The invention of photography was received in Europe by a frenzy of enthusiasm, even a surprising amount. Why? Perhaps because it was an idea that people were primed and ready for. We have in photography a combination of science and art to produce a perfect, as they thought then, a perfect rendition of a scene or person.

We can understand why people of the age were so taken with the with this idea when we reflect that in the 1840s the machine age was already in full swing. Science was leading to new and better inventions, and the machine was thought to be the great answer to all the world's problems. Western people worshipped science, and photography was a product of scientific experiment or, if you will, chemical and optical experiment.

In the world of art, at this time too, the great goal of most artists was realism. That is, artists were trying their best to paint pictures as close in detail to reality as they could.

Photography offered a solution based in science.
The mechanism of the camera for photography, however, was actually very old. A device called a camera obscura (latin for dark room) widely employed by artists and amateur drawers alike. In fact, such a devices are still used today. They rely on a lens or, in the case of a large box, a pinhole, to transmit a view of the scene in front of it. This view is reflected off a mirror onto a white surface or ground glass. Artists may place a piece of tracing paper on the surface, and rough out the drawing in two-dimensional format. By this method they only have to spend a little time in the field or with a live subject to get the general proportions. Then they can return to the studio to finish. For early nineteenth century travelers, who wanted to draw things they saw, as was the fashion, a camera obscure could be particularly useful, for those who could not draw very well from nature. The machine was able to get the three-dimensional perspective right, because it reduced reality to contours that could be traced. If you've tried to draw from nature, you know how hard it really is to reduce a three-dimensional shape to a two-dimensional line.

The first people who contemplated possibilities of photography, then, were artists. Or in the case of some, not very good artists, such as Nicéphore Niépce. The idea was, why not try to find some way to save or "fix" that image on   a piece of paper. Then it could be returned to the study and consulted for copying. The key was, how to make the image stay? Since the 1700s chemists were aware of various substances which turned black or dark when light hit them. Curious, but no one thought it was worth much. Of course, the darkness would fade or be gone with the shaking of the solution.

The first person to successfully make a darkened chemical image permanent was Niépce, the not-so-great French artist. Actually, Niépce was more interested in engravings or etchings than in photography for art purposes. His idea was to record an image on a metal plate, and then etch it for printing. In 1826-27, he took a camera obscura, pointed it at a courtyard, and managed to make a permanent exposure of it. It took eight hours. He called it a heliograph, the first recorded picture using light-sensitive materials.

Unfortunately, Niépce was a man in his 60s, poor, and in ill health. He heard of experiments that another Frenchman was doing in photography, Louis Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. He wrote a cautious letter to Daguerre, wanting to know about the process, and finally, they decided to form a partnership in 1829. Daguerre's process differed from Niépce's. He used vapor of mercury and salt. In 1833 Niépce died, and his son carried on the partnership, although Daguerre mostly was the active participant. After eleven more years of experimenting, Daguerre perfected his process: a sheet of copper was coated with a thin layer of silver. The silver was made sensitive to light with iodine vapor. It was exposed in a camera, then vapor of mercury was used to bring out an image. Finally that image was fixed with a salt solution, common table salt.

The process was radically different from the chemically based photo process used until digital techniques began in the late 1990s, its chemicals highly toxic and dangerous. But it worked, and worked very well, offering exquisite detail matching the best of what we can produce even a century and a half later. In early 1838 Daguerre tried to attract investors to his process, but could find few. However, he did attract the attention of a famous French scientist of the time, François Arago, who persuaded the French government to give a pension to Daguerre and the younger Niépce to work on the process. Daguerre, however, had to promise not to patent the process in France, and he eventually did.

In 1839 Arago and Daguerre announced the process to the world. Arago's public relations efforts and Daguerre's energetic promotion helped the daguerreotype, as it was called, to take the world by storm. Everyone was talking about it within days. Exposures, at first nearly 20 minutes, were in 1840 reduced to 30 seconds with the use of bromide, and faster lenses, able to gather more light. Those first 20 minute exposures were so long that subjects might get sunburned--direct sunlight only was bright enough to expose the plates. And sitting perfectly still that long was a terrible ordeal, sometimes requiring head braces. But it was okay to blink--exposure was so slow that it didn't register. And people didn't mind sitting through it--after all, a photograph was like a kind of immortality! And, for the first time, people could really record how they looked at a certain age, giving society a new appreciation for the unsettling differences between our visage at 20 and 60.

Daguerreotypes immediately became the rage in Paris. Everyone wanted their photo taken. But some people wore worried, too--artists. At first, when photography was announced, artists were somewhat optimistic. Finally they had a way to fix an image of the camera obscure to bring it back to the study for painting. Daguerre himself had been an artist, and most of the original inventors of photography had intended it as an artists' tool--not as an artistic medium in its own right. However, as photography caught on, artists began to realize that it was going to prove to be a real menace to their livelihood as portrait painters. Particularly painters of miniatures, a business that dropped to zero almost overnight as daguerreotypists were able to hand-color their photographs.

More unsettling, artists had lost the centuries-old battle for more and more detail, more and more realism. And lost it to a machine that could produce detail far beyond any artist. Artists realized that photography was not going to stay in the role that they had hoped, merely a copying aid. Everyone who was anyone wanted his portrait on a daguerreotype, and the little plate was much cheaper than a painting. Artists, nevertheless, used photographs as aids to their own painting, often photographing a scene or a face to save time, and returned to the studio to paint it. No one would call photography an "art," however. Many artists declared that the upstart was vulgar and mechanical, and some would not admit to using it at all. Photographers, on the other hand, more and more argued that photography was an art. That debate raged well into the twentieth century and indeed still sometimes greets photographers today. More than once, when I was more actively entering photographs in juried art shows, the rules would state "no photography."

Nevertheless, in the next 30 years, painters either consciously or unconsciously were strongly influenced in their use of lighting, in composition, in depiction of movement, by photography. Photography brought the philosophy of art to crisis, which ended with artists turning away from the centuries-old quest for realism--which photographers had won--toward a new goal, to paint feelings, interpretations, abstractions, and not necessarily what was there. Photography motivated the beginnings of the twentieth century's non-representational and abstract art.

After Daguerre and Arago announced the new process, a man in England became worried. His name, William Henry Fox Talbot, a wealthy gent with much time for experimenting and, like Daguerre, an accomplished artist. Talbot too was looking for a w ay to make permanent his images in the camera obscura. He was aware that artists before, in the 1820s, ha managed to make permanent an image, not on metal, but on paper. The problem, though, was that the process was not very workable, and anyway, the image produced was a negative. What use was that?

Talbot experimented with the same paper process, trying to find a better way to make the image permanent. His too was a negative image, but he had an idea no one had thought of before, apparently. By putting the negative image against a second sensitized sheet, and shining light through it, he could produce a positive image. Talbot, therefore, invented the first negative/positive photo process, unlike the daguerreotype, in which every image was on metal, and unique.

When Daguerre announced his process, Talbot was concerned that it was the same process as his. So he quickly published an account of his own method. In succeeding months of 1839 it became obvious that Talbot's process was totally different from Daguerre's. Talbot dipped paper in salt, and when dry, in silver nitrate, forming a light-sensitive chemical, silver chloride. He pointed the sensitized paper in a camera obscura at an object, waited until the image turned dark enough to be seen with the naked eye, about 30 minutes, then fixed the image with a strong salt solution, or potassium iodide. In 1840 Sir John Herschel suggested that hyposulfite of soda would more effectively fix the image, and remove the unused silver particles, so that they wouldn't turn dark over time. Herschel is credited with inventing the fixing method we basically still use today in our "wet" darkrooms, called "hypo" for short.

Talbot soon realized that he really wouldn't have to wait until the image was actually visible, such a long exposure. With a shorter exposure, a hidden, or latent image would be formed, which could then be brought out by developing in gallic acid. So now we have a negative, development, fix, a process basically unchanged until the invention of digital imaging. Talbot also waxed the paper, making it more transparent, and called his process the "calotype," Greek for "beautiful picture."

Unlike Daguerre, however, Talbot patented his process. He gave licenses to few. For a dozen years the process hardly grew at all under the stranglehold of the patents. It was not, however, patented in Scotland, allowing pioneer photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson in the 1840s to produced an important collection of calotypes. W.F. Langenheim in the United States received a license, the only calotype producer in the country.

Meanwhile in France, witnessing the early 1839 announcement was an American, Samuel F.B. Morse. Morse himself had been dabbling in photography, and when he heard Daguerre's announcement he wrote about it right away for his audiences in America. More returned to New York City and taught the new process to several students, including Mathew Brady. In 1840 the world's first portrait studio was opened in New York City. We can credit Morse for bringing photography to America--along with his famous invention, the telegraph.

Daguerreotypes stayed popular in America and Europe for about a decade. Everyone had to have one. All the famous people had to have their faced daguerreotypes. The calotype was not nearly as popular, partly because of Talbot's controlling patents. But Talbot did contribute to the history of photography the first photo-illustrated book, his Pencil of Nature. In it he described his process, and illustrated it with actual photos attached to the book, charming domestic scenes and descriptions. But his calotypes were thought of as inferior to daguerreotypes, because they lacked the fine details of the metal-plate-based process. True enough; a daguerreotype is exquisitely detailed, even by modern standards. The calotype involved printing through a paper negative and, inevitably, the grain of paper fibers also were transferred to the image. This produced soft, almost luminous images. Today we think they truly are beautiful, but given the 1840s emphasis on detail and realism, they were fuzzy. So calotypes never caught on like daguerreotypes, which were produced by the millions. In fact, today collections can obtain daguerreotypes for a fairly reasonable price. Thousands still exist, in their small leather cases and behind class, to protect the fragile surface.

However, just about the time that Talbot finally decided to cede his patents to his calotype method, technology moved to replace both it and the daguerreotype. The big problem with the calotype was its loss of detail through the appear; if only an emulsion could be spread on glass, this problem and the fragile calotype negative could be eliminated. Many experimenters tried sticky things like raspberry jam or honey to keep the silver nitrate suspended on a glass plate. Nothing worked. Then in 1848, Niépce de St. victor, a cousin of Nicéphore, tried albumen, or egg white. It worked all right on glass plates, but soon it was left for another method which proved more sensitive to light. In 1851 Scott Archer, British, combined guncotton, ether and alcohol into a solution called collodion. The collodion was flowed onto a glass plate, dipped in silver nitrate, and exposed in the camera. The beauty of this method was that it only required a two to three second exposure, much faster than previous methods. The drawback was that the wet plate process demanded that photographers make exposures before the plate dried and lost its sensitivity to light, about one minute. Photographers, therefore, had to carry portable darkrooms everywhere they wanted to take a picture.

Nevertheless the wet plate process rapidly became the new standard, totally eliminating the daguerreotype by 1858. An era in photography--that of the unique, one of a kind photograph--had ended. Glass negatives could produce as many prints as needed. The albumen method invented by the Niépce cousin, however, was used extensively for some 30 years for the paper on which the prints were made. In fact, millions of egg whites were separated, their yokes sold to bakeries or hog farms.

Wet plates made possible extensive photography outside the studio, because of their superior sensitivity, and despite their darkroom drawback. This is not to say that no photography was done outside a studio before 1851. In 1842, Carl Stelzner made a daguerreotype photo of the Hamburg fire--the first spot news photo. But the wet-plate process was far superior for outdoor photography, and after 1851 we find the first extensive use of photography to chronicle events and scenery. In 1855 Roger Fenton brought his camera to the Crimean War, the first war photographer. A Chicago photographer named Alexander Hesler is especially important to people around here. In the 1850s he photographed Minnesota, including views of St. Anthony Falls, Fort Snelling, and Minnehaha Falls. He was considered one of the great Midwestern American photographers of the period.

Photographers brought wet-plate darkrooms on their backs or pulled by mules to remote places around the world, from the arctic to the hot dusty sands of Egypt. Considering the fragile technology in those difficult conditions and climate extremes, it is astounding what photographs they did get. And they were very good. Probably the most famous of these early on-location photographers is Mathew Brady. Brady was trained by Morse in 1840, and soon opened his own studio in new York. Although ironically and tragically troubled by weak eyesight--blind in his later years--Brady built with partner Alexander Gardner an extremely successful portrait studio in New York, and later in Washington D.C. Most of the famous statesmen for 30 years were photographed by Brady or his staff, including every president from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley.

Most important, however, were the many portraits Brady made of Abraham Lincoln, beginning before Abe became president. Brady became acquaintances with Lincoln, and when the Civil War began (1861-65), he conceived of a new idea: to photograph the war as a complete chronicle from beginning to end. Brady secured permission from Lincoln in one letter reading "Pass Brady," but no money. At that point he needed none. He had acquired $100,000 from his portrait business, a fortune at the time. But by the end of the war Brady had spent it all, and owed more. He financed 20 teams of photographers to cover al the major battle sites. The technology of the time was not fast enough to photograph actual battles, but his haunting photos of battle aftermath perhaps forever changed the picture of war for ordinary civilians.

After the war Brady tried to sell some of his war photos, but they didn't sell well. Most people wanted to forget the war. He gave much of his collection to the U.S. War Department which, in turn, paid some of his bills. Unfortunately the department did not take careful care of the fragile collection, and much was lost. You can still acquire Brady photos through the Library of Congress web site.

Other well-known and important pioneer photographers include the Paris photographer Nadar, and the British portraitist Julia Margaret Cameron. Nadar, whose real name was Gaspard Felix Tounachon, set up shop in the mid-1850s and photographed the Paris greats and scene until about 1880. He was well known for his sensitive portraits. He also took the first aerial photos, from a balloon. Indeed, he actually had his portable darkroom in the balloon's gondola, and developed as the balloon swayed back and forth. Can you imagine!

Cameron is also known for her portraits, especially those of famous people. She was an extremely pushy lady--an early papparazzi?--who would usually not take no for an answer, but her portraits show an unusual sensitivity to the character of the person taken. Also significant at this time was the development of the so-called carte-de-visite, around 1854. These were small photos of about three and one fourth by two and one eighth inches which were collected and traded somewhat like sports cards are today. It was the rage to have your family and a variety of famous people in your carte-de-visite album.

In 1859 the stereoscope was invented to view photographs. The idea was a bit like what we might call the Viewmaster toy today--two photographs taken at slightly different angles were mounted on a card. The card was placed in the viewer, and like binoculars the two images would blend together to make what appeared to be a three-dimensional image.

Stereo cards and viewers waxed and waned in popularity throughout the Victorian age, and into the twentieth century. Millions were made, some funny, some risqué, and in the latter part of the century almost every home had its stereo viewer and cards--almost like the slide programs of today. You can still find the cards and viewers at a flea market for pretty cheap.

The 1870s marked the big years in the United States for landscape photography in the west. Falls, geysers, canyons, buffalo, Indians, all came under the eye of the western photographers. Many of the best know had been part of Mathew Brady's team, just as many of the cowboys had been in service for the Rebel cause. Tim O'Sullivan is one of the best remembered of these photographers. But perhaps the photographer who is most significant for changing the way people viewed the world was Eadward Muybridge.

Muybridge was British by nationality, but spent many years in the U.S. In 1872 he tried to finally, once and for all, settle the famous old debate among artists and horse riders: Is there a time when all four legs of a galloping horse are off the ground? No one really knew, because no one could see that fast. Muybridge tried to take action photos of horses, but the technology was not advanced enough to stop the action. In 1878 he tried again. He painted or covered everything, including the track, so it would be white, reflecting as much light as possible, on a sunny day. He rigged up twelve cameras, each to trip its shutter by a black thread broken by the horse.

The series was successful. And they showed that, yes, a horse does have its legs off the ground. They also showed that the way artists had drawn horses running, with legs outstretched, hobby-horse style, was inaccurate. Horses didn't run that way. In doing these "locomotion studies" of animals and people, Muybridge changed the way artists viewed motion. It was fond that the camera could see things that people could not, and it changed the way people viewed reality.

The late 1870s was seeing a third revolution in photography technology. From the daguerreotype and calotype, to the wet plate, now chemists experimented with ways to avoid the cumbersome web procedures, by finding a way to make dry plates. In 1871 gelatin was substituted for collodion, and the first dry glass plate was made. It was slower than a wet plate, however. But by 1880, dry plates became as fast as wet plates, and the cumbersome wet plate died out.

As wet plate technology was being superceded by dry plates, in popular taste other portrait styles gained. Among people who had limited funds, a photograph printed on emulsion placed on metal sold extensively--called a tintype. Tintypes were extremely cheap, almost like a photo machine of today, and were made from the 1870s all the way into the 1930s. Also popular were cabinet cards, photos of a size of about four inches by six inches. These are the photos we all probably have in our shoeboxes, inherited from our grandparents--and probably a few tintypes as well, taken by itinerant photographers.

Among the manufacturers of dry plates was one by the name of George Eastman. Eastman did a fair business selling them, but for him it wasn't enough. If only one could make the dry emulsion on a flexible back using gelatin. Eastman finally patented his solution, and introduced, in 1888, the first roll film. He marketed the film in his own camera, called a Kodak, with the slogan, "You push the button and we do the rest!" The camera came with 100 exposures, and after you'd shoot them, you returned the entire thing to Eastman for processing. The pictures that came back were circular. And the technology was so good that, for the first time, you actually could make a decent photo without a tripod.

Of course, this meant that no anyone who could push a button and wind a crank could be a photographer. It revolutionized the industry. For the first time any ole amateur could take a photo of any old thing, and cheaply too. The democratization of the image was complete, and what happened to Eastman's company everybody knows.

(1)       At some point most photojournalist take a picture that doesn’t come out exactly as they expected, it’s either too dark or much lighter than they want it to be. This might be because of a mistake with the metering, they’ve made an exposure error or because the camera setting are wrong.
(2)       White subject made grey: Camera metering system generally expect the brightness of a scene to average out as a mudstone. It can be solved by the use of exposure compensation control to increase the exposure above the value suggested by the camera.
(3)       Camera in the wrong exposure mode: This is a classic error that is a most likely to happen. If your camera has a mode dial without a lock, These can be resolved by getting into the habit of checking the mode before you start shooting.          

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