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Introduction to Early Photography

The development of photography in history can be quite confusing and nailing down a timeline can be even more confusing. I'll try to break down the very basic timelines of early photography here. Please keep in mind, many subjects involving timelines are very debatable. This is not the be all end all resource of early photography.

The principles of optics and the camera were known in B.C., though photography had a long way to go. In the 1500's Leonardo da Vinci had made drawings of a camera obscura, a darkroom that went back to around 1000 AD, but it wasn't until the 1600's that Isaac Newton figured out white light, and the 1700's when Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that when exposed to light, silver nitrate darkened.

It wasn't until the 1800's until photography got very, very interesting. Around 1825-1827, Joseph Niépce was credited with producing the first intentional photographic image. There were others before who experimented and created various images, but none of them "stuck" so to speak. The exposure took Niépce 8 hours. Niépce partnered with Louis Daguerre. After Niépce died, Daguerre kept experimenting and got the exposure down to under an hour. The daguerreotype, a fixed image on a silver coated copper plate, was patented by the French government in 1839 and is considered the first real commercial photographic process. William Henry Talbot's calotype, a salt-solutioned paper process, came out in 1841, John Herschel's cyanotype, a blue photo developing process using natural sunlight, came out in 1842. Some of these dates are disputed, but it's clear that the early to mid 1800's was the most exciting and pioneering time of photography.

As with all fresh technologies, you'll notice the leap frogging inventions. The dates and inventors names and accomplishments become mixed. Just keep in mind that many brilliant scientific and photographic minds experimented and improved on each others' processes. Frederick Archer Scott's collodion process introduced in 1851 became commercially superior to all. The ambrotype, 1851, was a negative image on glass. Then came the very popular tintype, a negative image on iron, in 1853. In 1854 came the carte de visite, an easily reproducible photographic image on paper. In 1862, the 3D stereoscope images, actually introduced in the 1840's, became popular in the United States. In 1866 came the more commercial cabinet card paper prints which remained popular into the 1870's.

Early photography at this point has now matured nicely and on the horizon came other photographic improvements such as the gelatin dry plate. George Eastman comes onto the scene and founds the Eastman Dry Plate Company in 1880. Eastman invents flexible film paper and goes on in 1888 to patent the Kodak roll-film camera. Then in 1900 the famous mass-marketed Brownie camera is developed and modern photography is well underway. As a brief introduction to early photography can hardly scratch the surface of how fascinating the early processes evolved, I encourage everyone to learn as much as they can about the history of early photography.
About Author J.F. Borno :

J.F. Borno enjoys reading and learning about early photographic history. He also enjoys writing about <a href="" target="_blank">daguerreotypes</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">tintypes</a>.

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