History of photography 26

The First Photographs Ever Taken


We live in an era where photography isn’t just commonplace – it’s essentially constant so  it is easy to forget that the first photograph ever was taken just 188 years ago.

For times immemorial, people have tried to reproduce their surroundings into pictures of their own. They have used techniques of paintings, carving and sculpturing and for years images have been projected onto surfaces. Photography is the result of combining several technical discoveries. Long before the first photographs were made, Chinese and Greek philosophers described a pinole camera. But it was until Ibn – al – Haytham (965 – 1040) a Muslim scientist made significant contributions to the principles of optics and invented the camera obscura which is a prototype of today’s modern camera. While this early prototype may have had modest usage in its time, it was an important step in the evolution of the invention.

This list works in chronological order and focuses mainly on the earliest years and most significant breakthroughs in photography.

1. Earliest Known Photograph [1825]

History of photography 25

This photograph was only discovered in 2002 and is now known to be the very first permanent photograph ever taken by Nicéphore Niépce – the father of photography. It is of a 17th Century Flemish engraving showing a man leading a horse  and it was made using a technique known as heliogravure. The method involves a piece of copper covered with light sensitive bitumen. This metal plate is exposed to light and creates an image which is then transferred to paper. The image has been declared a national treasure by the French government and it sold for $392,000 at auction to the French National Library.

2. The First Photograph Ever Taken “View from the Window at Le Gras” [1826]

History of photography 24The first permanent photograph (later accidentally destroyed) was an image produced in 1822 by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. His photographs were produced on a polished pewter plate covered with a petroleum derivative called bitumen of Judea. View from the Window at Le Gras (La cour du domaine du Gras) was the first successful permanent photograph, created by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. Niépce captured the photo with a camera obscura focused onto a sheet of 20 × 25 cm oil-treated bitumen. As a result of the 8-hour exposure, sunlight illuminates the buildings on both sides. Incredibly, this same year Beethoven was still writing music, the Inquisition held the last public procession of penitent heretics (auto de fe) in Spain, and America’s second president, John Adams, died.

Camera Obscura

 world's first camera

This device is called a camera obscura (latin for dark chamber). It is literally a dark room or a box with a small hole in one wall. An inverted image from outside the hole would appear on the opposite wall. This device could thus be used to aid drawing (artist could trace the outline of the image on a canvas hung on the wall) and was considered quite significant in the development of proto-photography.

The invention of camera obscura (latin for dark chamber) was attributed to an islamic mathematician, astronomer, and physicist named Ibn al-Haitham or better known as Alhazen, in the 11th century Egypt. However, the principle of camera obscura was probably known to thinkers as early as Aristotle (300 BC).

Camera obscura was widely known to early scientists: Roger Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci, Johannes Kepler, and Athanasius Kircher all wrote about this optical device.

Giphantie: Prediction of the Invention of PhotographyIn 1760, decades before the invention of photography, French author Charles-François Tiphaigne de la Roche predicted its invention.In a story titled Giphantie (yes, an anagram of his name), Tiphaigne de la Roche wrote about a race of secret supermen in an imaginary wonderland who could fix a reflected image onto a canvas coated with a sticky substance!

3.  The First Photograph of a Human ”Boulevard Du Temple” [Paris, 1838]

History of photography 26Boulevard du Temple,  was the first-ever photograph of a person. It is an image of a busy street, but because exposure time was over ten minutes, the city traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is a man in the bottom left corner, fortunately he stood still long enough (getting his shoes polished) for the 10 minute exposure to include him. The image was taken by Louis Daguerre who invented the Daguerreotype – one of the earliest methods of photography. The French government purchased the rights to the daguerreotype and released it free to the world.


Although daguerreotype was not the first photographic process to be invented, it was the first commercially viable process (earlier techniques required hours and hours of successful exposure and therefore weren’t suitable for taking people’s photos).

This technique was developed by French chemist Louis Daguerre, with collaboration with Niépce. The daguerreotype above, titled “L’Atelier de l’artiste” was probably the world’s first daguerreotype, made in 1837.

In 1839, the French government acquired Daguerre’s French patent and announced his invention “a gift free to the world” – but simultaneously, Daguerre had acquired patents abroad, where he stringently controlled the use of daguerreotype.

And just like with any technology, the first adopters turned out to be erotic photography.

Posing for a daguerreotype wasn’t trivial: because the exposure time is about 15 minutes, the subject’s head had to be held still with a clamp!

4. The First Light Picture and Human Potrait Ever Taken [Oct,Nov 1839]

world's first photosIn 1839, Robert Cornelius, a Dutch chemist who immigrated to Philadelphia, took a daguerreotype portrait of himself outside of his family’s store and made history: he made the world’s first human photograph!

History of photography 10You’re looking at Dorothy Catherine Draper, sister of NYU professor John Draper and model for the first daguerreotype portrait of a woman in the United States in 1839. She was the first woman to be photographed with her eyes open!

The earliest American attempts in duplicating the photographic experiments of the Frenchman Louis Daguerre occurred at NYU in 1839. John W. Draper, professor of chemistry, built his own camera and made what may be the first human portrait taken in the United States, after a 65-second exposure. The sitter, his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper, had her face powdered with flour in an early attempt to accentuate contrasts.

The Man Who Coined “Photography”

Also in 1839, the term “photography” was coined by Sir John Frederick William Herschel, a british mathematician and astronomer

Herschel also coined the terms “negative” and “positive” in the context of photography, and also of the vernacular “snapshot.”



The principle of stereoscopy (or 3D photo) actually preceded that of photography – it was described in as early as the 1500s by Giambattista della Porta.

In traditional stereoscopy a pair of 2-D images – each representing a slightly different perspective of the same object, creates a perception of depth and tricks the brain into seeing a 3-D image.

The invention of daguerreotype sparked interest in stereoscopy in the Victorian era.

5. Phineas Gage (Around 1850)

History of photography 2A daguerreotype image believed to be of railway worker Phineas Gage holding a tamping iron that went through his head during an explosion on a worksite in 1848. Phineas P. Gage (July 9, 1823 – May 21, 1860) was a railroad construction foreman now remembered for his incredible survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying one or both of his brain’s frontal lobes, and for that injury’s reported effects on his personality and behavior—effects so profound that friends saw him as “no longer Gage.” Gage recovered from the accident and retained full possession of his reason, but his wife and other people close to him soon began to notice dramatic changes in his personality. Phineas Gage’s brain was not subjected to any medical examination at that time, but seven years later his body was exhumed so his skull could be studied. Today Gage’s skull is on permanent display at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine.

6. Roger Fenton’s Photographic Van [1855]

History of photography 3Roger Fenton (20 March 1819 – 8 August 1869) was a pioneering British photographer, one of the first war photographers. In 1855 Fenton went to the Crimean War on assignment for the publisher Thomas Agnew to photograph the troops, with a photographic assistant Marcus Sparlingand a servant and a large van of equipment. Despite high temperatures, breaking several ribs, and suffering from cholera, he managed to make over 350 usable large format negatives. An exhibition of 312 prints was soon on show in London.

7. World’s First Photomontage [1858]

History of photography 4In 1858, Henry Peach Robinson made the world’s first photomontage by combining multiple negatives to form a single image.

Robinson’s first and most famous composite photo, called “Fading Away”, was a composition of five negatives. It depicted a girl dying of consumption (or tuberculosis), and quite controversial as some objected to the morbid subject of the photo.

8. World’s Oldest Surviving Aerial Photo [1860]

History of photography 11

The first aerial photo was taken by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, better known as Nadar, in 1858, using a tethered balloon over the Bievre Valley, France.

Unfortunately, Nadar’s aerial photos were lost – so the oldest surviving aerial photo, shown here, was that of Boston in 1860, taken by James Wallace Black, also using a balloon.

9. First Color Photograph [1861]

History of photography 8Although color photography was explored throughout the 19th century, initial experiments in color resulted in projected temporary images, rather than permanent color images. Moreover until the 1870s the emulsions available were not sensitive to red or green light.The first color photo, an additive projected image of a tartan ribbon, was taken in 1861 by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell by photographing the ribbon three times – each time with a different color filter over the lens. The three images were then developed and projected onto a screen with three projectors using the same color filters as the initial cameras. When the three images aligned, a full color photo appeared. The three original plates are now kept in Edinburgh, where Maxwell was born.

10. Lahore Fort (Pakistan, 1864)

History of photography 23The Lahore Fort, locally referred to as Shahi Qila is citadel of the city of Lahore,Punjab, Pakistan. It is located in the northwestern corner of the Walled City of Lahore. The trapezoidal composition is spread over 20 hectares. It is not known who built the fort and neither is it known when it was built. Origins of the fort go as far back as antiquity, however, the existing base structure was built during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605), and was regularly upgraded by subsequent rulers, having thirteen gates in all. Thus the fort manifests the rich traditions of Mughal architecture. Its not known who took the photograph but it was one of the finest and first photographs from asia.

11. Lincoln’s Second Inauguration [1865]

History of photography 5The photo above was originally mislabeled as President Grant’s inauguration ceremony. A curator discovered the photographs while reviewing a log book noticed the caption “Lincoln” in the margins. After careful comparison between the only known photos of the inauguration (just two existed) it was concluded that this photo is actually a crowd scene at Lincoln’s second inauguration. There are two recently discovered photographs of Lincoln but they have not been officially verified. This Photo was discovered this year in a personal album of President Ulysses S. Grant and apparently shows Lincoln in front of the White House.

12. First Color Landscape [1877]

History of photography 12This photograph was taken by Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron who invented the subtractive (cyan, magenta, and yellow) color method of taking photographs. Louis was a French pioneer in color photography and he worked in both subtractive and additive (red, green, and blue) color. This particularly photograph is called “Landscape of Southern France”.

13. First High Speed Photograph [1878]

History of photographyn 1887, using a series of trip wires, Eadweard Muybridge created the first high speed photo series which can be run together to give the effect of motion pictures. High speed photography is the science of taking pictures of very fast phenomena. In 1948, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) defined high-speed photography as any set of photographs captured by a camera capable of 128 frames per second or greater, and of at least three consecutive frames.

14. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan [1888]

History of photography 15Keller with Anne Sullivan vacationing at Cape Cod in July 1888. The photo was discovered while combing through a large family photo collection that was donated by a New England Historic Genealogical Society member. The photo was taken in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and shows eight-year-old Helen Keller hand in hand with her teacher Anne Sullivan. Both Keller and Sullivan indicated later in their journals that “doll” was the first word Helen Keller learned in sign language in March 1887. This photograph was taken about sixteen months later and is believed to be the only known photograph of Helen Keller holding one of her dolls.

15. World’s First Underwater Photo [1893]

The first underwater camera system was developed by French scientist Louis Boutan in 1893. The model was so excited that he held the identification plate upside down!

The Photo of the first Photographic Studio [1893]

History of photography 7
A photographer appears to be photographing himself in a 19th-century photographic studio

Mammoth Camera [1900]

world's first mammoth camera

In 1900, George R. Lawrence built this mammoth 900 lb. camera, then the world’s largest, for $5,000 (enough to purchase a large house at that time!) It took 15 men to move and operate the gigantic camera.

The photographer was commissioned by the Chicago & Alton Railway to make the largest photograph (the plate was 8 x 4.5 ft in size!) of its train for the company’s pamphlet “The Largest Photograph in the World of the Handsomest Train in the World.”

16. Looking Down Sacramento Street, [San Francisco, April 18, 1906]

History of photography 20Looking Down Sacramento Street, San Francisco, April 18, 1906 is a black and white photograph taken by Arnold Genthe in San Francisco, California on the morning of April 18, 1906 in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. This photograph shows the results of the earth quake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people. It was taken the morning of the first day of the fire. Shows Sacramento St. at Miles Place (now Miller Place) near Powell St.

17. First Autochrome Lumière [1907]

History of photography 14It is an early color photography process. Patented in 1903 by the Lumière brothers in France and first marketed in 1907. It remained the principal color photography process available until it was superseded by the advent of subtractive color film during the mid 1930s.

18. Only Color Photograph of King Edward VII (1909)

History of photography 18This recent find could be the only color photograph of King Edward VII. The photograph shows the King in Highland costume enjoying the autumn grouse season in Scotland. The picture is also an autochrome, making it the only autochrome of the King. The picture was found alongside 700 other images from the early 1900s, including this one which is probably the first color photograph of London Zoo, taken in 1909.

Watch the Birdie!

In the 1920s, a brass birdie was often used by photographers to grab the attention of children during a portrait session (hence the saying “Watch the birdie”):


The birdie would typically be held by an assistant or parent. A rubber hose and squeeze bulb were connected to the short length of open brass tubing. The brass base separates into two halves so the bottom of the base can be filled with water. Squeezing the rubber bulb causes the bird to make a whistling and warbling sound.

The world’s most expensive camera 1923 Leica:  2.8 million USD.

most expensive things in the world

The Rare 1923 Leica camera — built in 1923 -was recently sold for a staggering $2.8 million!

19. The Lynching of Young Blacks [Indiana, 1930]

History of photography 17Lawrence Beitler took this iconic photograph on August 7, 1930, showing the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, two young black men accused of raping a white girl. A mob of 10,000 whites took sledgehammers to the county jailhouse doors to get these men; the girl’s uncle saved the life of a third by proclaiming the man’s innocence. Lynching photos were made into postcards designed to boost white supremacy, but the tortured bodies and grotesquely happy crowds ended up angering and revolting as many as they scared. The photo sold thousands of copies, which Beitler stayed up for 10 days and nights printing them. Ironically, this photo which had become iconic image of lynchings was taken at Marion, Indiana, whereas most of the nearly 5,000 lynchings documented between Reconstruction and the late 1960s were perpetrated in the South. (Hangings, beatings and mutilations were called the sentence of “Judge Lynch.”) The photo was so iconic that it has been the inspiration for many poems, books and songs down the years, “Strange Fruit” by the Jewish poet Abel Meeropol (later sung by Billie Holiday) being the best example.

Modern 35mm Film Invented 1934

History of photography 27

All those years after the first experiments in photography, Kodak in 1934 invented 35mm film which quickly became the most popular film type and continues to be so to this day. This film was pre-loaded into rolls with perforated edges and it made it possible to load the films into cameras in broad daylight. The film size was already in use in movie films, but it was not until Kodak made the still version in 1934 and Leica the first cameras to use it, that is moved into the world of still photography. The first 33mm still camera cost $175 (equal to around $3,000 today).

20. Hitler in Paris [Paris, 1940]

History of photography 16This photograph was taken of Adolf Hitler visiting Paris with his architect Albert Speer, on June 23, 1940. Hitler’s army had captured Paris and Hitler went to check out his new City.

21. Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day [New York, 1945]

History of photography 22Victory over Japan Day ( V-J Day , also known as Victory in the Pacific Day , or V-P Day ) is a name chosen for the day on which the Surrender of Japan occurred, effectively ending World War II, and subsequent anniversaries of that event. This The famous LIFE magazine photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt on August 14, 1945 from V-J Day. The soldier and the nurse are unknown but people have come forward to claim the fame. Apparently the nurse slapped the soldier immediately after. The event was the celebration of the end of the war and it was taken in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

22. Soviet Flag raised above the Reichstag [Berlin, 1945]

History of photography 19Raising a flag over the Reichstag is a historic photograph taken on May 2, 1945, by Yevgeny Khaldei. It depicts a number of Soviet Troops raising the flag of the Soviet Union atop the German Reichstag building during the Battle of Berlin in World War II. The photograph was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. It came to be regarded around the world as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war.

The true identities of the men in the picture are shrouded in mystery along with the photographer (Khaldei), who was only identified after the Soviet Union fell. The photograph represented a historic moment; the defeat of Germany in a war that had cost the Soviet Union tens of millions of lives. Celebrated as the image is, it was the reconstruction of a moment that had happened earlier but had been missed by the camera.

The First Photo From Space [1946]

History of photography 28In 1946, rocket-borne cameras gave us our first look at Earth from beyond the atmosphere.

On October 24, 1946, not long after the end of World War II and years before the Sputnik satellite opened the space age, a group of soldiers and scientists in the New Mexico desert saw something new and wonderful—the first pictures of Earth as seen from space.

The grainy, black-and-white photos were taken from an altitude of 65 miles by a 35-millimeter motion picture camera riding on a V-2 missile launched from the White Sands Missile Range. Snapping a new frame every second and a half, the rocket-borne camera climbed straight up, then fell back to Earth minutes later, slamming into the ground at 500 feet per second. The camera itself was smashed, but the film, protected in a steel cassette, was unharmed.

Fred Rulli was a 19-year-old enlisted man assigned to the recovery team that drove into the desert to retrieve film from those early V-2 shots. When the scientists found the cassette in good shape, he recalls, “They were ecstatic, they were jumping up and down like kids.” Later, back at the launch site, “when they first projected [the photos] onto the screen, the scientists just went nuts.”

23. First Digitally Scanned Photograph [1957]

History of photography 6The first image scanner ever developed was a drum scanner. It was built in 1957 at the US National Bureau of Standards by a team led by Russell Kirsch. The first image ever scanned on this machine was a 5 cm square photograph of Kirsch’s then-three-month-old son, Walden. The black and white image had a resolution of 176 pixels on a side. Technically, this is the very first digital photograph – all these years later, digital cameras are only just beginning to have the full capabilities of film cameras. Baby Walden now works in communications for Intel.

24. Footprint on the Moon [Lunar, 1969]

History of photography 13On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong put his left foot on the rocky Moon. It was the first human footprint on the Moon. This photograph was taken by Buzz Aldrin. It was part of an experiment to test the properties of the lunar regolith. The first footprints on the Moon will be there for a million years.

25. Phan Thị Kim Phúc [Vietnam, 1972]

History of photography 21

Phan Thị Kim Phúc, O.Ont (born 1963) is a Vietnamese-Canadian best known as the child subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. The iconic photo taken in Trang Bang by AP photographer Nick Ut shows her at about age nine running naked on the street after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack. Contrary to popular myth, the US Air Force were not involved in the attack, and only two US troops were within 60 mi (97 km) of the scene, neither of whom had any say in the bombings.

via: smashinglists, listverse, neatorama, airspacemag

2 Comments Write a comment

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  • Anonymous November 10, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this! I love the history!

  • jalal michael sabbagh.http://gravatar.com/jmsabbagh86@gmail.com November 11, 2013

    Hi Mococho.,stunning post and very enriching.l enjoyed the post a lot.Jalal

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