Summer Sale – Use code SUMMER10 at checkout!

When and how did photography actually start?

evolution of cameras

Many of us love to have wall art in our home. Particularly when it features photographs that bring back lots of happy memories. Looking at images that tell the story of your life and family can always bring a bit of joy into the dullest of days. And how much better to have them proudly on display as wall art rather than hidden away on your phone!

We are so lucky to have access to all these images. But that hasn’t always been the case. Even in your lifetime you can probably remember times when photographs weren’t so readily available. Days when they had to be taken on real cameras and then you had to wait for the film to be developed. So much has changed in a relatively short space of time. 

But do you ever wonder when and how photography actually started? 

In this article we take a quick ten point guide of how we got from the very first photograph to where we are today.


1 : Ancient history – Camera Obscura

As far back as the neolithic period – around 10000-2000 BC – there was evidence of the use of primitive camera obscura techniques. Camera obscura is the use of light to project an image onto a flat surface. Light passing through a small hole in one wall will project an upside down image onto an opposite wall. It is thought that ancient people used camera obscuras to project images and trace them with stone tools. 

The concept of camera obscura was written about by various philosophers including Mozi, Aristotle, and Da Vinci. But even though they understood how camera obscura worked, at this point there was no way to capture permanent images. 

An attempt to do this was made in 1685 by German author Johann Zahn, who invented a design for the first handheld reflex camera. But it was still another 150 years before his ideas began to become reality.


2 : 1822 – Nicéphore Niépce

In 1816 French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce began to capture images through a process called heliography. The process involved using a combination of silver plates with bitumen and lavender oil to create a basic engraving type photograph. By 1826 he was able to capture the image below – “View from the Window at Le Gras” – which many scholars recognise as the first real photograph ever.


3 : 1830’s – Daguerreotype process

In 1829, Niépce began to work with the French artist and inventor Louis Daguerre, who adjusted the heliographic method into the Daguerreotype process. This was a short-lived process as it involved mercury, but nevertheless Daguerre is still credited with developing practical photography. 

The Daguerreotype process was also instrumental in the development of the first mirror camera, invented in 1840 by Alexander Wolcott.



4 : 1830’s-1870’s – Emulsion and dry plates

The Daguerreotype process was replaced in the late 1850s by emulsion or wet plates. These were safer and less expensive than daguerreotypes and could create an image in 2-3 seconds of exposure time. This led to an increase in the popularity of portrait photographs.

In 1871, there was another major breakthrough when Richard Maddox created dry plate photography, which made the photographic process much more flexible. Dry plates could be stored rather than having to be created when needed, and could also be used with smaller cameras. Dry plates also needed even less exposure time and this led to the development of the first camera with a mechanical shutter.


5 : 1880’s-1940’s – Roll film cameras

In 1881, entrepreneur George Eastman started the Eastman Dry Plate Company. The very first roll film was launched by Eastman in 1888, and in 1892 the company became known as Eastman Kodak. Roll film meant that the solid plates did not need to be changed after each shot, and enabled a self-contained box camera to be developed, with the capacity for 100 film exposures. 

Once 100 shots had been taken, the camera would be sent back to the manufacturer for the film to be developed. Both roll film and cameras continued to evolve and began to be mass produced in the 1940s.


6 : 1948 – Polaroid cameras

In 1948, the Polaroid camera was invented by Edwin Land. It was able to create instant photographs by developing film inside the camera. The Polaroid camera remained popular until the 1970’s, then had a resurgence in 2017 when the last Polaroid film factory was purchased by a Dutch company called The Impossible Project.


7 : 1950’s – SLR cameras

The SLR – Single Lens Reflex – camera dates back to Europe in the 1890s but the technology became more widely available in the 1950s. It grew in popularity over the next 30 years, and is still very popular in its digital version. SLR cameras enable the photographer to adjust camera settings such as shutter speed, aperture, and focus, giving them total control over the appearance of the image.


8 : 1970’s – Point and shoot cameras

It could be argued that point and shoot cameras really brought photography to the masses. With point and shoot cameras, no specialist knowledge is needed about camera settings, making them incredibly popular with most casual and amateur photographers. 


9 : 1980’s-1990’s – Digital cameras

Alongside the evolution of point and shoot cameras, a digital revolution was taking place. Many aspects of everyday life were beginning to incorporate digital technology, and cameras were no exception to this. The first commercially available digital camera with a memory card – the FUJIX DS-1P – was released by Fuji in 1989. 

Many other manufacturers then began developing digital cameras for both professional and casual photographers. The first DSLR – Digital Single Lens Reflex – camera was launched by Kodak in 1991.


10 : 2000’s – Mobile phone cameras

And then of course, came the mobile phone! The first camera phone was patented by four employees at Nokia in 1994. Their application covered both a combination of a separate digital camera connected to a cell phone and a fully integrated system. 

A version of the combination method was independently used by new father Philippe Khan in 1997, when he instantly shared pictures of his new daughter from the maternity ward. He had devised a way to connect his laptop, digital camera and mobile phone together to take and transmit the photos.

Mobile phone camera technology rapidly gathered pace. The first commercial camera phone – the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210 – was released in Japan in May 1999. By 2006, half of the world’s mobile phones had a built-in camera. Today, most phones have at least one if not more cameras.

Of course, the increase in the availability of cameras has led to a huge increase in the number of photographs being taken. Did you know that more photos were taken in the last two years than all the previous years of photography put together?! And an estimated 3.2 billion images are shared on social media every single day.

We wonder what those early pioneers of photography would make of that!


With the huge number of images surrounding us, don’t let your precious memories be lost in the crowd. Why not start a wall art gallery in your home so that you can keep those memories alive for years to come? It’s so easy to do : just check out our easy three step process here. And your wall art will bring a smile to your face every day.

Remember to check back here with us soon for more lifestyle and photography tips from Print Your Memory. 


Share Post: