Digital photography is an integral part of life in the 21st century. Photography – when it was created: it is not only a branch of visual art or a way of documenting reality. Currently, photography allows us to create this reality. Our grandparents and parents stored traditionally developed photos in albums, treating them as valuable family heirlooms.
Photos allowed to preserve memories, were a record of family celebrations, allowed to document the passage of time and the development of events. Currently, thanks to smartphones with high-end digital cameras and photo processing applications, we take and freely retouch photos in a few seconds, which we then share with the world via social media. We rarely think about how photography came to be in the first place and when did it happen?
What is photography?
What is photography? What common features do black and white photographs from old albums and modern digital photographs processed in graphic programs have in common? The very name photography indicates such a common feature. The word comes from the ancient Greek words meaning light and drawing. It follows that the whole name can be translated as “drawing with light”.
Photography is not a single method, but rather a collection of many techniques, but with one common goal. It is the fixation of a single, still image through the use of light. Typically, various types of optical systems are used for this purpose, although this is not a necessary condition.
What inventions contributed to the creation of photography
Currently, we usually associate taking a photo with the click of a button on a smartphone. We do not need any chemical reagents, heavy equipment or a long waiting time for the final effect of immortalizing the image. However, in order for such a dynamic and multifaceted development of photography to become possible, a lot of independent research in the field of physics and mathematics as well as technical inventions were necessary. They happened in many different countries over many centuries.
Ancient Greek philosophers, including Aristotle and Euclid, dealt with the issues of optics. The latter described the rectilinear propagation of light and suggested the possibility of creating an image if the sun’s rays pass through a hole of small diameter. Optics and the possibility of creating images also interested Arab mathematicians. One of them, Ibn al-Hasam, is the author of the first description of the photographic darkroom, known as the camera obscura. This description was written in the year 1020.
Traditional photography also owes a lot to chemists who studied the properties of photosensitive substances, including Albert the Great, who discovered the properties of silver nitrate in the 22nd century. William Fabricius, in turn, a few centuries later made the discovery of silver chloride, a white salt that darkens when exposed to light.
The photochemical effect itself, i.e. the darkening of a substance under the influence of light, was investigated and described in the late seventeenth century by Wilhelm Homberg. The invention of the photographic screen by Daniel Barbaro at the end of the 16th century should also be mentioned. The joint use of scientific theories and inventions of technology, chemistry and physics enabled the creation of the first traditional photographs.
Who took the first photo?
The French inventor, Nicéphore Niépce, is considered to be the creator of the first permanent photograph. Niépce used a zinc plate coated with bitumen to create his picture in 1826. Bitumen is a substance that hardens when exposed to light. After washing off the uncured residues and covering the base with a special paint, it was possible to create a print on paper. The image obtained in this way was not clear, and the process of creating the photograph itself took a long time. Exposure to light for more than two days was necessary. At the end of his life, the Frenchman began experiments with silver compounds, using the photochemical effect.
Daguerreotype, calotype – new inventions in the history of photography
Thanks to the improvement of the use of silver compounds for photography, new photographic techniques were developed. Daguerre creatures daguerreotype, allowing you to create pictures by using silver salts and copper plates. It is worth noting that the technique gained immense popularity in the following years, and is still used in Polaroid cameras today.
Another milestone in the development of photography was the calotype developed by Talbot. This process, by covering a sheet of paper with a thin layer of silver chloride, makes it possible to obtain an instant negative. This technique is used, after improvement, of course, to produce photographic films to this day.
When were the photos we know today created?
The first photographs were black and white. The chemicals used in the image formation process did not allow the individual colors to be fixed. The first color photograph was taken by the physicist James Maxwell in 1861. This became possible thanks to the development of the technology of sensitizing silver salts to green and orange light. Of course, the colors were still not as vivid as they are today, because the full sensitivity of the photographic film to red light was not achieved until the beginning of the next century.
The emergence of photography became possible thanks to the invention of light-sensitive CCD and CMOS matrices in the second half of the 20th century. The first digital photo was taken in 1972 by Michael Tompsett. Since then, the development of image capture techniques has accelerated even more. On the one hand, we have more and more modern, smaller and smaller digital cameras, on the other hand, traditional methods are coming back to favor, giving more opportunities to achieve artistic effects. Despite its long history, photography is definitely not a thing of the past!