Development of Photographic Technologies

The camera was based on optical principles developed in the 1500s, since the age of Aristotle used as a sketching aid for professional artists. The design consisted of a small light box with a pinhole or lens on the other side of a translucent screen. The screen gave the artist a suitable image to use for tracing. This invention was called the Camera Obscura.

In the 18th & 19th centuries, inventors stumbled across a method for permanently preserving them using chemicals. This was a major breakthrough for that emerged in 1725, where a German named Johann Heinrich Schulze found that silver salts darkened when exposed to light. Fascinated by his discovery, he cut out letters from a piece of paper and placed on top of a silver mixture. He found that the sun’s rays wrote the words accurately on the chalk sediment. After Johann’s research followed a Frenchman who used the a Camera Obscura combined with a plate coated with light sensitive material to capture and “fix” an image. He used an eight hour exposure time to create what is known as the worlds first photograph.

Following the first picture to ever be produced, another Frenchman named Louis Daguerre discovered that exposing iodized silver plates one reduce the exposure time to 10 or 20 minutes, and two create a sharp image. This development was named “Daguerreotype”. After making the invention public in return for a pension from the French Government, Louis Daguerre’s invention swept across the world and gave rise to the portrait industry.

Around the same sort of time as Louis Daguerre, an Englishman developed his own photographic method called ‘Calotype’. This method replaced the metal plates used in the previous process with photosensitive paper. When exposed to light, the paper could preserve the image by rinsing it with hyposulphite. Although the image quality wasn’t as sharp as Louis Daguerre, the Englishman’s process had one massive advantage; the ease of reproduction. Unlike previous versions, it gave photographers the opportunity to reproduce endless copies of a picture from a single negative. This will prove to be the fundamental principles of modern photography.

The Wet-Collodion Process was developed in 1851 and rendered Daguerreotype and Calotypes ideas redundant. The method combined crisp image quality with negatives that could be easily copied. The secret was the use of a chemical called collodion, a light-sensitive solution applied to metal plates. These wet plates reduced exposure time to just a few seconds, however this was often quite tedious as the plates had to be exposed and processed before the collodion mixture dried and hardened. This meant photographers had to travel with large portable dark rooms in order to expose the image properly. This process however was a very cost effective way to produce high quality images.

During the 1800s, photography was a difficult industry to enter without working knowledge of chemistry. However this changed in the 1870s, where photographers perfected a new type of photographic plate that preserved silver salts in gelatin. Since they retained their light-sensitivity for long periods of time, these “dry” plates could be prepackaged and mass-produced, freeing photographers from the annoying task of prepping and developing their own wet plates on the fly. They offered a much quicker exposure time allowing the camera to capture moving objects whilst maintaining a high image quality. A photographer named Eadweard Muybridge used dry plate cameras to conduct a series of famous studies on humans and animals in motion.

Although the photographic process was becoming easier and quicker, it still wasn’t accessible to amateurs until the mid-1880s when an inventor began producing film rolls. Film was lightweight and durable in comparison to chunky metal plates. The use of a roll meant that photographers could produce images in quick succession.

Colour photography still hadn’t emerged yet, however the industry was crying out for the development of colour photography. French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière developed an additive colour process named dubbed “Autochrome”. The brothers found the key to their invention in the starch of a potato, adding it to a panchromatic emulsion. This would prove to be the go to process until the 1935, when a more sophisticated colour process arrived in the form of the Eastman Kodak Company’s legendary Kodachrome film.


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