Ancient times: Chinese and Greek philosophers describe the basic principles of optics and the camera. It had been observed as far back as the 5th century BC that Camera Obscuras, meaning "Darkened Rooms", had been used to form outside images on walls in darkened rooms by sunlight shining through a small hole.
From 16th century: Brightness and clarity of camera obscuras are improved by enlarging the hole inserting a simple lens.
17th century: By the middle of 17th century the portable camera obscura had been developed and become in frequent use by artists. It consisted of an outer shell with lenses in the centre of each wall, and an inner shell containing transparent paper for drawing; the artist needed to enter by a trapdoor.
1666: Isaac Newton divides sunlight with a prism and discovers that white light is composed of seven distinct colours.
1727: Professor J. Schulze mixes chalk, nitric acid, and silver in a flask and notices darkening on side of the flask upon exposure to light. Accidental creation of the first photo-sensitive compound.
1758: John Dollond developed the achromatic telescope lens; this improved the camera obscura image.
1750: Canaletto uses the camera obscura as an aid to his painting in Venice.
1790-95: Thomas Wedgwood records "sun prints" on material impregnated with silver nitrate such as leather, glass and ceramic by using light and heat to change the chemical substances. The resulting images were temporary and deteriorated rapidly, however, if displayed under light stronger than from candles. He was unable to produce permanent images due to his inability to fix the image.
1800: The infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum of radiation (light) is discovered by Sir Frederick William Herschel (1738-1822). Herschel was the founder of modern astronomy and discovered Uranus and other heavenly bodies.
1801: Thomas Yong suggests the "three colour" idea of light. That there are three primary colours blue, green and red. These three blend together in various combinations to form any other colour in the visible spectrum.
1816: In France, Nicephore Niepce and his brother Isidore Niepce initiate experiments to create images using photosensitive paper.
1826: Niepce creates the world’s first permanent image (heliograph) using pewter plates in a camera obscura. It required 8 hours to expose.
1834: Henry Fox Talbot experiments using paper soaked in silver chloride and fixed with a salt solution to create permanent (negative) images of silhouettes.
1835: Using his small "mousetrap" cameras, Henry Fox Talbot photographs the inside of his library window at Lacock Abbey, creating the first negative. Talbot created positive images by contact printing onto another sheet of paper.
1837: Louis Daguerre creates images on silver-plated copper, coated with silver iodide and "developed" with warmed mercury to give a single direct positive. They took under 30 minutes to develop and the finished daguerreotype needed to be framed behind glass with the edges sealed to prevent oxidation of the silver. Each image in this process is unique and no copies can be made; this being the main reason that daguerreotypes became obsolete within 20 years of their invention.
1839: Louis Daguerre is awarded a state pension by the French government in exchange for publication of methods and the rights by other French citizens to use the Daguerreotype process.
1839: Henry Fox Talbot hurriedly prepared and presented papers at the Royal Institution and the Royal Society. Unlike the Daguerre process the image is recorded as a "negative" and had to be printed via a similar process to produce the final "positive". Many positive prints can be made from a single negative.
1839: Sir John Herschel suggests fixing Talbot's images in sodium thiosulphate and coined the term photography and applied the terms negative and positive to photography.
1840: Following suggestions Talbot improved his process, using silver iodide and developing in gallic acid. The use of paper negatives meant that the images were not as detailed as Dagurreotypes.
1840: First American patent issued in photography to Alexander Wolcott for his camera.
1841: Henry Fox Talbot patents his process under the name "calotype" with 5 minutes exposure time becoming the world's first negative/positive multi-copy photographic process.
1841: Joseph Petzval mathematically calculated compound lens of f/3.6 effectively reducing Daguerreotype exposure to 1 minute.
1843: Hill and Adamson begin to use calotypes for portrait photography in Edinburgh.
1843: First advertisement with a photograph made in Philadelphia.
1844-46: Henry Fox Talbot begins publication of The Pencil of Nature to indicate the range and possibilities of photography.
1846: German optical instrument factory opened at Jena by Carl Zeiss.
1847: Niepce De Saint-Victor discovers the use of albumen to bind silver salts on glass base. Albumen process requires 10 minutes exposure. Talbot patents the process in England.
1850: Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard proposes use of albumen for printing paper, improves and modifies Fox Talbot's calotype process and sets up a printing business in Lille, France. Albumen paper was never patented and was popularly used for 40 years.
1851: Frederick Scott Archer, a sculptor in London, improves photographic resolution by spreading a mixture of collodion (nitrated cotton dissolved in ether and alcoohol) and chemicals on sheets of glass. Exposure and processing is performed immediately after coating plate. Wet plate collodion photography was much cheaper than daguerreotypes; the negative/positive process permitted unlimited reproductions, and all from relatively short exposures of a few seconds. The process was published but not patented and Scott Archer died in poverty.
1851: Henry Fox Talbot uses an exposure of 1/1000 of a second to demonstrate high speed photography.
1853: Nada (Felix Toumachon) opens his portrait studio in Paris.
1854: Adolphe Disderi develops carte-de-visite photography in Paris, leading to worldwide boom in portrait studios for the next decade.
1855-57: Direct positive images on glass (ambrotypes) and metal (tintypes or ferrotypes) popular in the US.
1858: Henry Fox Talbot patents as photography the photo etching process.
1859: Napoleon III sits for his portrait by Disderi. Soon hundreds of copies of this are selling daily.
1860: Queen Victoria is photographed by Mayall. Abraham Lincoln is photographed by Matthew Brady for political campaigning.
1861: Thomas Sutton develops and patents single lens reflex plate camera. This is still an extremely common camera design today. The lens used to make the photograph is also the viewing lens and movable mirror permits both of these functions without having to remove the plate or film. The same year Sutton also develops the panoramic camera - the Sutton. The 140 degree panoramic effect was achieved with curved glass plates and a hollow glass lens filled with distilled water.
1861: Oliver Wendell Holmes invents stereoscope viewer.
1861: Scottish physicist James Clerk-Maxwell tests the three-colour theory of light and demonstrates at the Royal Institute in London the experiment involving three black and white photographs, each taken through a red, green, or blue filter. The photos were turned into lantern slides and projected in registration with the same colour filters. When these images are combined a reasonably fully-coloured image is produced. This is the "colour separation" method and is also the first reproducible colour photograph.
1861-65: Mathew Brady and staff (mostly staff) covers the American Civil War, exposing 7000 negatives.
1865: Photographs and photographic negatives are added to protected works under copyright.
1868: Ducas de Hauron publishes a book proposing a variety of methods for colour photography, but they could not yet be put into practice.
1869: Henry Peach Robinson publishes Pictorial Effect in Photography, trying to acquaint fellow photographers with aesthetic concepts.
1871: Richard Leach Maddox, an English doctor, proposes the use of an emulsion of gelatin and silver bromide on a glass plate, creating the dry plate silver bromide process - negatives no longer had to be developed immediately. Exposure times of 1/25th second could be achieved.
1876: F. Hurter and V. C. Driffield begin systematic evaluation of sensitivity characteristics of photographic emulsions - science of sensitometry.
1877: The first electrically-lit photographic studio is opened in Regent Street, London.
1878: Eadweard Muybridge, born in England as Edward Muggridge, makes a high-speed photographic demonstration of a moving horse, airborne during a trot , using a trip-wire system . From 1884 he begins work at the University of Pennsylvania to produce a massive collection of photographs of animals in motion, ultimately to be published as Animal Locomotion.
1878: Dry plates being manufactured commercially.
1880: George Eastman, age 24, sets up Eastman Dry Plate Company in Rochester, New York. First half-tone photograph appears in a daily newspaper, the New York Graphic.
1880: The first twin lens reflex camera is produced in London. Such cameras employ a viewing lens that is matched to the "taking lens", and focussed by the same mechanism. Rolleiflex are the best-known manufacturer of these.
1881: Frederick E. Ives invents a process for making reproductions in colour - the trichromatic half-tone plate.
1886: Frederick E. Ives develops the half-tone engraving process whereby photographic and other images can be reproduced simultaneously with text.
1887: Hannibal Goodwin, a New York clergyman filled patent for roll film with a flexible plastic base - celluloid photographic film.
1887: Gabriel Lippmann invents a "method of reproducing colours photographically based on the phenomenon of interference".
1888: Eastman company in the USA produces the Kodak No.1 camera containing a 20-foot roll of paper, enough for 100 2.5-inch diameter circular pictures - the first simplified camera system for the general public. With the slogan "You press the button and we do the rest", the major innovation was the combination of a ready-loaded camera with a developing and printing service.
1889: Improved Kodak camera with roll of film instead of paper. Produced the first transparent roll film (nitrocellulose).
1889: Thomas Edison slit the 2 3/4 inch Kodak roll film down the middle making it 1 3/8 inch (35mm) and put transport perforations down each side - to become the international standard for motion picture film.
1890: The first independent speed rating for all emulsions is devised by two British scientists, Hurter and Driffield. The ratings were known as "H & D numbers". This essentially led to the current ISO numbers on film boxes today.
1890: The first halftone photographic reproductions start to supplement hand-drawn illustrations in popular publications.
1891: Thomas Edison patents the "kinetoscopic camera" (motion pictures).
1891: Gabriel Lippmann of the Sorbonne succeeds in producing a coloured image directly in the camera from one exposure, using the principle of light interference first investigated by Newton. For this Lippmann received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1908. The process required long exposures, and results could not be copied, however.
1893: The flash-bulb is invented, a glass bulb filled with magnesium-coated metal ribbon, ignited electrically.
1895: Auguste and Louis Lumiere demonstrate a cinema projector capable of showing 16 frames a second thus inventing the cinematographe.
1898: Kodak introduced their Folding Pocket Kodak.
1899: "The New School of American Photography" the first major exhibition of American pictorial photography is held at the Royal Photographic Society. It consists of 360 images by such photographers as: F. Holland Day, Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier, and Clarence White.
1900: Frederick H. Evans exhibits 150 platinum prints at the Royal Photographic Society. Evans was known as a prime exponent of "pure photography": images that are unretouched and unmanipulated.
1900: Kodak introduced their Brownie box roll-film camera.
1901: Kodak introduced the 120 film.
1902: Alfred Stieglitz organizes "Photo Secessionist" show in New York City.
1902: Arthur Korn devises practical phototelegraphy technology (reduction of photographic images to signals that can be transmitted by wire to other locations); Wire-Photos in wide use in Europe by 1910, and transmitted intercontinentally by 1922.
1904: Dr. H. Vogel's research lead to panchromatic film using sensitising dyes. This type of film is sensitive to all visible colours.
1906: Availability of panchromatic black and white film and therefore high quality colour separation colour photography. J.P. Morgan finances Edward Curtis to document the traditional culture of the North American Indian.
1907: First commercial colour film, the Autochrome plates, manufactured by Lumiere brothers in France.
1909: Lewis Hine hired by US National Child Labour Committee to photograph children working mills.
1912: Siegrist and Fischer, two German chemists, invented the action of colour coupling , so dyes required for colour film processing could be created by combining appropriate developer oxidation products with colour former chemicals. However, the process was not reliable enough to start film production.
1912: Vest Pocket Kodak using 127 film is introduced.
1913: Kinemacolor, the first commercial "natural colour" system for movies is invented
1914: Kodak introduced the Autographic film system.
1914: Oscar Barnack, employed by German microscope manufacturer Leitz, develops camera using the modern 24x36mm frame and sprocketed 35mm movie film.
1917: Nippon Kogaku K.K., which will eventually become Nikon, established in Tokyo.
1920: Yasujiro Niwa invented a device for phototelegraphic transmission through cable and later via radio.
1921: Man Ray begins making photograms ("rayographs") by placing objects on photographic paper and exposing the shadow cast by a distant light bulb.
1923: Harold ("Doc") Edgerton invents the xenon flash lamp and strobe photography.
1924: Leitz markets a derivative of Barnack's camera commercially as the "Leica", the first high quality 35mm camera. The capabilities of the Leica made a new form of photojournalism possible, as typified by the Magnum photographic agency .
1925: The Leica introduced the 35mm format to still photography.
1925: Andre Kertesz moves from his native Hungary to Paris, where he begins an 11-year project photographing street life.
1928: Albert Renger-Patzsch publishes The World is Beautiful, close-ups emphasizing the form of natural and man-made objects.
1928: Rollei introduces the Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex producing a 6x6 cm image on rollfilm.
1931: Development of strobe photography by Harold ("Doc") Edgerton.
1932: The first full-colour Technicolor movie, Flowers and Trees, is made by Disney.
1932: Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham , Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston, et al, form Group f/64 dedicated to "straight photographic thought and production".
1932: Henri Cartier-Bresson buys a Leica and begins a 60-year career photographing people.
1933: Brassai publishes Paris de nuit.
1934: Fuji Photo Film founded. By 1938, Fuji is making cameras and lenses in addition to film.
1934: The 135 film cartridge was introduced, making 35mm easy to use.
1935: Farm Security Administration hires Roy Stryker to run a historical section. Stryker would hire Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, et al. to photograph rural hardships over the next six years.
1936: Development of Kodachrome, the first colour multi-layered film.
1936: Development of Ihagee Kine Exakta 1, the first 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera.
1937: The German company AGFA was the first to sell a film, Agfacolor, with the colour formers in the film.
1939: Agfacolor negative-positive colour material, the first modern "print" film.
1939: The View-Master stereo viewer is introduced.
1940s: Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa , Carl Mydans, and W. Eugene Smith cover the war for LIFE magazine.
1942: Kodacolor, Kodak's first "print" film is introduced.
1947: Henri Cartier-Bresson , Robert Capa , and David Seymour start the photographer-owned Magnum picture agency . The agency developed a style of photojournalism that was largely based upon the capability of the Leica 35 mm camera. Magnum is still an exclusive club of illustrious photographers with membership limited to thirty six.
1947: Dennis Gabor invents holography.
1948: Hasselblad in Sweden offers its first medium-format SLR for commercial sale.
1948: Pentax in Japan introduces the automatic diaphragm.
1948: Edwin H. Land introduces the first Polaroid instant black and white image camera. The special camera sandwiched the exposed negative with a receiving positive paper and spread the processing chemicals between the two, after processing these were peeled apart.
1949: East German Zeiss develops the Contax S, first SLR with an unreversed image in a pentaprism viewfinder.
1952: The 3-D film craze begins.
1954: Leica M is introduced.
1957: First Asahi Pentax SLR introduced.
1957: First digital image produced on a computer by Russell Kirsch at U.S. National Bureau of Standards (now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST).
1959: Nikon F is introduced.
1959: AGFA introduces the first fully automatic camera, the Optima.
1961: Eugene F. Lally of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory published the first description of how to produce still photos in a digital domain using a mosaic photosensor.
1963: First colour instant film developed by Polaroid.
1963: Instamatic released by Kodak.
1963: First purpose-built underwater introduced, the Nikonos.
1964: First Pentax Spotmatic SLR introduced.
1972: 110-format cameras introduced by Kodak with a 13x17mm frame.
1973: C-41 colour negative process introduced, replacing C-22.
1973: Fairchild Semiconductor releases the first large image forming CCD chip; 100 rows and 100 columns.
1975: Bryce Bayer at Kodak develops the Bayer filter mosaic pattern for CCD colour image sensors and Steve Sasson also at Kodak builds the first working CCD-based digital still camera.
1976: Cannon introduces Cannon AE-1, the first 35mm camera with built in microprocessor.
1980s: A system called DX coding was introduced for 35mm films. The cassettes have an auto-sensing code printed on them which enable certain cameras to automatically set the film speed, this information can also be used by processing laboratories.
1980: Sony demonstrates the first consumer camcorder.
1980: Elsa Dorfman begins making portraits with the 20"x24" Polaroid.
1982: Sony demonstrates Mavica "still video" camera.
1983: Kodak introduces disk camera, using an 8x11mm frame.
1984: Demonstrated the first digital still camera.
1985: Minolta markets the world's first autofocus SLR system (called "Maxxum" in the US).
1986: Kodak scientists invent the world's first megapixel sensor.
1988: Sally Mann begins publishing nude photos of her children.
1987: The popular Canon EOS system introduced, with new all-electronic lens mount.
1990: Adobe Photoshop 1.0, image manipulation program, is released for Apple Macintosh computers.
1991: Kodak DCS-100, first digital SLR, a modified Nikon F3.
1992: Kodak introduces PhotoCD, a digital image storage medium.
1992: Tim Berners-Lee develops the software and protocol for the World Wide Web (WWW).
1993: Adobe Photoshop is made available for MS-Windows computers.
1993: NCSA release the first WWW browser.
1994: Netscape Launch their WWW browser called Navigator.
1996: Advanced Photo System (APS) is introduced. APS uses a cassette which holds 24 mm wide film on a base which has a magnetic data strip as well as fine grained emulsion. When the film is being developed automatic handling mechanisms locate the correct frames and determines the required print format from the data strip. After processing the film is rewound into the cassette and a digitally mastered index print of all the frames is created as a reference for reordering.
1996: Microsoft release their WWW browser called Internet Explorer.
1997: Rob Silvers publishes Photomosaics.
1998: The first consumer megapixel cameras were introduced.
1999: Nikon D1 SLR is introduced, 2.74 megapixel for $6000, first ground-up DSLR design by a leading manufacturer.
2000: Canon introduced the EOS D30, the first digital SLR for the consumer market with a CMOS sensor.
2000: Camera phone introduced in Japan by Sharp/J-Phone.
2001: Polaroid goes bankrupt.
2002: Contax introduced the NDigital, the first SLR digital camera with a CCD the same size as a 35 mm frame.
2003: Four-thirds standard for compact digital SLRs introduced with the Olympus E-1; Canon Digital Rebel introduced for less than $1000.
2004: Kodak ceases production of film cameras.
2005: Canon EOS 5D is introduced, the first consumer-priced full-frame digital SLR, with a 24x36mm CMOS sensor for $3000.
2005: AgfaPhoto files for bankruptcy. Production of Agfa brand consumer films ends.
2006: Dalsa produces 111 megapixel CCD sensor, the highest resolution at its time.
Further to the timeline of the history of photography, explore the works of the featured masters of photography.
Digital Photography Tips › Digital Photography Basics › History of Photography
Photography Tips by
and for photographers
Return to top