A Brief Explanation About Photography Evolution

Can you imagine what the first camera ever was like?

Have you ever stopped to think about the first photography records and their evolution to digital technology?

In this post you will understand more about the history of cameras and photos!

The photographic camera, or simply “camera”, is an important projection instrument capable of recording real images from the incidence of light: photographs, a.k.a. “photos”.

Throughout the ages, many camera models have been developed, representing the progress of image capturing and image recording.

Cameras are a device with great storage potential used for the production of artistic photos and to capture life moments, they are also a must-have tool for journalism and advertising professionals.

How Photography Evolved
Old Photo Colored with Manual Painting

Photography is one of the most engaging and popular ways of recording that was ever invented. Important moments and events are told by photo records everywhere around the world!

Here is a brief explanation about photography evolution:

Historical discoveries and photography

It was the Chinese and Greeks who started to study the basic principles of optics and cameras. Some discoveries throughout history have contributed to reaching the compact camera model as we know today:


The English scientist Isaac Newton discovered dispersion, with an experiment through a prism. Dispersion is an optical phenomenon in which light is separated into different colors when refracted through some transparent medium (white light).


The Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich discovers during an experiment that silver chloride and silver nitrate darkened in the presence of light.


The French inventor Joseph Niépce manages to fix an image on a sheet of chemically sensitized paper using a wooden box. That was considered as the first photo of human history.


The Belgian scientist Désiré van Monckhoven develops the dry plate photography technique in which he used daguerreotype-like processes (explained ahead), exchanging iron plates for copper plates. He also used colloidal emulsions to obtain better photos.


The English physician Richard Maddox updated the photographic plates and started using silver gelatin emulsions to obtain better sensitivity to light and clearer images.


The American clergyman Hannibal Goodwin patented the celluloid film by using gelatin paper and other substances, replacing the glass plates that served as support for the photographic films.

A Vintage Classic Camera
Old Classic Camera


The first 35mm camera was developed to replace the 70mm system that required a greater amount of film.


General Electric Company (GE) invented the photography flash.


The first underwater camera was developed for the United States Navy by EG&G.


Canon Inc. demonstrated the first electronic digital camera that was used to broadcast the Los Angeles Olympic Games between Japan and the United States.


Launch of the VP-210 VisualPhone by Kyocera Corporation, the first mobile phone with a built-in camera to record videos and take photos.

Now that you have an overview of the historical discoveries that lead to the invention of photography, let’s see more details about the most remarkable types of photography, from the first photos ever taken to digital photos as we know today!

Daguerreotype and the first photos

The daguerreotype was the invention that marked the way of recording the actions of daily life and everything else that exists. This photographic process was recognized by the French government on August 19th, 1839 (the same date of the official World Photography Day).

Formed directly on a copper plate coated with silver, polished and sensitized by iodine vapors, the daguerreotype is a unique and positive image. After being exposed in a darkroom, the image was developed by mercury vapors and fixed by a saline solution.

A Brief History of Photography Evolution
Daguerreotype Image in Wooden Frame

This photographic process was completed in some parts of the portrait through manual painting work. The portrait parts that usually needed completing by painting were the eyes, lips, clothes, jewelry and even the hands.

Daguerreotype images were sensitive to the effects of time, so they received a wooden frame covered with leather and with glass protection.

The wet collodion process

Collodion was a type of varnish that was used as an experiment for photography production.

The Evolution of Photography
Old Portrait Colored with Manual Painting

In this process of wet collodion, the varnish was placed in liquid form on glass plates that were sensitized with silver nitrate. The plates should remain moist during the entire process of capturing and developing the photos.

The main advantage of the wet collodion process for producing photos was that when the solvent evaporated, a transparent film was formed on the photo, similar to a plastic. Another advantage was that the photo details were reproduced with precision eliminating the need for retouching as in the daguerreotype process.

This process was taken up quickly by photographers around the world, increasing the spread of photography for a period of 30 years.

Julia Margaret Cameron started her photographic work in 1864 and had her photos criticized for having blur in the image, which was much appreciated by surrealist artists.

This process of taking photos using a wet plate made portraits of some famous Victorians, such as Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, Sir John FW Herschel, Lord Tennyson and George Frederick Watts.

From the dry plate to film rolls

The dry plates of industrial manufacture covered with gelatin and containing silver salts (literally) represented the landmark of the modern era of photography. In place of glass plates, the cameras contained a roll of negative material enough for shooting 100 photos.

The “color film” was born with the introduction of Kodachrome for home films in 1935 and with 35 mm film lengths for static cameras in 1936. However, it required a complex development process with several dyeing steps because each color layer was processed separately.

After that, film production evolved considerably, becoming faster in terms of sensitivity to light. The international standard for classifying film speed is ISO. Eastman Kodak Company has produced films for consumers from ISO 100 to ISO 3200.

Collection of Old Photos Next to Film Roll
Collection of Old Photos Next to Film Rolls

ISO 800 up to ISO 3200 films are ideal for low light environments.

Film production accelerated the photography development. This process brought low-cost portable cameras to the market as well as the tripod cameras. Then, people had access to consumer cameras and could produce their own photos, which wasn’t related to the movie industry or publicity.

Digital photography as we know today

Digital cameras don’t have film rolls like standard cameras, they use photosensitive sensors that convert light into electrical impulses that are stored in digital memory devices, a.k.a. memory cards.

The captured images are digitized and stored on a computer as a digital file ready for further digital processing, viewing, editing, electronic publishing or printing. Fuji DS-X, the first digital camera ever made, was produced and reached the market in Japan in 1989.

Mirrorless Camera
Digital Mirrorless Camera

After the 1990s, digital cameras conquered the photography market. From there on, the modern digital cameras that we know were developed more and more, such as DSLRs, Mirrorless Cameras and Point-and-Shoot Camera, and they continue to evolve every day!

Also, the first mobile phones with built-in cameras brought the possibility for each person to take photos instantly from their smartphone, and this type of camera also evolves more and more every day!

So, what’s next?

And that finishes our brief review of photography history! Now you know what are the most important scientific discoveries that influenced the photography development. You also know how photography techniques evolved.

So check our post A Guide on What Is SLR Photography to understand more about how cameras evolved from old times classic cameras to the modern DSLRs, Mirrorless and Compact Cameras of today!

You can also share your thoughts in the comments below!

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