Not just black & white

Photography is many things. An art. A way of preserving meaningful moments and memories. A passion for some, a profession for others. Join us on a journey through photography’s past, present and future.

Today, we use our smartphones to take photos of everything. Our children. Our friends. The food we eat. Places we go. Things we need from the store. But photography wasn’t always so easy and omnipresent. Before the digital era, taking pictures was reserved for special occasions: Christmas, family reunions, the first day of school. And before that, it was reserved for the upper echelons of society as a replacement for portraits.

But let’s back up a little. Long before there were cameras, early photographers recorded images using what’s known as a camera obscura. It consisted of a dark room with a hole (the forerunner of the lens) in one of the walls. Images of objects outside the room were then projected through the hole onto the wall opposite it.

Sometime in the late 16th century, an Italian author and scientist experimented with a lens and a camera obscura. But this early version of photography relied on the artist’s ability to draw: they had to trace the image project on the wall by hand to record an image. Some bright minds were convinced there must be an easier way.

The age of experimentation

In the first part of the 18th century, a German professor had the idea to arrange silver salts into words and exposed them to sunlight to create an impression. However, these images faded quickly.

In the 19th century, an amateur inventor developed a method using sunlight to draw pictures, a process he called heliography. He had the great idea to combine heliography with a camera obscura. The result: the world’s first actual photograph. An eighthour exposure time was required to record an image of the nature around his home in the countryside.

Soon after, other inventors looked for ways to shorten exposure time. In the 1830s, one found a way to reduce it from around eight hours to just 30 minutes.

The next revolutions

An Englishman was the next to truly change the course of photography. In 1851, he introduced the world to his technique of using a wet solution to make glass negatives. In the years and decades thereafter, many scientists and artists tinkered with the process, making small enhancement to optimise the process of taking pictures. Their contributions made taking pictures easier, more stable and more flexible.

Slowly but surely, photography infiltrated people lives and private spheres. Photographers began to experiment with movement and colour. Portraits, of course, were a popular photography genre from the get-go. With the invention of dry plate in the 1870s, which eliminated the need for a portable darkroom, photojournalism and landscape photography took off.

From black and white to vibrant colour

One could say that the 20th century was golden age of traditional photography. In the early years, black and white photos established a strong foothold and the technique was continuously refined, resulting in clearer snapshots. However, all of this didn’t take place in black and white. With colour photographs, people could better record life vibrantly as they actually saw it. And as the century unfolded, a growing number of households owned a camera, which slowly ushered in photography as a pastime.

The first practical colour photography called autochrome appeared in France the early 20th century. By the mid-1930s, two Americans introduced the modern age of colour photography when they invented Kodachrome film. Until the revolutionary rise of digital photography, people developed ways to enhance the status quo in terms of colour materials and processes. Further, photographers tapped into new creative possibilities with the camera. Books and magazines with beautiful photo spreads familiarized us with other cultures and current events. Photos were everywhere.

Analogue goes digital

Sometime in the 1990s, digital photography began to crop up. First, among professionals who could now take a photograph and instantly view the results. It took over a decade for the digital photography craze to spread to the general public. The catalyst: the smartphone. When you think about it, it’s obvious why the smartphone proliferated digital photography. Today, most of us carry our smartphone with us wherever we go. Lightweight, compact and always within arm’s reach, we can easily snap pictures of everyday life. And since the photographs are digital, we simply delete the ones we don’t want to keep.

Social media networks like Facebook and Instagram have also contributed to the widespread use of digital photography. People, especially Millennials, take shots of everything with their smartphones – their breakfast, their surroundings, themselves (known as ‘selfies’) –and post them on social media for their social network to see. Go and take pictures!

Three photography facts

  • Every two minutes we take more photos today than the entire world did in the 19th century.
  • The left side of people’s faces looks more attractive in photos than the right side.
  • The first digital camera was invented by Kodak – way back in 1975!