January 16, 2023

Robin Gillham

When Was The Camera Invented? A Short History Of Photography And Cameras

Photo by Sacha T’Sas

In most of human history, there were two ways to capture the world around you. You could describe it verbally or in writing. You could also draw or paint the scene if you knew how.

Neither of the two solutions was particularly trustworthy. It is easy for words to be distorted, and drawings take time and are highly dependent on the artist’s skill. It is inevitable that details will be missed, lost, or warped. A way to accurately capture the world around us was needed.

It took centuries for such a technique to be discovered. Philosophers, alchemists, businessmen, spies, and fraudsters were all involved in the journey. Around 150 years ago, mankind succeeded in drawing with light.

The technology that resulted, photography, is almost miraculous. The extent to which it has dominated modern society cannot be overstated. We barely spare a moment to consider how it came to be and take it almost for granted. However, studying the history of photography is vital if you wish to fully understand and master photography.

In its relatively short history, photography has come a long way. From a simple box that took blurry photos nearly 200 years ago to today’s high-tech minicomputers in DSLRs and smartphones.

It is possible to go into great detail about the history of photography. Let’s look at some of the highlights and major developments of this scientific art form.

When Was Photography Invented?

Hundreds of years of advancements in chemistry and optics led to the invention of the camera obscura, which enabled the first photograph to be taken. That photograph was taken in 1826 by French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, at his family’s country home, Le Gras. By exposing a bitumen-coated plate in a camera obscura for several hours on his windowsill, Niépce created a photograph showing a courtyard and outbuildings.

History Of Photography Timeline


Nicéphore Niépce produces the first permanent photograph of a natural scene. Judean bitumen is used for its photosensitivity.


William Henry Fox Talbot presents to the Royal Society of London a paper on photogenic drawing, a permanent camera obscura image made with photosensitive silver salts.


In 1851-1854, ambrotypes are introduced in Europe and the U.S. and are used in the mid 1850s. In the same way that daguerreotypes are carried in plastic cases, wet collodion images are made by blackening the back of the glass plate. In the next 25 years, wet collodion negatives and positive paper prints will dominate photography.


A projected color photographic image is demonstrated by James Clerk Maxwell in London, using three different color filters. Celluloid-like cellulose is produced by Alexander Parkes.


The name “celluloid” is trademarked in the United States and Great Britain by John Wesley Hyatt.


Among numerous English photographers, Charles Bennett improves gelatin dry plate photography by increasing the photosensitivity of the silver-salted gelatin emulsion (thus reducing the exposure time). Eastman reads the report in “British Journal of Photography.”


In Newark, New Jersey, the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin invents a method for making transparent, flexible film and applies for a patent.


A roll-holder breast camera, commonly called the Kodak camera, is introduced by Eastman, which is easier to use and mass-produce than its earlier detective camera. It costs $25 at retail.


The x-ray photograph is invented by Wilhelm Roentgen of Germany on November 8. The Lumière brothers of France exhibit a cinema projector.


In Rochester, New York, the Eastman Theater opens on September 4.


In an important step towards the invention of television, AT&T sends photographs by wire.


Photographers now have reliable photoflash light bulbs at their disposal.


Photographers can acquire motions of infinitesimally short duration with the stroboscope, a precisely timed flash developed by Harold Edgerton.


Kodak employees Leopold Damrosch Mannes and Leopold Godowsky introduce the Kodachrome process of color photography.


Xerography, or simply photocopying, is invented by Chester Carlson, who invents “electron photography.”


Tri-X film is introduced by Eastman Kodak.


A new underwater camera developed by EG&G is being used by the US Navy.


The instant color film is introduced by Polaroid.


The Earth is photographed from the moon. In terms of environmental photography, Earthrise is considered one of the most influential images.


With the SX-70 camera, Polaroid introduces one-step instant photography.


Inventors George Eastman and Edwin Land are inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


A point-and-shoot autofocus camera is introduced by Konica.


The first consumer camcorder to capture moving images is demonstrated by Sony.


The first digital electronic still camera is demonstrated by Canon.


The digital imaging processor is introduced by Pixar.


Kodak introduces Photo Compact Disc as a digital image storage medium.

First Photo Ever Taken

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the world’s first photograph in 1826 with the first proper camera. Niépce took the photograph from the upstairs windows of his Burgundy estate. Bitumen of Judea (the naturally occurring Syrian asphalt) was coated onto a piece of glass or metal and then hardened in proportion to the amount of light hitting it. This process is known as heliography.

Early Photography and The Origin Of Copyright

Photo by Markus Winkler

It was the printing press that triggered the development of copyright. The Papal Bull against unlicensed printing of books was issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1501. A few years later, The Worshipful Company of Stationers & Newspaper Makers was founded. Following the English Civil War, the Stationers’ monopoly was no longer politically useful after the king was replaced by the Parliament. Immediately following the breakup of the association, newspapers began to appear and become propaganda tools. There was no time to waste when it came to noticing how important copyright regulation is.

Parliament enacted the Statute of Anne in 1710 to address the concerns of English writers and booksellers. Copyright was established in 1710 through an act establishing authors’ ownership. There is also a fixed period of protection of copyrighted works of fourteen years, renewable for fourteen more years if the author is still alive.

Congress in the United States claimed that protecting the rights of authors and inventors would support the continuous development of science and art. It was established in 1790, but it was not applicable in the U.S. Even in the 21st century, the U.S. still took a lot from the rich European cultural heritage for free, and weak copyright would make the art inexpensive. It did not take long for the situation to revert. America became a dominant cultural exporter at the end of the 20th century. There was an improvement in the situation for copyright owners. Authors and painters were not the only ones protected by copyright. A new kind of art was also protected: photography.

The conditions of copyrights evolved over the following years. Since the first extension of 28 years in 1831 with 14 years of renewal up to the life of the author plus 70 years in 1998, the duration of copyright protection has increased significantly.  A significant moment in the history of Copyright was the Berne Convention (1886), which differed greatly from British and American laws. The Convention, on the other hand, focuses more on the rights of authors than on commerce.

Following the Berne Convention, the Berlin Act was signed by many European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom. Despite sending a delegation to observe the meetings, the United States did not sign the act. In 1976, the U.S. Copyright Act aligned U.S. Copyright terms with international practices. A photographer’s work is protected by copyright from the moment it is created by this act. A bill adding the U.S. to the Berne Convention was signed by President Ronald Regan six years later, in 1988.

When Was The First Camera Invented?

Photo by Jakob Cotton

Invented in 1816 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the first device we recognize as a camera was created. Beaumont Newhall’s “The History of Photography” documents the invention of the camera through letters to his brother.

Using his prototype, he took the first photograph ever in 1826, which captured the view from his home at Le Gras in France. Niépce spent at least eight hours creating the image.

Before modern cameras, ancient civilizations experimented with the camera obscura for centuries.  Despite the fact that it is unknown who invented the camera obscura, the earliest known written record of this idea dates back to Han Chinese scholar Mozi (c. 470 to c. 391 BC).

According to Aristotle, sunlight traveling through leaf spaces creates the illusion of an overshadowed sun on the ground. Anthemius of Tralles, who used a camera obscura in his experiments in the 6th century, was aware of this phenomenon.

In his Codex Atlanticus, Leonardo da Vinci explains the camera obscura in great detail for the first time. Over the years, he sketched approximately 270 illustrations of camera obscura systems and related them to the human eye.

Who Made The First Camera?

Photo by Antonio Scant

Designed by Johann Zahn in 1685, the first portable camera was the first of its kind. Approximately 130 years later, little progress was made in the development of the technology. Attempts to make cameras in between were mostly unsuccessful. First photographs were taken by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1814. Thus, Johann Zahn and Joseph Nicephore Niepce share credit for the invention of the first camera. Nicephore’s photo was not permanent. The photograph was taken with a camera he built himself, using silver chloride-coated paper. On the paper, the regions not exposed to light became dark.

How Was The First Camera Made?

It was Louis Daguerre’s obsession to find a simple way to create permanent images that led him to become an apprentice of architecture and theater design. As he continued to experiment with silver, he eventually discovered a relatively simple method that worked.

In 1839, Louis Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype, an early form of photo camera. During light exposure, a thin film of silver iodide was applied to a plate. After that, the photographer would treat it with mercury vapor and heated saltwater in the darkness. As a result, any silver iodide that was not affected by the light would be removed, leaving behind a fixed image on the camera.

Despite being technically a mirror image of the world they captured, Daguerreotypes produced positive images, unlike Niepce’s “negatives.” Initially, daguerreotypes required long exposure times, but technological advances drastically decreased this time period within a few years, allowing the camera to even be used for family portraits.

In exchange for a life pension for Louis and his son, the French government purchased the rights to the daguerreotype design. In response, France presented the technology and the science behind it as a “free gift to the world”. Soon, every wealthy household would take advantage of this new technology.

When Was The First Glass Negative Invented

It was Frenchman Louis Daguerre who invented daguerreotypes in 1839, an early form of photography that used metal plates. Sir John Herschel, however, created a photographic negative using silver chloride on 9 September of the same year. He introduced the word “photography” into English.

One of the great Victorian polymaths, Herschel was capable of doing almost anything. Aside from his pioneering work in photography, he excelled in botany, math, chemistry, and astronomy, the family hobby. Sir William Herschel was his father, after whom the space observatory was named, which launched in 2009.

Photographing the skies with the glass-plate method was ideal (with a few modifications along the way). In fact, it was so successful that astronomers continued to use it into the 1990s.

Besides naming a bunch of planetary moons, Herschel also invented the “Cyanotype” method. Historically, cyan was used to make blueprints because it is the color used in printing.

1890s Photography

Photo by Yusuf Evli

Up until 1890, photography was largely a professional occupation. Therefore, the advent of consumer photography in the final decade of the 19th century can be considered a major step in the history of photography. Again, this development was driven by technological advancements: in the 1880s, George Eastman introduced a flexible roll film and the first Kodak camera. It offered 100 exposures, which had to be processed after returning the entire camera to Eastman. As a result, the pictures are of good quality and are shaped in circles. While professional photographers and artists explored this new tool from a creative standpoint, domestic and snapshot photography took off like a wildfire: anyone capable of pressing a button and turning a crank could now be a photographer, capturing whatever they viewed as interesting – at an affordable price.

A true revolution and irreversible process, the democratization of photography precipitated the omnipresence of images in the 21st century. A pioneer in this field was Oskar Barnack of E. Leitz invented a miniature camera with perforated strips of 35-mm film at the eve of World War I, later commercialized as the Leica (1924). Some distrusted this easy-to-use and compact device and deemed it unsuitable for serious photography, while others welcomed the opportunity to take photographs anywhere and anytime. The Leica quickly became the camera of choice for both professionals and amateurs.

First Video Camera

Photo by Kai Dahms

While Eadweard Muybridge used 24 still cameras to capture a horse in motion in 1878, the Kinetograph camera, invented by W.K.L. in 1891 and patented in 1891, is considered by most film historians to be the oldest example of motion picture photography. The first motion picture camera contained in a single housing was invented by Dickson under Edison’s guidance in the late 1880s. Lumiere, Pleograph, Aeroscope, and other early movie cameras followed the Kinetograph.

Most historians agree that Louis Le Prince’s single-lens camera, made in 1888, created the first and oldest motion video. The video is a two-second silent film of people walking in a garden called “Roundhay Garden Scene.”. It wasn’t a blockbuster, but it was a major step forward for motion pictures.

Thomas Edison’s employer William Kennedy Laurie Dickson invented the first movie camera in 1891 called the Kinetograph. Dickson’s model was much more successful than Edison’s video camera attempt at the same time.

Kazimierz Proszynski invented the Pleograph, a camera with a projector, in 1894. Aeroscope, the first compressed air camera, was also made by him. In WWI, news broadcasters had a much easier time shooting battles in the field thanks to the Aeroscope, the first hand-held camera.

As video cameras became available on a mass-market scale in the early 1900s, the film and theater industries boomed. In the past, these theater screenings were silent black-and-white films. The 1950s saw the addition of color to films along with the addition of sound as technology advanced.

First Color Film

Photo by Annie Spratt

During the late 1920s, “La Can-Can” became the first color movie. An artist creates a sculpture of a nude woman in the film. After spending some time with other women, he abandons them when he sees that his sculpture has come to life.

Color sequences are included in the film, but it is primarily in black and white. Parts of the black and white film were tinted to create the color sequences. Due to their inexperience, they weren’t able to easily make the film’s color consistent. It was long before dyes were used for color in films. Before the 1950s, this technique wasn’t widely used for making films.

It was one of the first films to combine black and white and color in an artistic manner, making “La Can-Can” a landmark in movie history.

When Did Color Photography Start

Photo by Brett Jordan

Gabriel Lippmann used his knowledge of physics in 1886 to create the first color photograph without the use of pigments or dyes. By using interference, Lippmann was able to explain the propagation of waves.

He showed his process along with color images of a parrot, a bowl of oranges, a group of flags, and a stained glass window by 1906. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery.

When Did Digital Photography Start

Photo by TheRegisti

A pioneer in digital photography was Eugene F. Lally of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who in 1961 developed a process for digitizing light signals so astronauts could take better images and, therefore, better determine their location in space.

Film photography was used at this point, and for many decades to come, which was effective, but did not provide the immediate results Lally sought. In spite of the fact that the first filmless camera would not be invented for about 15 years more, Lally’s early musings contributed to its invention, particularly the idea of using photo sensors instead of film.

Several other advancements in digital photography followed, some of them closely related to improving space photography, but before the invention of the digital camera.

Therefore, digital photography history cannot be pinpointed to a single year or invention. As a result, digital images are the culmination of the work of a variety of experts over many years. We can thank them for digital photography in its current form, even if most of us don’t use it to position ourselves in space.

Most Popular 1920s Camera


Photo by John H Rhodes

Cameras of the 1920s were more advanced than their box-shaped, wooden predecessors. In an effort to make cameras more compact and travel-friendly, folding cameras were made with metal bodies and casings. Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak cameras went beyond folding mechanisms – they were much smaller, and could even fit in shirt pockets!


Photo by Museums Victoria

Anastigmat and Autographic were marketed as superior cameras with superior lenses. They were collaborations between professional lens makers and camera makers. This collaboration produced a quality result ready for aiming, shooting, and capturing, “superiorly.”


Photo by Alexander Andrews

In the 20s, the motion picture era was still in its infancy, but camera manufacturers were still marketing cinema’s growing popularity. The Cine-Kodak was the first 16mm camera created in 1923.

Most Popular 1900s Camera

The Kodak Brownie

Photo by Hello I’m Nik

With the original Kodak Brownie, one of the most influential cameras ever made arrived in February 1900.  This $1 USD camera was aimed at the masses (make the camera cheap and make your money on the film and processing). A simple box camera made of cardboard with a fixed focus meniscus lens.

It sold just over a quarter of a million units before being briefly updated as the Brownie No 1 in 1901.  We also introduced medium format 120 film that year with the Brownie No. 2. A metal-bodied version of this camera is still working fine today after one of the longest production runs in history.

Most Important Photography Innovations

Camera Obscura: 5th century B.C.

Before the camera, there was the camera obscura. These devices consisted of darkened rooms or enclosed boxes with a tiny opening on one side, literally translated as “dark chambers.”. Light passing through the “pinhole” projected a hazy picture of the outside world onto the walls or screens.

Photochemistry: 18th and 19th centuries

Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered in 1725 that silver salts darkened when exposed to light. In 1827, a French inventor named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a camera obscura and a pewter plate coated with a light-sensitive material called Bitumen of Judea to capture and fix images. As the world’s first photograph, his eight-hour exposure of the courtyard of his home is now considered to be the world’s first.

Daguerreotype: 1837

Louis Daguerre, a French artist, and inventor who partnered with Niépce in the late 1820s, took photography to the next level. In 1837, Daguerre discovered that exposing iodized silver plates to light left behind a faint image that could be developed with mercury fumes. In addition to producing a sharper and more refined picture, the new technique also reduced the exposure time from several hours to about ten or twenty minutes.

Flexible Roll Film: 1884-1889

Film on rolls was introduced by George Eastman in the mid-1880s, making photography accessible to amateurs. Photographers could take multiple pictures in quick succession using a roll of film since it was more lightweight and resilient than heavy glass plates. Eastman used flexible film as the primary selling point of his first Kodak camera, a small, 100-exposure model that customers could use and then send back to the manufacturer for development. Its coated paper film produced fairly poor quality photographs, but Eastman marketed it to Victorian shutterbugs under the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.”. In the year following the introduction of celluloid, film would improve by leaps and bounds, and it would remain the standard method of photography for nearly a century until the advent of digital cameras.

Autochrome: 1907

The desire for color photography is practically as old as the medium itself, but it wasn’t until 1907 that a viable method was developed. A year later, the Lumiere brothers began marketing the additive color process they called Autochrome. The Lumieres found the key to their invention in an unlikely place: the potato. They produced vivid, painterly images by adding tiny grains of dyed potato starch to a panchromatic emulsion. In 1935, Eastman Kodak Company’s legendary Kodachrome film replaced Autochrome as the world’s most popular color film technique.

Robin Gillham

Robin is a resident case manager at Pixsy, working directly with our creators and photographers to help them enforce their rights. Robin is a hobby photographer with a keen interest in time-lapse.

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