From Art to Email: A Brief History of Photography.
Since its inception, photography has been a fusion between science and the creative eye. The first permanent photograph was produced in 1826 by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. The term “photography,” from the Greek, means “drawing with light” because at first it was considered a drawing aid. Its first popular incarnation was the daguereotype in 1839, named for its inventor Louis Daguerre. Each daguerreotype was a one of a kind image on a polished silver plated sheet of copper. The format appealed to an emerging middle class, which could not afford expensive oil portaits.
In 1884, George Eastman of Rochester, NY invented film, which replaced the photographic plate; thus a photographer would no longer need to carry boxes of plates and toxic chemicals around. Four years later, Eastman’s Kodak camera went on the market with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”. Suddenly anyone could take a photograph and leave the complicated development process to others. Photography came to the mass-market in 1901 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie; and continued to broaden its appeal in later years with the creation of the 35mm film format, color emulsions, the Kodak “Instamatic”, the Polaroid instant process, film cartridges and one hour photo kiosks.
The first digitally scanned photograph was produced in 1957 by Russell A. Kirsch, a computer pioneer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The first such photo was set at 176 x 176 pixels. But the image quality of affordable digital cameras did not approach that of film until just recently. Manufacturers continue to push the envelope on chip design and image processing software, and storage costs continue to decline. Digital cameras are now as common as telephones, because they are often one and the same. The physical act of taking a picture has become highly automated, to the point where the most technology-challenged among us are capable of taking perfectly exposed and focused images, if perhaps not always artistic ones.
Digital photography has already had a profound effect on how people take and view photos. For dedicated hobbyists, digital is also about replacing the darkroom with the computer, and sharing those images with the world via the Internet. Learning any new skill involves trial and error, and the instant feedback that digital imaging provides cannot be underestimated. Mistakes can be instantly deleted, so the cost per image is no longer a concern. It is the difference between carefully firing a muzzle-loaded rifle versus blasting away with a machine gun. The latter requires less operational skill, but has a much greater chance of success.
The optical system in the modern camera works the same as that in the older cameras - using a lens with a variable diaphragm to focus light onto an image pickup device. The diaphragm and shutter admit the correct amount of light to the imager, but in the case of digital, the image pickup device is electronic rather than chemical. Basic rules of photography, like lighting and composition still apply, but the latest cameras have been liberating in the sense that one can devote that much more attention toward capturing the image and less on camera mechanics.