The word photography first appeared during 1893 when Sir John Herschel coined the term, literally meaning light writing. In the earliest days of photography, many people, especially artists, were fearful of this new invention. They feared that paintings would be obsolete and that photography was an invention of the Devil. However, many significant improvements were made to the original methods, eventually forming the basis of the type of photography process that we know today.
The first picture was achieved in 1827 using a material that darkened with exposure to the sun, a process that took eight hours. Joseph Nicephore Niepce used the camera obscura to take this photograph, an invention originally used by artists only to view the subject. These first photographs were called heliographs because light was “drawing” the picture, the same idea that modern cameras use today. Lous Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype, which was capable of permanent images on plates that were bathed in a chemical bath after being put into a camera. This process made the Fox Talbots created the first negatives which could be transferred into positives. The negative images were printed onto paper and sometimes glass.
This invention of Calotypes in the 1800s created negatives capable of producing endless amounts of copies for each picture. In 1851 Frederick Archer created a new process which reduced exposure time two or three seconds. This new collodian process was also much cheaper. In 1871 a new process was made using gelatin, leading to the development of the dry plate process which didn’t require special knowledge or a dark tent. In 1889, George Eastman created flexible film which revolutionized photography. Four years later, he invented the Kodak camera which allowed customers to take up to 100 shots and have the company develop the pictures.
Color film cameras were not available until the 1940s. The Polaroid camera, invented in 1948 by Edwin Herbert Land, allowed instant development after each picture was taken. Then, in 1986, Fuji developed the first single-use cameras, allowing anyone to have a cheap camera and to take pictures of special occasions. These early contributions helped transform photography from an expensive luxury to the affordable and technical standards we know and love today.
Film cameras work by imprinting the light from the image onto the film. It is later developed in the lab with chemicals that make the image permanent. A special machine called turns the negative and inverts the colors onto a special paper designed specifically for photos. After a chemical bath and the drying process this image becomes permanent and ready for viewing. A good quality film can make or break the photo. A higher sensitivity to light can capture motion more efficiently. However, if the film speed is too fast it will cause “noise” in the picture. If it is too slow the image will take too long, but it can capture a larger depth of field. Photographers who shoot landscapes, portraits, and still life use a slow speed film, while action and sports photographers use a faster speed of film.
The first digital camera was made in 1984 by Canon. It featured a microcomputer, which allowed complete digital function and storage of media. Digital cameras use the same concepts as film cameras but instead of film, there is a sensor ray which captures light and stores the data to be produced into an image later. Digital cameras are easier to take pictures because they have a preview screen. This screen allows instant gratification and critique of all photos taken on the camera. Digital photos are easily stored on a tiny SD card and can be instantly loaded online for email or sharing on different social communities. These SD cards can store hundreds of photos depending on its maximum capacity. This huge advantage makes it cheaper than constantly buying rolls of film and storing them. Rolls of film are also much more expensive to develop. Digital photos are much cheaper to print, even from home with special photo printers and paper, and do not require expensive chemicals in a dark room such as with developing film.
Technological advancement comes with a price, however. There are several drawbacks to the digital camera. Many people are used to the film camera and find digital cameras to be as confusing as small computers. Digital cameras also eat batteries which can cost a lot of money over time. Even if a rechargeable battery is used, once the battery is dead it must take time to recharge and photo opportunities are lost. A film camera rarely has this problem. A battery on a film camera can last years. Another disadvantage is that digital cameras are more expensive than film cameras. Basic every-day use digital cameras can cost over one hundred dollars, and better quality cameras, called digital SLR (single lens-reflex) can cost $500-1000. One must decide carefully which type of camera to choose and which functions will be needed before spending a lot of money on a digital camera.
Taking Good Pictures
Taking good pictures must start with one critical task: practice! One must take dozens of pictures of everything and anything. The photographic eye must be exercised and improved. Also, the camera, especially a brand new one, takes time to get used to all the different controls and settings. It is important to experiment with different ISO speeds, aperture settings, getting the focus right, and seeing what kinds of pictures are produced under different light conditions. Whether one has a film camera or digital camera, practice is the most important part.
Also, experimentation is crucial for being creative and taking the most interesting shots. Practice taking pictures close up, far away, off to the side, during a sun rise, late at night, inside, outside, near a plain background, near a busy background, and in black and white. Overexpose and underexpose on purpose to see which setting will achieve the best look. Underexposing can saturate the color and create dramatic pictures of an otherwise dull subject.
It takes many mediocre pictures before a really good one is taken, and this can only happen after one is comfortable with the camera and develops a sense of how the camera works under different conditions.