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A Short History Of The Camera - The Invention Of Photography
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A Short History Of the Camera  -  The Invention Of Photography

How did photography get started? What exactly is photography? Who coined the term "photography?" An appreciation for the emerging of photography and a few educational tidbits about its origins, this article will help you gain more of a working knowledge of this exciting science.

Photography occupies only about one-hundred and fifty years before the present time within the history of the camera. We often assume that cameras, optics and photosensitive media as having emerged at about the same time. We will discover that this is far from true. Camera development has its roots many centuries before true photography began to emerge.

What Exactly Is Photography?

Photography is the art and science of exposing a light-sensitive medium to light bouncing off the subject being taken, preserving the point in time and space as art or for the record.

Exposing the medium, though at first, quite difficult, for most of the photographic era, entailed simply taking a snapshot at the push of a button. This was simply not the case in the earliest photographic cameras, not so much the having to remove the lens cover, but for the extended periods of exposure time requiring motionlessness subjects. For this issue, a special brace stood behind the subject, who rested his neck and back against to help maintain motionlessness.

Practice in photography also involves skill in the processing of the medium on which the subject has been recorded. This involves the mixing and working with caustic chemicals, using special processes, and preparations suited for medium.

How Did Photography Get Started?

Many people mistakenly associate the famous French inventor, Louis Daguerre, [1787-1851] with the earliest attempts to create photographic imagery. This is not so, though Daguerre did bring great advancements to the practice of processing light-sensitive materials.

In Italy, Joseph Nicephore Niepce, [1765-1833] somehow, was getting imagery on clay pots that he was producing. The fascinating point in this is that these images were not painted on nor any sort of decals of any kind. DaGuerre, having already produced images, had not found a way to keep the images on them from decaying rapidly.

Niepce often gets discredited for the famous first photograph and most people believe this was the work of Daguerre.

In the experiment, Niepce coated a plate made of pewter with a nitrate-containing bitumen (asphalt-like petroleum) and then exposed the preparation with a camera obscura facing the window overlooking a rather medieval-looking courtyard. After the eight-hour exposure time, Niepce used a solvent made from lavender oil and white petroleum. This preparation was analogous to the "stop bath" and "fixer" phases of modern film development. This essentially kills the developing process, else the entire plate would have turned black.

Upon success with this process, photography quickly took off and a whole new world opened.

How Did Modern Photography Develop?

Indeed, the earliest "photographs" were those found on Mr.Niepce's clay pots. The real essence of photography did not start until Niepce successfully created a photograph that lasted for years. From this development came the first commercially-successful form of photography. Camera obscuras (the earlier term for "camera") of the time were manufactured to accommodate the new silvered copper photographic plates.

Each emerging process offered great improvement upon previous ones in that they were less expensive, less dangerous and not so hazardous to human health. Generally, small improvements in image quality were noted, some for better or worse.

  • 1837 - Daguerreotype (Louis Daguerre) Copper plates treated with silver.
  • 1841 - Calotype (William Henry Fox Talbot) Paper treated with silver chloride.
  • 1851 - Wet Plate Collodion (Frederick Scott Archer) Invented the photographic negative.
  • 1854 - Ambrotype (James Ambro Cutting) Same process as Wet Plate, but producing positives instead of negatives.
  • 1856 - Tintype (Professor Hamilton Smith) Application of a black backing behind underdeveloped negatives, producing a positive effect when assembled.
  • 1885 - (Eastman Kodak) Developed the earliest photographic roll film composed of paper coated with a photosensitive chemical.

A more detailed study about these individuals and their processes will reveal more important facts.

A Short Recap:

  • True photography involves exposing a light-sensitive medium, usually pressing a button on the camera to take a snapshot of a subject, and then processing the medium into a permanent finished representation of the subject.
  • This may or may not include color tinting and mounting the photographs onto a backing.
  • The processes described here make for a new generation in technology for image-processing and in the evolution of camera obscuras.
  • Each process offered great improvement upon previous ones in that they were less expensive, less dangerous and not so hazardous to human health. Generally, small improvements in image quality were noted, some for better or worse.

Upon seeing the work involved with early photography, one can only appreciate the camera equipment we have today, especially the latest generation of mini sports cameras that have been coming out in recent years.


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