Early cameras of the 16th and 17th century were able to project images onto paper or glass but the study of capturing, processing and printing the images took many more years. Up until the 17th century, scientists believed that light was composed basically of the ‘white’ that is perceived by the human eye. It took the research done by famous physicist Isaac Newton to discover that light is actually composed of a spectrum of colors. While he made a big contribution to the study of optics (that is at the core of camera advances) with this discovery, Newton did not actually have anything to do with camera development.
The early camera that first became a phenomenon was a little more than a pinhole camera and can be traced back to 1558. It was called the Camera Obscura.
The Camera Obscura was seen as a drawing tool for a clearer and realistic portrayal of objects. It was in the early 19th century that an invention named the Camera Lucida was introduced by Cambridge scientist William Hyde Wollaston that consisted of an optical device that could help an artist view a distant scene or person or object on a paper surface that he or she was using to draw. In other words the artist gets to view a superimposed image of a subject on paper and this image could be effectively used to attempt to draw, trace or paint it. Both the Camera Obscura and the Camera Lucida provided an image that was temporary, which could not be lastingly captured on to paper for later reference.
Studies however continued well into the 1800’s on how to actually capture the image onto material. It was during this time, around 1822 that French researcher Joseph Nicephore Niepce, created the first photograph by using paper that was coated with a chemical. The image would not stay permanently on the paper and would disappear after a short while. Even so, despite the short-lived nature of the image, the concept of photography was born with this experiment and paved the way for further study and development in this field.
Capturing images to retain them longer and permanently became the next big quest for researchers. Another Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre partnered with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1829, to develop the process of creating permanent photographs. Joseph Niépce died in 1833 but Daguerre continued with the work and succeeded in 1837 after many long years of experimentation. The process of capturing photographic images that would not fade away, introduced by Daguerre came to be known as the ‘daguerreotype’.
The word ‘photography’ was coined by scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839 and it is actually is derived from two Greek words ‘photos’ meaning light and ‘graphein’ meaning draw.
A slightly more advanced version of the daguerreotype called the Calotype process that makes multiple copies possible using the negative and positive method became available very soon after. In fact, it was during the 1840’s that the use of photographic images in advertisements first started and cameras made their mark on the power of visual communication. It was not much later, in the 1850’s that photographers first started experimenting with underwater photography of seascapes.
Up until 1850, the process of capturing images was cumbersome requiring upto half an hour of light exposure. The discovery made in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer was a blessing since the new method termed the Collodion process called for just 2-3 seconds of light exposure to capture an image.
Prior to 1871, photographers went through a development process where they had to coat the plate with wet chemical each and every time and process the image immediately. With the invention the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process by Richard Leach Maddox, negatives did not have to be developed immediately. This was an important discovery since up until then the captured image had to be processed instantly.
Kodak created in 1888 by George Eastman has been a modern day pioneer of sorts in cameras and photography for the masses. George Eastman and the scientists who worked with him at Kodak developed the photographic film in 1889 and made it available in rolls for the mass use of consumers. An important milestone in our entertainment and communication history was the development of transparent roll film by Eastman. This development led to another key invention – the motion picture camera by Thomas Edison’s in 1891.