The term photography was coined in the early 19th century; however, the concept of a camera dates back to ancient Greeks and Chinese. Chinese philosopher Mozi was the first person who wrote the principle of camera obscura. It is a natural optical phenomenon, where an image on one side of the screen or wall projects through a hole onto a surface opposite the opening. In the late 17th century, a similar technology called pinhole camera was used to project drawings. The only difference between a camera obscura and a pinhole camera is that a camera obscura uses a lens, while a pinhole camera has an open hole.
German author Johann Zahn also wrote about the camera obscura, magic lantern, and lenses in 1685. And he proposed the first handheld reflex camera. French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce is now widely accepted as the inventor of modern photography. He produced the first photograph in 1816 on a paper coated with silver chloride. Though this photograph no longer exists, a letter from his sister confirmed this claim. Niépce also captures the first surviving photograph in 1827, which is now in the collection of the University of Texas-Austin.
These days, thanks to smart gadgets, almost everyone has a camera with them at any given moment. And there are endless possibilities to capture anything from any point. The drone cameras made it possible to capture stunning aerial shots in high quality, which was only possible with a helicopter back in the day. The use of cameras has allowed us to captivate the moments of our life.
To celebrate the astonishing history of this invention, we have compiled the earliest first photographs from history.
Captured using a technique known as heliography, the shot was taken from an upstairs window at Niépce’s estate in Burgundy. As heliography produces one-of-a-kind images, there are no duplicates of the piece.
Robert Cornelius’s 1839 image that lays claim to the first self-portrait. Taken in Philadelphia, Cornelius sat for a little over one minute before covering the lens.
Born 1746, photo from 1840, Hannah Stilley is probably the earliest born person photographed.
Not long after the invention of the daguerreotype, Dr. John W. Draper made additional improvements on the device’s photographic process. Draper saw its usefulness for portraits and made history by taking the first photograph of a woman. The woman was his sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper, and he took this image in 1839 or 1840 in Draper’s studio at New York University. Without blinking, Dorothy sat motionless for 65 seconds to take this historic photo.
Louis Daguerre—the inventor of daguerreotype—captured the first every photograph of a people. The 10-minute long exposure was taken in 1839 in Place de la République and it’s just possible to make out two blurry figures in the left-hand corner.
The photograph is simply labeled “Willy.” It features a young man with close-cropped hair and dressed in fine clothing, including a collared shirt and jacket. Willy is looking at something amusing off to his right, and the photograph captured just the hint of a smile from him—the first ever recorded, according to experts at the National Library of Wales.
The first hoax photograph was taken in 1840 by Hippolyte Bayard. Both Bayard and Louis Daguerre fought to claim the title “Father of Photography.” Bayard had supposedly developed his photography process before Daguerre introduced the Daguerreotype. However, the announcement of the invention was held off, and Daguerre claimed the moment. In a rebellious move, Bayard produced this photograph of a drowned man claiming that he killed himself because of the feud
This 1848 daguerreotype of Manhattan’s Upper West side is the oldest surviving photo of New York. In 2009, it was sold at Sotheby’s for $62,500. Unfortunately, the first photo of New York, which shows the Unitarian Church, is now lost.
This daguerreotype by John W. Draper from 1840 is the first photo of the moon. Taken from his rooftop observatory at New York University, the image has since sustained extensive damage.
This is believed to be the oldest photograph taken in the USA; Central High School in Philadelphia, by Joseph Saxton, 1839.
Carol Popp de Szathmari is the first known war photographer, capturing hundreds of images of the Crimean War. But it’s this image from 1870 that is thought to be the first photograph of an actual battle. Showing a line of Prussian troops as they advance, the photographer shot the image as he stood with French defenders.
The first photograph of our sun was taken by French Physicists Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault on April 2nd, 1845. The snapshot was captured using the Daguerreotype process (don’t tell Bayard) and resulted after a 1/60 of a second. If you observe the photograph carefully, you can spot several sunspots.
On April 26, 1884, a tornado moved slowly across Anderson county, which allowed amateur photographer A.A. Adams to set up his box camera. A pioneering image in meteorology, Adams’ image is a pre-cursor to the storm chasers we still see today.
Lightning can be an exciting subject to capture and the first photographer to grab a snapshot did so in 1882. Photographer, William Jennings, used his findings to showcase that lightning was much more complicated than originally thought – notice how the lightning branches out in the above piece.
Showing Boston from over 2,000 feet in the air, this aerial photograph was taken by James Wallace Black and Samuel Archer King. Unfortunately, the first aerial image, which was taken by French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, has been lost.
While the photojournalist’s name may have slipped away, his work has not. This photograph taken in 1847 via the Daguerreotype process is thought to be the first ever photograph taken for the news; it depicts a man being arrested in France.
Not only was it the first photograph ever taken in Barcelona, but in the entire Iberian peninsula as well. The image was taken on November 10, 1839, from a terrace on Pla de Palau, in a public act. The photograph was then raffled to raise funds, and this is when it became lost. It is unknown whether it still exists and who may possess it 175 years later.
This photo was taken in 1840 by unknown photographer. Three leaves of different plants.
John Quincy Adams holds the distinction of being the first U.S. president photographed, though he wasn’t in office at the time. Captured at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1843, fourteen years after he left office, the daguerreotype was shot by Philip Haas. The first photograph of a sitting president was taken in 1841, but has now been lost. It depicted short-lived president William Henry Harrison before he passed away from pneumonia just 31 days after taking office.
Physicist James Clerk Maxwell is responsible for taking the world’s first color photograph. In 1855, Maxwell developed a three-color method, with the actual shutter being pressed by Thomas Sutton in 1861. The subject of the image? A colored ribbon, also known as a tartan ribbon.
The first colored landscape to showcase the world in color was taken in 1877. Photographer, Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron, was a pioneer in color photography and was the mastermind behind the process that created this photo. The shot depicts southern France and is appropriately titled “Landscape of Southern France”.
Carl Størmer (1874-1957) was a young student of mathematics when he purchased his first hidden camera. It was so small that the lens fit through the buttonhole in his vest with a cord that led down to his pocket, allowing him to secretly snap away. He photographed over 500 secret images.
Latticed window at Lacock Abbey, August 1835. A positive from what may be the oldest existing camera negative.
Near the turn of the 20th century, one photographer set out to take the world’s biggest photograph and for that he needed the world’s biggest camera. But there was a problem- it didn’t exist yet. The photograph was to be of the Alton Limited train, an exclusive service that ran between Chicago and St. The Alton Limited was commonly referred to as “the handsomest train in the world” . In order to accommodate this larger than life request a very sizable camera was in order. At the time camera technology meant that a large subject would require a large plate on which to develop the image or else be pieced together. Lawrence built a large enough camera for this purpose which weighed in at 1,400 pounds (with its plate holder loaded) and could accommodate a 8′ × 4.5′ plate, big enough to capture the Alton Limited in all its glory at last.
Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski made the first solar eclipse photograph on July 28, 1851, using the daguerreotype process.
This photo from 1908 showcases the death of Aviator Thomas Selfridge. The plane was an experimental design by the Aerial Experimental Association, which was part of the US Army. The plane was also carrying Orville Wright when it crashed; however, he survived.
The first photograph from space was taken by the V-2 #13 rocket, which was launched in October, 24th of 1946. The photo depicts the Earth in black-and-white from an altitude of 65 miles. The camera that captured the shot was a 35mm motion picture camera that snapped a frame every second and a half as the rocket climbed straight up into the atmosphere.
The great sphinx was the first photographed in 1880.
Louis Dodier, prisoner was the first prisoner ever photographed in 1847. From a rich Parisian family, Baron Louis Adolphe Humbert de Molard was one of those wealthy amateurs who brought their talent and passion to early photography
In 1926 National Geographic photographer Charles Martin and botanist William Longley took the first underwater photograph in color. Taken off the Florida Keys, it shows a hogfish. The duo took this pioneering shot by encasing cameras in waterproof housing and using a magnesium-powered flash.
The Earth was photographed from the Moon in all its glory on August 23rd, 1966. A Lunar Orbiter traveling in the vicinity of the Moon snapped the shot and was then received at Robledo De Chervil in Spain. This was the Lunar spacecraft’s 16th orbit around the Moon.
The first image of the planet Mars was taken by Viking 1 shortly after it touched down on the red planet. The photograph was taken on July 20th, 1976, as NASA fulfilled its mission to obtain high-resolution images of the planet’s surface. The images were used to study the Martian landscape and its structure.
NASA photographers snapped the first photograph of a Cape Canaveral launch in July of 1950. The rocket being launched was known as the ‘Bumper 2’; it was a two-stage rocket comprising a V-2 missile based and a WAC Corporal rocket. The shot also clearly showcases other photographers lined up and ready to get their images of the event.
Dating back to 1890 this is perhaps the first photo ever taken of a surfer. The muscled Hawaiian beach man is photographed wearing a traditional loin cloth and shown standing in the shallows holding his rudimentary board. The original owner and the photographer are not known.
The first historically recorded flight of a pig took place on at Leysdown in Kent (Great Britain) on November 4th, 1909. With this flight, the aristocratic British aviator made porcine aviation a reality. He fixed a wicker basket to a wing strut of his Voisin biplane and carefully strapped a pig into it. The basket had a hand written sign “I am the first pig to fly”. Then he took bemused pig for a flight of about 3.7 miles from Shellbeach, the Short Brothers airfield at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey.
A Welsh immigrant named John Plumbe, Jr., who was one of the country’s first prominent professional photographers, took the daguerreotype in January 1846.
The Kodak camera was the invention of an American, George Eastman (1854-1932). It was a simple, leather-covered wooden box – small and light enough to be held in the hands. Taking a photograph with the Kodak was very easy, requiring only three simple actions; turning the key (to wind on the film); pulling the string (to set the shutter); and pressing the button (to take the photograph). There wasn’t even a viewfinder – the camera was simply pointed in the direction of the subject to be photographed. The Kodak produced circular snapshots, two and a half inches in diameter.
Late May- early June 1856 was marked in France by a sudden and massive rise is the water levels of major French rivers. The flood of 1856 went down as one of the major floods in the history of France.
The first digital photo was taken earlier than you may have thought. Almost 20 years before the original Kodak digital camera, in 1957, this square image of Russell Kirsch’s son was taken. The photo is a digital scan of a film image, resulting in a square photograph that makes it Instagram ready.
In 1853, Solomon Nunes Carvalho used a daguerreotype to take this picture of a Cheyenne camp at Big Timbers, in what is now Colorado. Although difficult to spot, two Cheyenne are standing to the left of center. This first photograph of a Native American camp can be retrieved from the U.S. Library of Congress.
Hiram Bingham III took the earliest photograph of Machu Picchu in 1912. Already known to exist by Peruvian locals, Bingham introduced this Inca city to the world after visiting it in 1911. The photograph above was taken after the area was cleared of foliage and only half of Machu Picchu is visible in the picture. With over 150 buildings and 3,000 stairs, it is hard for one to believe that anyone could build such a splendid city without the wheel and modern tools.
Photographer Eadweard Muybridge was hired by Leland Stanford to determine whether all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground while running. It wasn’t until six years later, using dozens of cameras and a series of strings, that he produced these photos—proving that, yes, a horse’s hooves leave the ground at the same time.
This is said to be the oldest known photograph of a tornado. This was taken 22 miles southwest of Howard, South Dakota on August 28, 1884.
This is the first picture ever uploaded to the internet in 1992. It was taken by IT developer Silvano de Gennaro, the photo is a shot of Les Horrible Cernettes, a comedy band that rocked out nearby Geneva's CERN laboratory from 1992. Gennaro had shot the photo with a Canon EOS 650 and it just so happened Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web was working at CERN at the time) was also working on a new version of the Web (one that could handle photos).
On June 11, 1997 Kahn took the first “camera phone” photo of his newborn daughter in a maternity ward. and then wirelessly transmitted the photo to more than 2,000 people around the world. Since “camera phones” didn’t exist at that time, Kahn actually hacked together a primitive one by combining a digital camera and a cell phone to send the photos in real time.
On July 16, 2010, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom uploaded the first post on Instagram. Actually, it was uploaded using an app called Codename, which three months later became the app we all know and love. It’s only fitting—given how many pets have become famous from the app—that the first photo on Instagram shows Systrom’s cute pup sitting at a taco stand in Mexico.
On November 8, 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe took a groundbreaking photograph at 16.9 million miles from the Sun. That’s incredibly close when one considers that Earth is located 91 million miles from the Sun. This first-ever photo from inside the Sun’s corona is a breakthrough in the field of heliophysics and researchers are hopeful it will help us learn more about this giant star.
In April 2019, NASA released the first known image of a black hole. This mysterious entity sits in the center of the Messier 87 galaxy—55 million light years from Earth—and was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. The luminous disk we see is actually the black hole’s accretion disk, where hot gases swirl around the vacuous space.