The Origins of Photography Timeline
(compiled by Rick Soloway, all rights reserved 2011}
Mo-Tsu ( or Mo Ti ) may be the earliest to describe a camera obscura in ancient China
Aristotle describes a camera obscura in ancient
An Islamic scholar, Alhazen (Abu Ali al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham) is credited with describing the principles of the camera obscura in detail.
English scientist Roger Bacon is said to be the first to describe the camera obscura in scientific detail with the benefit of knowledge from previous Arabic scholars.
Italian Leonardo DaVinci describes the camera obscura in detail.
Italian Giovanni Battista della Porta suggests that the camera obscura can be an aid to rendering an image on to paper.
The use of lenses is introduced, and the camera obscura becomes smaller and movable.
Italian Angelo Sala observed that silver nitrate turns black when exposed to sunlight.
The use of a reflex mirror with the camera obscura is introduced.
The use of a “telephoto” lens with the camera obscura is introduced.
German Johan Heinrich Schulze made stencil images on bottles containing silver nitrate
Swede Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered that ammonia removed unexposed silver nitrate, leaving darkened metallic silver residue.
Englishman Thomas Wedgwood (unaware of Scheele’s work) experimented with transferring an image from a camera obscura on to paper and leather treated with silver nitrate. Insufficient exposures and inability to “fix” the image frustrated his success. Nonetheless, a scientific paper was published in 1802.
Frenchman Joseph Nicephore Niepce experimented with light-sensitive varnishes on papers sensitized with silver chloride.
German-born Englishman Sir John Frederick William Herschel introduced the “negative” and “positive” process along with the use of sodium thiosulfate (then called sodium hyposulfate = “hypo”) as a fixer.
Joseph Nicephore Niepce is said to be the first to create a permanent photographic image (using an 8 hour exposure!).
Frenchman Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre communicates with J. Niepce and they exchange information until Niepce’s death in 1833.
Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot begins experiments with creating permanent photographic images on paper with marginal success, until hearing of Daguerre’s innovations in France. Appropriating Daguerre’s process along with Herschel’s breakthroughs, Talbot patented the “calotype” (later known as the “talbotype”) and aggressively asserted his patent rights in England, effectively stifling competition and experimentation along similar lines in Great Britain until 1855. Talbot also unsuccessfully disputed Daguerre’s recognition by the Academie des Sciences in France, only to have the French government purchase the patent rights from Daguerre then release the patent without restriction to the world in 1839!
also credited with producing first permanent direct positive image, but
was over-shadowed by the celebrity of Daguerre, and slipped into
The French Government agreed to pay Daguerre and Joseph Niepce’s son (Isadore Niepce) a life annuity of 4,000 francs in exchange for releasing the patent rights (of their work) to the world in a grand gesture. Daguerre discovered that mercury vapor produced an image on iodized silver plate with relatively brief exposures, then fixing the image in a strong salt solution (known as the “daguerreotype”). The process was announced by Francois Arago at the Academie des Sciences in Paris in 1839 (after Daguerre had earlier patented the process in England in 1838), much to the chagrin and consternation of Henry Fox Talbot.
Americans Samuel Morse and John Draper cooperatively experimented with refining Daguerre’s process by shortening exposure time to seconds. Morse went on to mentor famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.
Fox Talbot patents his own similar talbotype
proprietary process and publishes “The Pencil of Nature” describing
the process along with 24 photographs making it the first photo
Englishman Frederick Scott Archer refined the calotype process and introduced the use of iodized collodion on glass, or collodion “wet plate” process. He died destitute, while the “wet plate” process went on to successfully dominate photography for the next 30 years.
Niepce de Saint Victor
(cousin of J. N. Niepce) invents the glass-plate albumen process in
France, and his technique is quickly appropriated and patented in
England by Talbot.
photographer Matthew Brady (a student of
Samuel Morse) publishes “The Gallery of Illustrious Americans”.
Later, the cost of producing his prolific Civil War series of
photographs drove him to bankruptcy.
Swedish-born American Edweard Muybridge was the first to arrest motion by using a series of static cameras triggered by a moving object breaking strings that were attached to the shutter releases (zoopraxiscope). Published “Animal Locomotion” in 1887.
“Roll film” introduced and soon exploited by Kodak founder George Eastman marking the beginning of the “snap-shot” era, also made possible by advancements in lens manufacture and decreasing size of camera bodies.