenon of an inverted image.

He saw this inverted image on the white walls of darkened rooms or tents set up on the sunny shores of the Persian Gulf – the image passed through a small circular hole in the wall, in the open canopy of a tent or drapery.

Camera Obscura
Large Camera Obscura – The Invention of Photography

The giant camera obscura, built-in Kim by Athanasius Kircher in 1646, is shown without the top and sidewalls. It was a small mobile room that the artist could easily carry to where he wanted to paint. The artist climbed into this room through a hatch. On the engraving, he outlines, on the reverse side, an image on transparent paper, which hangs opposite one of the lenses.

Alhazen used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the sun, knowing that it was harmful to look at the sun with the naked eye. An inverted camera obscura image can be easily explained: the light passes straight lines through a small hole in the center.

Lines of light reflected from the base of the sunlit landscape enter the hole and project in a straight line towards the top of the wall of the darkened room. Likewise, strings of light reflected from the top of the landscape travel to the wall base, and all lines respectively pass through the center, forming an inverted image.

In the early years of the fifteenth century, artists began to strive to reproduce light on their canvases.

A keen interest in lenses in the sixteenth century laid the foundations for scientific discoveries in the next century. In 1604, Kepler defined mirror reflection’s physical and mathematical laws, and in 1609, Galileo invented a sophisticated telescope.

In 1611, Johannes Kepler developed the theory of lenses, which became a reliable scientific instrument. Interest in optical phenomena swept the whole of Europe like a fever. Artists, as well as scientists, were strongly influenced by this scientific research.

If artists demonstrated to scientists how to see the world, now scientists were paying them for this service. The fine arts of the sixteenth century, especially in Venice and Northern Italy, reflected an enormous interest in optical phenomena, and in the seventeenth century, it became almost universal.

Galileo and His Telescope
Galileo and His Telescope. The Invention of Photography

Architects, stage painters, sculptors fell victim to the love of illusion. As usual, they fell first. The imagination of the artists’ vision was limitless. Some Dutchmen – Karel Fabricius, Jan Vermeer, Samuel van Hoogstraten – and the Spaniard Velazquez went beyond the naked eye’s perceived possibilities and painted phenomena that could only be seen with a mirror or lenses.

Vermeer’s painting “The Girl in the Red Hat,” for example, seems to us as if it was made by a camera that gives “random circles” around brightly lit places when not every ray in the stream of light is focused. For artists of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, camera obscura began to bring great practical benefits, and the camera’s size decreased all the time.

It became possible to use the camera obscura in nature, and for this purpose, closed chairs and awnings were modified in the seventeenth century. In 1620, Kepler, the great astronomer and optical physicist, set up a dark tent in the field, set a lens in the slot of the tent and watched the image that appeared on white paper attached to the opposite wall of the tent, opposite the lens.

The camera obscura soon became two feet long and less than a foot high (1 foot = 30.8 cm.); the lens was installed on one side and at the base of the other – a mirror. The reflex type of camera obscura was created by Johann Zahn in 1685.

His box had the advantage that the mirror was placed inside at a 45-degree angle to the lens, and the image was reflected at the top of the box. Here he put frosted glass covered with tracing paper and could easily trace the image.

Tsang also invented an even smaller reflex, the Obscura camera with a built-in lens. It closely resembled the cameras used by Niepce one hundred and fifty years later.

The increased number of middle-class people in the eighteenth century created a demand for portraits at a reasonable price. Previously, portraits were only the privilege of the rich. The first response to this demand was to create a “silhouette,” a way you traced outlines or shadows projected onto the paper, and then this paper was then cut and pasted.

The outline of the face, invented by Gilles-Louis Chretien in 1786, was the same as the silhouette but with a slight advantage: the outline was engraved on a copper plate. Several prints could be made from this plate.

Hand Carved Silhouettes of Charles Wayge 2, and His Mother. Year 1824.
Hand Carved Silhouettes of Charles Wayge 2, and His Mother. The Invention of Photography

And finally, it happened. Nicephorus Niepce from France was the first person to capture an image with the sun successfully. In 1827 he tried to present his paper to the Royal Society in London. But since Niepce kept his process a secret, refusing to describe it in a report, the Royal Society did not accept his proposal (times were difficult, and such discoveries were kept secret, as now are kept in secrets of nanotechnology). The report, however, was accompanied by several photographs taken both on metal and glass.

In 1853, Robert Hunt, one of the first historians of photography, reported that some of these photographic plates were in the collection of the Royal (British) Museum. R. Hunt writes: “They prove that N. Niepce knows the method of creating images, with the help of which light, halftones, and shadows are transmitted as naturally as is observed in nature; he also succeeded in creating his heliographies, which are not further exposed to sunlight.

Some of these specimens are very well engraved. “We should not be surprised that these photographic plates resembled engravings since Niepce invented the photogravure. And the samples that R. Hunt saw were taken precisely for heliogravures and not photographs taken with a camera obscura.

Personal, portable camera obscura of the early 19th century
Personal, Portable Camera Obscura of the Early 19th Century

As you can see, the path of photography to light was thorny and complex. In those distant times, chemistry and physics were very poorly studied, chemists were burned at stake, accusing them of witchcraft. It was a serious reason for the long development of not only photography but also science in general.

The First Photo

First Photo. Year 1826 by Niepce
First Photo. The year 1826 by Niepce. The Invention of Photography

The first fixed image was taken in 1822 by the Frenchman Joseph Nicephorus Niepce, but it has not survived. Therefore, the first photograph in history is considered the picture “View from the window,” obtained by Niepce in 1826 with the help of a camera obscura on a tin plate covered with a thin layer of asphalt.

You may also like to read: First Photograph: The Very First Shots of Photography History
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions

Question: When was photography invented?

1839 is the generally accepted year of practical photography invention. In mid-1820, a French citizen Nicephorus Niepce first shot an image captured with a camera, but at least eight hours or even several days of exposure in the camera were required.

After that, his associate Louis Daguerre developed the daguerreotype process, the first publicly announced commercially viable photographic process. The daguerreotype process required only minutes of exposure in the camera and produced precise, finely detailed results. The details were introduced to the world in 1839, generally accepted as the birth year of practical photography (Source: Wikipedia).

Question: Which photographic pioneer is credited with the invention of photography?

As per history, photography was not invented by one person but by a whole galaxy of passionate people. However, Frenchman Joseph Nicephorus Niepce is credited with the invention of photography.

Question: Who invented photography during the industrial revolution?

Frenchman Joseph Nicephorus Niepce is credited with photography in the year 1839 during the industrial revolution. But, Johann Heinrich Schulze, a physicist, and professor at the University of Gall in Germany, accidentally invented photography in the year 1725 before the industrial revolution.

Question: Who first invented photography?

French citizen Joseph Nicephorus Niepce invented practical photography in the year 1839. But the photography process was developed not by one person but by a whole galaxy of passionate people about photography.

Question: Who invented street photography?

The very first street photography dates back to 1847. It shows the arrest of a man in France. History has not preserved the name of the photojournalist. But Charles Negre was the first photographer to attain the technical sophistication required to register people in movement on the street in Paris in 1851. Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer considered a master of candid photography, is the first modern street photographer.

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