History of photography

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William Henry Fox Talbot - invented reproduction of photographs on paper

1839 - 1841

This English inventor wanted to capture images on the medium of paper. Following the announcement of the daguerreotype process in 1839 he was incited to resume his previously abandoned research from 1834. In 1841, he patented the talbotype process, or, as he called it, the calotype. It was the first negative/positive process enabling reproduction of identical images. Instead of metal plates he used paper prepared with silver nitrate which he then inserted into a camera. The result after exposure was a negative print, which, after treating it with wax produced a negative enabling him to reproduce the print with ease. The image was then fixed with a kitchen salt solution.

The calotype process surpassed the drawback of the original. The main advantage of this process is that it allows the reproduction of identical prints, although these are less sharp than daguerreotypes and therefore not suitable for intricate details.

William Henry Fox Talbot William Henry Fox Talbot: Latticed Window, Lacock Abbey, 1835, calotype negative, the Fox Talbot Collection, Science Museum, London

John Herschel - discovered how to fix an image


An English astronomer was the first to fix an image and understand the negative/positive process. He discovered how to fix an image by submerging it in a kitchen salt solution. Kitchen salt remains the main ingredient of fixers. He also coined the term "photography" in 1839, the word derives from the Greek words phos (light) and graphis (stylus, paintbrush). He also first applied the terms positive and negative to photography.

John Herschell

Abel Niépce de Saint-Victor - used glass instead of paper in the calotype process

1847 - 1848

Nicephore Niépce's nephew is recognised in professional circles as the inventor of photography on glass. He wanted to perfect the transparency of the negative in the calotype process and therefore used glass instead of paper. He used albumin (egg white) to make the silver bromide bind to the glass plate and the result was an extremely sharp image, of high quality with perhaps a little too much contrast. The process remained very lengthy which is why it was only used for architectural and landscape photography and portraits were simply not possible. On the other hand, the making of portraits became possible by using Puhar's process because it was faster. Niépce de Saint-Victor notified the French Academy of Sciences of his discovery in October 1847, but the process details were not published until 12 June 1848.

Abel Niépce de Saint-Victor
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September 20