The Online Library of Knowledge


History of photography

Children using a camera obscura (19th-century print)Children using a camera obscura (19th-century print) The forerunner of the camera was the camera obscura, used by artists, which made images with a lens, but could not record them. The earliest surviving photograph, an image recorded on to a surface of some kind, was taken by Frenchman Joseph Niépce in 1827. It was recorded on a metal plate coated with chemicals that changed very slowly where the image was light but not where it was dark. Photographic processes were soon improved by two inventors working independently without knowledge of each other's work: Frenchman Louis Daguerre and Englishman William Fox Talbot.

The earliest photo: Niépce's image of rooftopsThe earliest photo: Niépce's image of rooftops

Nicéphore Niépce

The earliest surviving photograph was a view taken in 1827 by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) from the window of his home at Chalon-sur-Saône, near Beaune, France. Simple cameras, in which rays of light reflected from an object passed through a pinhole in a dark box to make an upside-down image on a screen inside, had been invented centuries earlier. The problem was how to make the image permanent. Niépce solved it by fitting his camera with a metal plate coated with a thin layer of bitumen (asphalt, the substance used to surface roads) and oil. After eight hours, a ghostly image formed on the plate.

Photomasks, used in the production of integrated circuits, are simply modern versions of the camera obscura, or the pinhole camera—known from the 4th century BC in both China and ancient Greece.

© 2020 Q-files Ltd. All rights reserved. Switch to Mobile