Inventors of Photography

Update: This post was originally posted on 4th November 2019 but after changing my website this post had to be re-published due to technical issues.

It’s amazing how quickly technology advances these days, I remember when disposable cameras were all the rage and you just took them into a local shop like Boots to get them developed. Oh, the excitement of trying to remember what photos you took and wondering if they turned out ok. Of course, there were always the photos that when you got them back and you were left scratching your head trying to work out what on earth you were trying to photograph.

Of course we can't look forward until we look back at the history of photography and the people behind the inventions that have contributed to photography as we know it today.


There are many people who have contributed inventions to the progression of photography including Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Dagurre and James Carl Maxwell to name but a few. In this post I am going to tell you about the contributions that these and other inventors made to the progression of photography.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

The person who is accredited with being the original inventor of photography is a French gentlemen called Joseph Nicéphore Niépce who lived from 7 March 1765 – 5 July 1833. He invented the process that created what is believed to be the first permanent photographic image in 1822.

Although he is not credited with the invention until 1822, it appears from his personal correspondence that he had been doing experiments in to making permenant photographic images back in 1816. His image wasn’t taken in a camera but by using Bitumen of Judea or Asphalt and the sun to essentially etch a picture onto paper. After this was done Niépce used lavender oil to dissolve the Bitumen leaving just the photograph.

He called this process heliography which translates as sun drawing.

His first successful photograph using this technique was ultimately destroyed when he tried to make copies of it. The first actually surviving photographs by Niépce comes from 1825 and is done from a 17th century engraving.

In 1829, Niépce entered into a partnership with Louis Daguerre to invent the first permenant photographic images with a camera. This partnership lasted until Niépce death in 1833.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre

Another father of photography is Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre who lived from 18 November 1787 – 10 July 1851. He invented the Daduerreotype camera in 1837, although as mentioned above this invention was originally done in partnership with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce until Niépce death in 1833.

Originally this invention was focused on Niépce’s use of Bitumen of Judea to make permenant photographs. This took along time to develop the photos and required them to be exposed to light. Although Daguerre and Niépce managed to reduce this time it still took a very long time to develop photos.

After Niépce’s death in 1833 Daduerre concentrated on the light sensitive properties of silver salt which had been demonstrated by others such as Johann Heinrich Schultz. To begin with Daguerre exposed a thin silver plated copper sheet to the vapours given off by ioden crystals which in turn produced a light sensitive coating of silver ioden on the surface. However, this also took along time to develop the photo.

Daguerre later realised that a faint laten image could be created by chemically devoloping the image. This was done by subjecting the plate in the daguerreotype camera to mercury which was heated to 75⁰C, with the imaging then being “fixed” by removing the unaffected silver ioden with concentrated and heated salt water. A later more efficient solution was created called sodium thiosulfate and was used instead.

The Daguerreotype was the Polaroid of its time and in 1839 Daguerre managed to convince the French government to purchase it for the French people. The government agreed to give Daguerre 6,000 francs per year for the rest of his life and to give the Niépce estate 4,000 francs per year. This was seen as a snub the Niépce family who looked at Daguerre as taking credit for Niépce’s work, and for many years he was over looked. However, he is now seen as the father of modern day photography.

James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish mathematical physist who lived from 13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879 and is responsible for the first colour photograph being taken in 1861.

Although there had been some expermintation in producing colour photographs in the 1840’s with some encouraging results. However, the colours were often limited to primary colours or the colours would fade when exposed to light for viewing.

In 1855 Maxwell suggested the three-colour method as it is the foundation of all practical colour processes whether it is chemical or electronic, in his paper on colour vision. This paper was based on the theory that the human eye can see colour because its surface is covered with intermingled cone cells of three types. One is sensitive to red specturm, another green and the final blue. In Maxwell’s study he rotated a disk which altered the proportion of each colour that could be seen. He was able to show that if the same colourless scene was photographed through red, green and blue filters and then slides made from them and they were then projected through these filters the result would be an image that showed all the original colours.

The first image taken by Maxwell’s method was that of a ribbon taken by Thomas Sutton, and I feel it is important to point out he did this for a physics and physiology lecture not for photography.

Colour photography has come along way since Maxwell’s paper in 1855 and lecture in 1861 but it is all thanks to Maxwell.

George Eastmen

The American entrepreneur George Eastmen lived from 12 July 1854 – 14 March 1932 and is the founder of Eastmen Kodak company which popularized the use of roll film and brought photography to the masses.

The first roll film that proved viable was patented by Eastmen in 1884, this was followed by another paten in 1888 for the Kodak Black camera which was the first camera to use roll film. By 1896 he was the leading supplier for roll film internationally. Prior to this in 1892 he incorporated his business under the name Eastmen Kodak and as film became standardrised Eastmen continued to lead the way with innovations with the refinement of coloured film stock continuing after his death.

Steven Sassoon

Unlike the other inventors in this post Steven Sasson is still living, he was born on 4 July 1950 and is an American electrical engineer.

In 1975 he invented the first portable digital camera for Eastman Kodak, it weighed 8 pounds and only had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels. The image was recorded to a cassette tape and took 23 seconds to process.

Although this is slow by todays standard and the megapixels incredibly small it was the invention upon which most if not all cameras today are based upon.

Summing Up

Although I have not listed every single inventor who has made a contribution to photography I hope this post gives you a taster of the history of photography. As I said at the start of this post you cannot look forward until you understand the past.

In a future post I am planning to illustrate the progression of the actual technology.

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