First Photographs: A Journey into Photography’s Not-Too-Distant History

In the past, the process of taking photographs was much more complex than it is today. Therefore, the first photos taken may seem a little strange to our eyes. Niépce wanted to use a light-sensitive material to capture this moment in time. So the light itself would “ engrave ” the image onto a piece of paper. After much struggle, trial and error, he found the perfect formula for this process and the first photos began to appear.

According to the University of Texas, Niépce developed a kind of combination of Judean bitumen, which is a type of asphalt. He spread it on a tin plate: After letting the image sit in a dark camera for eight hours, outdoor light finally placed the image on the plate. Here’s the University of Texas explanation of how it did it:

“When he allowed this petroleum-based substance to sit in a dark environment for eight continuous hours, the light gradually hardened the bitumen where it hit. Thus, he created a primitive photograph. He “improved” this painting by washing the uncured bitumen with lavender water. It revealed the image of roofs and trees visible from the studio window. And so the first known photograph was born.”

Niépce called this heliography . Considered the world’s first photograph (or at least the oldest surviving photograph), it is now part of the permanent collection at the University of Texas-Austin.


First Photos Taken in History

First Known Photograph

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The first known photograph in history was taken by Nicéphore Niépce between 1826 and 1827 in the French region of Saint-Loup-de-Varennes.

Robert Cornelius, known as the inventor of the selfie

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Robert Cornelius, who can be considered the inventor of the selfie, took his first photo-self-portrait in 1839.


Oldest Known Photograph of New York

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This 1848 daguerreotype of Manhattan’s Upper West Side is the oldest surviving photograph of New York City. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 2009 for $62,500.

This 1848 daguerreotype of Manhattan’s Upper West Side is the oldest and first known photograph of New York City.


First Moon Photo

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This daguerreotype by John W. Draper from 1840 is the first photograph of the Moon. Taken from the rooftop observatory at New York University.


The first photos taken during a war

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Carol Popp de Szathmari is the first war photographer in history known to have taken hundreds of photographs of the Crimean War. This photograph, taken in 1870, is considered the first photograph of a real war.




The first photo of the sun

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In 1845, just five years after the first photograph of the moon was taken, French physicists Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault took the first photograph of the sun . Again, the exposure of the photograph taken with the daguerreotype technique took one 60th of a second.


First Color Underwater Photograph

In 1926, National Geographic photographer Charles Martin and botanist William Longley took the first color underwater photograph. The photo shows a porpoise in the Florida Keys. The duo captured this pioneering shoot by placing the cameras in a waterproof case and using a magnesium-powered flash.


First Digital Photograph

The first digital photograph was taken almost 20 years before the original Kodak digital camera. In 1957, Russell Kirsch took a photograph of his son and took a digital scan of that film footage.


First Photo Uploaded to Instagram

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On July 16, 2010, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom uploaded the first photo of Instagram.


The First Known Photograph of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

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It belongs to the period when Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was still a cadet. The first known photograph of Atatürk and is currently in the Archives of the Military Museum. (1905)


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