Development of Photography

Say “Cheese” and snap, a flash, a prickling sensation in the eye, a momentarily lapse and behold you are transfixed forever. Memories to behold, to go back down memory lane, remember something pleasant or a bitter resentment. A nostalgic experience to remember the good old days when everything was OK or, tragedy rooted deep into our sub-conscious, an embarrassment of a certain moment gone bad or, a moment which still moist your eyes. Oh yes Photographs, how they always bring back a part of our lives we have lost.

The Development of Photography

The word Photography is a Greek word derived from the combination of words “fos” – meaning light and “grafo” – to write. This word was brought in to light by a certain person named Sir John Herschel in 1839. Even though, the modern photography didn’t begin until 1820’s by the employment of permanent photographs, its history goes back to the time of Aristotle and Euclid, whose invention of the pin-hole camera and its concepts in the 4th and 5th century B.C.E, marks the beginning of photography as we know now. As with everything in this world once something is initiated, people start to experiment to bring forth their own version. Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) (965-1040) studied the camera obscura and pinhole camera, Albertus Magnus (1193/1206-1280) discovered silver nitrate, and Georges Fabricius (1516-1571) discovered silver chloride. Daniel Barbaro described a diaphragm in 1568. Wilhelm Homberg described how light darkened some chemicals (photochemical effect) in 1694 (Marien, 2009). However, their work largely involves the manipulation of light, which critics of today hardly calls photography, nevertheless, their work really brought photography to its present state.

The real piece of photography was done in 1725, Johan Heinrich Schulze, trying to prepare a phosphorescent chemical, accidentally mixed chalk with nitric acid that contained dissolved silver and observed the next phenomenon (Morton, 2008).

Even though, his work was astonishing, it didn’t produce any still images. It took a further hundred years to create a Still photograph. A French inventor by the name of Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1826, refined the existing silver process and produced a still image by the name of “View from the window”, which is the first photograph in the history. The photography needed 8 hours of exposure.

On 4 January 1829 Niepce agreed to go into partnership with Louis Daguerre. Niepce died only four years later, but Daguerre continued to experiment. During experiments, he discovered a way to develop photographic plates, which greatly reduced the exposure time from 8 hours to half an hour. An astonishing feat, furthermore, he also discovered that an image could be made permanent by immersing it in salt.

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Following a report on this invention by Paul Delaroche, a leading scholar of the day, the French government bought the rights to it in July 1839. Details of the process were made public on 19 August 1839, and Daguerre named it the Daguerreotype. Initially, the response was overwhelming because people saw it an opportunity to explore them as it required no prior training and drawing skills. However, this process was expensive and each picture was a once-only affair. That, too many, would not have been regarded as a disadvantage; it meant that the owner of the portrait could be certain that he had a piece of art that could not be duplicated. If however two copies were required, the only way of coping with this was to use two cameras side by side. There was, therefore, a growing need for a means of copying pictures which daguerreotypes could never satisfy. At the same time, Fox Talbot worked on a method to obtain photos on a paper treated with chemicals. His invented technique Calotype was a positive/negative process introduced in 1841 and popular for the next ten years or so (Gustavson, 2008).

Both Daguerre and Talbot used imperfect photographic materials, and because of this, the exposure took between 30-60 minutes, making portraits impossible and time-consuming. Later George Eastman refined Talbot’s process, which is the basic technology used by chemical film cameras today. In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer, a sculptor in London, improves photographic resolution by spreading a mixture of collodion (nitrated cotton dissolved in ether and alcohol) and chemicals on sheets of glass. Wet plate collodion photography was much cheaper than daguerreotypes, the negative/positive process permitted unlimited reproductions, and the process was published but not patented. Scottish physicist James Clerk-Maxwell demonstrates a color photography system involving three black and white photographs, each taken through a red, green, or blue filter. This is the “color separation” method. The next major step forward came in 1871 when Dr. Richard Maddox discovered a way of using Gelatin instead of glass as a basis for the photographic plate. This led to the development of the dry plate process. The introduction of the dry-plate process marked a turning point. In 1904 the first color photography plates were produced by the Lumiere firm (Rosenblum, 2007).

In the twentieth century, the development of photography was rapid. Despite these advances, the sensitive film was still supported on the glass, heavy and breakable, and cameras were usually wooden, large and tripod-mounted. Easy popular photography is due to George Eastman (1854-1932) of the USA, who made film-handling simple by mounting the sensitive gelatin emulsion on a strip of flexible plastic, then loaded into a lightweight camera as a rolled cartridge. In July 1888 Eastman’s Kodak camera went on the market with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”. Now anyone could take a photograph and leave the complex parts of the process to others, and photography became available for the mass-market in 1901 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie.


In 1906, due to availability of panchromatic black and white film, high quality color separation color photography was possible. The following year i.e. in 1907, first commercial film was developed by Lumiere Brothers in France. Seven years later, Oscar Barnack, employed by German microscope manufacturer Leitz, develops camera using the modern 24x36mm frame and sprocket 35mm movie film. In 1917: Nippon Kogaku K.K., which will eventually become Nikon, established in Tokyo. The 35 mm format camera, basis of today’s professional photography, was launched by Leitz in 1925 (Germany). Fuji Photo Film was founded in 1938; they were not only making films but cameras and lenses as well. WWII also contributed to the development of photography. During this era, multi-layer color negative films were developed. In 1951 a recorder of electric images was built in the USA and in the 1960’s the first digitalization of images were developed for space exploration and military activities: digital photography is much older than usually realized.

In 1963, First color instant film was developed by Polaroid; Instamatic released by Kodak; first purpose-built underwater introduced, the Nikonos. From 1970’s to late 80’s, rapid progress was made both in terms of technology as well as techniques employed to use them. However, it was not until 1991 that a commercial digital camera was marketed which, forever, changed the photography (Brennen, 2002). The Kodak DCS, actually a Japanese Nikon F3 camera with a 1.3 Megapixel sensor. Soon the Japanese dominated the market and the 21st century has seen a tremendous expansion in brands, a great reduction in price and an increase rate of one Megapixel per year in the decade after the first camera entered the market (Sandler, 2001). In 2000, Japan introduced camera cell phone in the market which enabled people to take photographs at ease. In 2004 digital cameras are massed-produced and 8 megapixel models are available for around US$1000 (Bergstein, 2008). As more advanced camera came in the market, photography evolved along with it. Photography was not limited to film cameras now but people were beginning to move towards digital camera in which the film doesn’t need to be developed but, rather, pictures were transferred from the camera to the memory cards to the computer via USB cable. It is unlikely that chemical photography will disappear, but digital photography will probably dominate the market and, in the future, improve in quality to emulate or even surpass chemical photography (Beaumont, 1982).

The future for the amazing world of photography looks tremendous with the new advancement coming at a blink of an eye. It sure will flourish more in the future.

Following are the processes used in photography

  • Monochrome photography
  • color photography
  • Full Spectrum Photography
  • Digital photography

Photography is not just taking pictures for fun but in recent time it has gain an enormous significance in terms of forensics and crime scene investigation, educational purposes, industries etc.