The History Of Photography In 27 Groundbreaking Firsts

Published February 11, 2018
Updated February 22, 2024

From the first photo ever taken to the first photo ever uploaded to the internet, these are the groundbreaking firsts that define the history of photography.

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Photography has come a long way. Today, taking a photo is as easy as pulling your phone out of your pocket and clicking a button – but it took a long, difficult road and some incredible photography firsts to get us to where we are today.

It all started with one photograph – the first ever taken. It was the mid-1820s, and a French man named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was experimenting with his new invention. He'd found a way to make images by getting asphalt to harden in different degrees when touched by light. He set his system up at his window and, for the first time in human history, captured a photographic representation of the world.

It didn't look like much. The light left nothing more than a thin, barely visible shadow on a sheet of metal. It was nearly completely imperceptible, and it took more than eight hours to develop. Those thin shadows, though, were the start of something incredible.

By 1839, Louis Daguerre had taken Niépce's ideas and improved them enough to release his own camera to the world. Some say it was then that photography was truly born. For the first time, using Daguerre's daguerreotype method, the general public was able to take photographs of the world around them. The process still took hours, and it made photographing anything that moves nearly impossible – but not completely.

The very year the daguerreotype hit the market, there was another photography first: the first portrait. An American named Robert Cornelius stood completely still for 15 minutes straight and, in the process, created the first daguerreotype focused on a person's face.

From there, the technology took off. A year later, John Draper made the next photography first by taking a photograph of outer space: a close-up shot of the moon. The first photographic hoax followed quickly on its tails, and then the first scenes of everyday life. Photographs started appearing in newspapers, then they became dashed with color, and the history of photography goes on from there...

All these photography firsts turned the art into what it is today. But everything we have today, every photograph and film we see, the entire history of photography, all started with those thin shadows, cast through Niépce's window, imprinted onto a sheet of metal.

After this tour through the history of photography, see the very first photograph ever taken, or check out these 50 photographs that changed the world.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
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Oliver, Mark. "The History Of Photography In 27 Groundbreaking Firsts.", February 11, 2018, Accessed May 27, 2024.