A Brief History of Photography

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The word photography comes from the Greek words photo meaning light and graphein meaning to draw. Photography is therefore the art of drawing with light.

The Precursors: The technique of drawing with light was known to the Chinese and the Ancient Greeks since the time of Aristotle. It was called camera obscura. A hole in one wall of a darkened room permitted images from the outside to fall on the opposite wall. The artist then drew the image. In the 16th century an Italian scientist Giambattista Della Porta used the technique with a lens, but the artist still needed to draw the outline of the image. In 1727, a German Professor of Anatomy, Johann Schulze proved that the darkening of silver salts was caused by light rather than heat.

The First Photograph: In 1826, Joseph Nicephore Niepce, from Burgundy, France is credited with taking the world’s first photograph. He took a picture of his country estate from an upper window of his house. He used a portable version of the camera obscura fitted with a pewter plate. The exposure time of the first photograph was eight hours. Niepce called the technique ‘heliography’ or sun drawing.

The First Prints: Using the same technique, but with a shortened exposure time of three hours Niepce reproduced a portrait of Cardinal d’Ambrosia. He then had the pewter plate etched and used as a printing plate to print 2 paper copies of the portrait.

Daguerreotype: In 1835, Louis Daguerre discovered a process that reduced exposure time to 30 minutes. His first photograph using this technique was of his studio. The image was sharp and detail was captured as never before. The process was named Daguerreotype.

The First Negatives: William Henry Fox Talbot invented the technique of making paper light sensitive by soaking it in sodium chloride and silver nitrate. When exposed to light an image was recorded on the paper as a negative (spatially reversed). Positives could be obtained by putting fresh sheets of sensitised paper in contact with the negative and exposing it to sunlight.

First Motion Picture Presentation: Eadweard Muybridge of California photographed the movement of a horse using a series of 24 cameras. The shutter of each camera was released as the passing horse snapped the connecting thread. Muybridge presented the photographs at the San Francisco Arts Association in 1880, using a lantern slide projector, accurately recreating the moving horse.

First Colour Photograph: Mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell created the scientific process that produced the first colour photograph. In 1861, Thomas Sutton snapped a three coloured bow using Maxwell’s technique.

First Colour Landscape Photograph: The picture titled ‘Landscape of Southern France’ taken by pioneer in colour photography Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron is the first successful attempt at capturing nature in colour.

The First Digital Photograph: Kodak developed the world’s first digital camera in 1975. However the world’s first digital photograph was taken about 20 years before. It is scan of a shot taken on film. The shot of Russell Kirsch’s son has a resolution of 176×176.

The First 3 D Portrait Photograph: Computer experts at the Smithsonian and USC Institutes of Creative Technologies collaborated to produce a 3 D image of Barak Obama. They used a custom built 50 LED light array combined with 8 sports cameras and 6 wide angle cameras. The image was then printed in 3 DD and is on display at the Smithsonian.

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