The Evolution of the Camera:

Where did pictures come from?

Project Description

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The Birth of Photography

For this lesson, watch the presentation above, review the other material and fill out the worksheet below.

Key Concepts

Photography was developed from the combination of two earlier discoveries:

1. The Camera Obscura

At its most basic, the Camera Obscura is a simple box (which may be room-sized) with a small hole in one side. Just like the human eye, light passes through the hole and projects an inverted (upside-down) image against the back wall. As the pinhole is made smaller, the image gets sharper, but the light-sensitivity decreases. By using mirrors, it is also possible to project a “right-side-up” image. Various forms of these boxes were used all the way back to 1000 AD. In later versions, the projection can be made on paper on which an artist can copy the image.

Camera = Latin for “room”
Obscura = Latin for “dark”

Earlier versions were simply a box with a hole, but later they discovered that they could control the light better by installing a lens over the hole to create a sharper image where they wanted it to be. This invention was merely a projector that projected an image that could be traced by hand. It was a developmental tool in art to study perspective and proportion.

2. Photosensitivity and Silver Nitrates

Albertus Magnus, in the 13th century, documented the ability of nitric acid to separate gold and silver by dissolving the silver. Magnus noted that the resulting solution of silver nitrate could blacken skin.

In 1614, Angelo Sala demonstrated that “powdered silver nitrate is blackened by the sun”, as was paper that was wrapped around it. This discovery of the sun’s effect on powdered silver nitrate was not supported and was subsequently disregarded by then-respected scientists who said that his discovery “had no practical application.”

The Birth of Photography

It wasn’t until the early seventeenth century that attempts were made to combine the camera obscura with the sun-blackening properties of the silver salts in an attempt to create a fixed image on paper using only the projection through the camera obscura’s lens. However, the images were negatives and wouldn’t be permanent since they would fully darken all over when viewing in the light. After many attempts, the first official image was born in 1826, using a modified camera obscura and a sheet of pewter that was coated in a bitumen solution. This first successful image is attributed to Nicéphore Niépce of France who was seeking a better way to “fix” the image so it wouldn’t darken in the light when viewing. He later partnered with Louis Daguerre who further developed the silver solution and discovered how to stabilize or “fix” the image after the exposure with silver iodide and common salt so it wouldn’t darken any further in the light.

The First Photograph

See the presentation above for more.


Project Details

  • Client Basic Digital Photography
  • Date November 1, 2016
  • Tags BDP, BDP Lessons, BDP UNIT 1 Lessons, BFP, Photo PP, Presentations
Launch Project

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