The History of Photography, Pt. 2


Did you know that you are influenced by photography almost everywhere you go? Whether you're scrolling through your Instagram feed, flipping through a magazine, or watching your favorite show, you are reaping the outcomes of photography! If you haven’t read our previous blog on the beginnings of photography, be sure to check that out! In this blog, we will dive deep in the camera's early evolutions during the last half 19th century.


After Daguerre and Niepce’s developments, many advancements in photography followed in the next fifty years. Daguerre’s method traveled worldwide, reaching Europe, the Middle East, and even in the United States. However, the process was still a lengthy one, and exposure time lasted around an hour. This means that moving objects were not able to be captured.


Attempts to advance the daguerreotype technique started in the US and Europe shortly after the process was released. Photographers wanted to create a more practical method to capture portraits. Alexander Wolcott opened the first known photography studio in New York in 1840 that specialized in tiny portraits. Wolcott used a camera with a mirror instead of a lens to capture his images. Across the world in Vienna, József Petzval and Friedrich Voigtländer tried to perfect the craft by developing their own cameras and lens. Petzval constructed an achromatic portrait lens that operated 20 times faster than those of Daguerre’s cameras. Voigtländer, on the other hand, discarded the large wooden box that Daguerre used and opted for a transportable size for his camera.


Richard Beard opened the first European studio in London in 1841. Beard, along with John Frederick Goddard, worked to decrease the exposure time and accelerate the process. After experimenting with different techniques, the two were successful and eventually dwindled the exposure time down to one to three minutes. Additionally, Goddard and Wolcott crafted a process that included using a blue glass to filter the sunlight to lessen the strain on the portrait sitters’ eyes.


The daguerreotype flourished in the following years, and photography studios opened all over the world. Despite its popularity, chemist William Talbot worked to improve the process and create duplicate images. Talbot’s experiments with gallic acid and paper led him to discover and create a latent image. Now, instead of using metal and relying on an hour exposure time, Talbot only needed around a minute of exposure. The images produced on paper were not as clear as they were on metal. This new discovery was revolutionary, and images on paper became as valuable as those captured by daguerreotype. Talbot used the term calotype, which means “beautiful picture,” to name his newly developed process.


Years after Talbot’s discovery, a new process evolved, known as stereoscopy. The method was first used in 1832 but was developed in 1849 by David Brewster. This process included merging two images into one by using two lenses placed a few inches apart. The stereoscope looks similar to a pair of hefty sunglasses as the lenses simulated human eyes. Images were placed in front of each of the lenses but appeared fused together when looked at through the stereoscope. The illusion of one three-dimensional image was then naturally produced by the human brain. Stereographs became popular throughout the latter half of the 1800s for both recreational and educational purposes. Images of landscapes and world monuments were some of the most prevalent among users.


One of the biggest revolutions of photography was the development of the wet collodion process in 1851. Frederick Archer concocted this method that allowed paper prints to be created from glass-plate negatives. This technique worked 20 times faster than all others. It did have one fatal flaw, however. The plates were required to be sensitized instantly after being exposed to light. This meant it was still damp while the photographer exposed and processed the image.


Thankfully, decades later, a dry plate was introduced that completely changed the process. Many attempts to craft a dry alternative took place in the 1870s, but English physician Richard Maddox was the one to come up with a working solution. Maddox discovered that allowing silver bromide to hang in gelatin would create a faster exposure due to the gelatin’s sensitivity. Due to this more immediate process, the need for a tripod vanished.


Handheld cameras became the new norm and were made available to the public at an affordable price. Now, anyone was able to capture an image instantaneously. This development led to the beginning of the modern era of photography and some of the most prominent camera developers of all time.


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