The Evolution of Photography

By Rebecca Shaw

It is the only window we have into the personal lives of our family whom we have lost or may have never met. Many of us have them littered around our house or crammed into a shoebox somewhere. With todays technology, most people have probably taken one recently. Photography has only been a round for a couple centuries, however it has become the main way we document life. We have become so accustom to it that we no longer use it just to record historical events and take portraits of family and friends. Now, we use to take images of documents when we are without a copier, we record our pets every move, and we even photograph our food before taking a single bite. Cell phones and social media have made it more common than ever to have and share photos with others. However, prior to Facebook and Instagram, most people kept their photos in albums and frames.

Until recently, taking a photograph and having it printed was not easy, and unlike the hundreds of pictures of your dog, these photos were irreplaceable. Photographs have been some of the most common things passed down through generations. Crinkled black and white, partially faded images are how many people familiarize themselves with their long-passed relatives.

Photography first became common in the mid 1800’s. Large camera boxes were used in place of our phones to capture portraits. The first photograph that did not fade was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1830s France. He used a camera obscura (predecessor to the camera), that exposed a bitumen coated pewter plate to light in order to develop the image. Unlike previous photographs taken, this technique allowed the image to not fade as quickly. This jump started other experiments to improve the process even further.

Those experiments led to Richard Maddox creating a camera with dry gelatin plates rather than wet ones. The result was equivalent to that of cameras using wet plates, but Maddox’s camera was able to be smaller and hand held, making it more portable and easier for photographers on the go. Maddox’s camera also allowed for a shorter exposure time. When photography was first used, the subject would have to remain extremely still in order for the photo to not be blurry. With long exposure times the product often had blurred images. This resulted in many people favoring to have portraits done of recently deceased relatives since it would be a clear image. There are many old family portraits, or Memento Mori, from the mid-1800s that include live and dead family members. The blurry nature around certain people suggest they were alive while the one next to them that is completely focused has passed. It was a depressing trend, but one that provided excellent portraits. Though after the 1870s, when Maddox introduced his camera, this trend was no longer necessary.

Photography became quite popular among the wealthy. It was not until George Eastman opened Kodak that cameras became affordable for the average person. The camera contained roll film with one hundred exposures on it. There was no way to adjust the focus and the camera had to be sent back to the factory in order for the pictures to be developed.

The 1900s pushed forward with the further developments of cameras and photography. At the start of the century the first colored photographs became possible. Again an innovation by the French in 1907 it was introduced by the Lumiére brothers. By the 1930s, photography was bringing images from the war in Europe to American’s front door. Photographs soon became the way wars were documents and publicized. Soon, the 35-millimeter film became affordable for the public. Camera companies started to rise such as Nikon, Pentax and Polaroid. Polaroid became extremely popular due to its immediate image. Rather than having to take it to the store to be developed, Polaroid’s cameras allowed a photograph to come directly out of the camera and develop when exposed to light after a few moments. The company thrived from 1960 to 2008 when it fell out of favor, only to be revived in 2016 in a new trending style.

Kodak, still being a personal camera giant, revolutionized photography once again in 1991 when it introduced the first digital camera. The camera included a screen that aloud the photographer to view the image immediately. Taking photos was never the same. Within a few short years following its release, cameras have been installed into phones, computers, and iPods. Almost everyone has a camera at their fingertips and can instantly share it with others.  


“Explore the Major Advances in the History of Photography.” The Spruce Crafts, TheSpruceCrafts,