Photography really is a fascinating process! It’s also been around for longer than you might imagine. From quaint Victorian photography standards all the way through to the Instagram and Snapchat generations, we’ve come a long way from the days when we used to have to paint each other to create a memory!
Photography has a stunning history, which means that various facts and figures about the practice, and the technology that’s evolved along the way, are likely to surprise even the most ardent of shutterbugs. Whether you’re a keen clicker and snapper yourself, or you simply like browsing social media for creative shots every now and again, here are a few facts about photography that might just change the way you look at photos!
Photography is a word which has Greek origins. It’s actually a phrase that translates roughly into ‘drawing with light’ – pretty apt! The word ‘photo’ actually means ‘light’, and ‘graphe’ means line drawings.
But how does photography actually work? We won’t get into the complete nitty gritty here, but we can break it down into a few interesting facts and figures. It’s actually all about electromagnetic radiation or light capture. Traditionally, we used film and photo solution to take pictures and to develop photographs – however, over the years, we have of course moved into the digital realms.
But what’s the most viewed photo of all time? Understandably, it’s the classic ‘green hill’ photo used as a backdrop for Windows XP computers. The name of this shot is ‘Bliss’, and Charles O’Rear took the photo in 1996 – that’s right – it’s of a real location!
Photography is much, much older than many people realise. Believe it or not, the first ‘image capture’ technology is believed to date back to as early as 470 BC! Specifically, it was the work of ancient Chinese philosopher, Mozi, who led us to developing the first-ever pinhole camera and dark room. Mozi researched how to project images onto surfaces, specifically.
Cameras generally work through a system of lenses. This means that a camera will normally focus light through a lens to reflect off objects and then capture on an internal surface. Internal components will then work to capture individual pixels to produce digital photos. The science is truly amazing when you dig deep enough down into it all!
The first person to ever be photographed was a man getting his shoes polished in the street. The photographer in question was Louis Dagerre, and the year – believe it or not – was 1828! However, it was never Dagerre’s intention to capture the man at all. The photographer wanted to take a photo of Paris’ Boulevard du Temple, and the exposure on the camera lasted so long, a man walked into shot. A history-making moment, no less!
Studies show that the left side of your face will probably look better than the right side when you have your photo taken. Now you know what people mean when they say ‘help me get my good side’!
Remember photo negatives? It seems like an age ago that we were ever getting photo films developed, but many, many people still love traditional photography. Negatives work to create a positive alternative when it comes to printing images on paper.
Colour photos didn’t come along until 1861, but they weren’t commonplace until much later. The first colour photo was taken through the use of separate filters, with the photographer merging red, green, and blue to create a colour aggregate. We have Thomas Sutton to thank for this innovation!
However, it was physicist and photographer James Maxwell who took the first full colour snap.
How old do you think digital photography actually is? Believe it or not, the world’s first digital camera came into being back in 1975, and it was Steven Sasson, working for Eastman Kodak, who created the first working digital standard.
His camera, however, was actually pretty hefty compared to modern standards, as you probably expect. It’s thought that Sasson’s original digital camera weighed around 8lbs! Modern cameras tend to weigh a quarter of this!
Believe it or not, the very modern trend of sharing funnycat and pet photos dates back further than you think, too. In fact, it was commonplace to take pictures of your cats – humorous or otherwise – back in the 1800s. In fact, it was thanks to Harry Pointer that the cat photography boom started at all!
Photography isn’t just a leisure pursuit, as it has a hugely important place in various industries and sciences. For example, you can expect photography to have an important role in photolithography and aerial contouring. However, it is likely most popularly used in entertainment and for private amusement.
Post-mortem photography, believe it or not, was a massive trend back in the 1800s. It seems that the original photographers enjoyed taking snaps of dead bodies – thankfully, this has become more of a niche pursuit these days!
Photo negatives are, as stated, a crucial part of traditional photography. The very first negative solution, however, was pretty unorthodox. It was invented by William Henry Fox Talbot, who used silver nitrate, silver iodide and gallic acid. This was referred to as a calotype.
The 1800s was the real boom period for photography as it was new tech – but the number of photos we currently take is absolutely staggering. It’s thought that we all take more photos in the space of two minutes than the total number of photos anyone took, full stop, in the 19th
It’s thought that around a trillion photos are taken each year, and around 95 million of these are uploaded daily to Instagram.
Kodak is a name in photography which, while not so-well known these days, was a giant in the camera game. They first emerged in 1888 and were pivotal in creating and developing traditional 20th century cameras and film. Sadly, the digital revolution seemed to take a bit of a bite out of their popularity.
Kodak’s name is also something of a curiosity. It was set up by George Eastman, who stated that the name didn’t really have any significance, but that he liked the letter K!
Believe it or not, there has been a real downturn in the number of photos actually getting printed. While only 20-30 years ago printing photos was still very much the standard, only around 20% of all photos taken are printed out. The huge figures for Instagram uploads are likely helping in this regard!
We’ve been taking photos of solar eclipses for longer than you might imagine, too. It’s thought that the first ever snapshot of such an event took shape in 1851, and we have Julius Berkowski to thank.
Believe it or not, the Apollo 11moon mission took a stack of cameras with them – and they are actually still there, somewhere. That’s because the weight of the cameras was deemed unfeasible for the journey back. This was also as a result of the team taking back essential rock samples, as well as the film from the cameras!
Nowadays, we’re used to a photo being instantly available. Developing even 20 to 30 years ago would have taken days to fully process. However, we are also spoilt thanks to instant exposure! At the very start of the photography boom in the 19th century, exposures used to take hours at a time to fully process!
This is why you will rarely see anyone smiling in photos of a certain age, going back to the 1800s. People would have to sit and wait in one position for hours at a time. Believe it or not, there were even braces invented to help support models’ heads while sitting for photos!
There was such a thing as a 900lb camera! It was, of course, a publicity stunt – and it used a negative which measured around eight by four and a half feet! It was also thought to cost the modern equivalent of $161,000 – but luckily, it won the top prize at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Specifically, the camera was used to photograph the Alton Limited train, and the stunt was funded by the Chicago and Alton Railway.
Colour retouching was actually a process that predated full colour photography by at least 20 years. Therefore, we were always planning to capture in colour – it just took us a while to get there with the right technology!
The most expensive photograph in history is a snapshot of the river Rheine – a stunning photo called Rhein II, taken by Andreas Gursky in 1999. By 2011, the original photo had become so sought-after, it sold for an incredible $4.3 million at Christy’s in an auction.
Electronic flash technology has helped to make photos all the more beautiful over the years, and easier to process. However, did you know that photographers used to employ aluminium and potassium chloride in potent flash powder? Yes – as you can imagine – if you got the mixture even slightly wrong, it was possible to create pretty nasty explosions!
Aerial photography has been around since the 1850s, too. Specifically, it was Turnache who took the first shot from the air, a view of Paris from his hot air balloon.
Bitumen was once used to help develop the original photos. Believe it or not, this asphalt was used to create a varnish for copper plating.
There are some cameras out there which are incredibly expensive! The priciest lens on record, believe it or not, was a unique model created by Leica. It supposedly went for around $2 million and was commissioned by art connoisseur Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Thani. It weighed 132lbs, and the Sheikh made sure to have the item delivered to him via custom Mercedes. Oddly, there are no images publicly available which were taken by the lens.
Dilish Parekh owns the world’s biggest collection of cameras. As of the time of writing, he is said to own more than 4,500 at last count!
Some people use very odd mixtures to develop photos. Believe it or not, some photographers use a heady mix of vitamin C, soda, and coffee for black and white developing.
Following an intensive campaign to unseat the biggest stars on Instagram, the most-liked image on Instagram garnered more than 50 million thumbs up – and it’s a photo of an egg, taken by Serghei Planatov, through a campaign set up by Chris Godfrey, an advertising guru.
Of course, millions of photos have been taken and printed over the years, but as a result of paper degrading, many original copies from the Victorian era have been lost. However, the oldest physical printed photo still thought to be with us is that of the ‘View From The Window at Le Gras’. It was a photo taken by Nicephore Niepce as early as 1826. He was a keen inventor, though still has an amazing legacy with this super-early photograph.
Pinhole cameras aren’t just photography based. They have become popular over the years for helping people to safely look at solar eclipses, as the intense brightness of the sun will damage your eyes if you look at it directly. Of course, eclipse watching technology has evolved massively over the years, too.
Think the concept of a megapixel is a modern one? Believe it or not, it’s actually been around since the early 80s – in 1984, not that long after Steven Sasson built the world’s first digital camera. Technology moves on amazingly quickly, it seems!
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about photography that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!