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It’s hard to believe there was a time without photography. Cameras and photos have been here your entire life, documenting all your important moments. In reality, the first photograph wasn’t taken until the 1800s. 

So, just how did photography evolve from that first photo to the pictures of today? Check out the details.

Say Cheese

When Johann Zahn designed the camera in 1685, it opened up a world of possibilities, but for a long time, that design was just a pipe dream. He had the vision, but it would take a long time before the vision turned into a reality.

In fact, what is commonly referred to as the “first photograph” wasn’t snapped until 1826 or 1827 when Joseph Nicephore Niepce decided to take a picture from an upstairs window of his estate in France.

There is a debate over whether this is truly the first photograph or simply the earliest photograph that survived. Either way, it’s stunning to see. A quick look at the dark, blurry image shows just how far photography has come over the years.

Coming Up with a Name

That first photo had long been developed when people were still trying to come up with a name for it. What should they call the process of taking photos?

You can thank Sir John Herschel for finally coining the term “photography.” He decided to combine two words with Greek origins to describe the process of taking pictures.

He decided to combine “photo,” which means “light,” with “graphein,” which means “to draw.”

Of course, “photographein” doesn’t really have a ring to it, so he changed it to “photography,” and the rest is history. The word has held up over the years, and it’s very unlikely to ever change.

The Selfie Craze Hits the 1800s

Why do people love their smartphones so much? Selfies, of course. Don’t think that the smartphone invented the selfie, though. In fact, Robert Cornelius is the grandfather of the selfie, snapping the first one in 1839. The Philly native was a chemist by trade, but he really enjoyed photography and even had a camera in the back of his store.

Now, back in the old days, it was hard to grab a selfie, but not impossible. The chemist uncapped the camera and made a break for it, getting into position so he could get a selfie.

A minute later (it used to take a long time to take a picture!), he ran back and put the cap back on the camera.

Now, if you look at the original selfie, you’ll notice a pretty big difference. Cornelius didn’t have the pouty lips or big smile of the selfies of today. He had the stoic look of the 1800s.

Kodak Gets in the Game

Back in the old days, cameras weren’t all that easy to use, but George Eastman changed that. Way back in 1888, he patented the Kodak roll-film camera. His Kodak box camera was affordable and easy to use, and it was a stepping stone to the first mass-marketed camera, the Brownie. He created the Brownie in 1900, and it was a popular item for about six decades.

Don’t think he didn’t have any competition, though. The Raisecamera was also produced in 1900. This travel camera was small and lightweight and could be folded for transport. Landscape photographers loved using this camera since they could take it anywhere they wanted to go.

Say Hello to the 35mm and Polaroid

You don’t use a 35mm camera today, but you have likely used one in your lifetime. The 35mm camera made its debut sometime in 1913 or 1914, courtesy of Oskar Barnack.

That was a cool invention, but when the Polaroid camera hit the scene in 1948, it changed the way that people took photos. They could leave the darkrooms behind and get their photos immediately.

This was the start of the instant gratification phase of photography. Maybe it’s not a phase since it’s still going on today.

Photography Gets Even Easier

At this point, photography is so much more accessible than people could have possibly imagined. It seemed like everyone and their grandmother had a camera, and people were preserving memories at a record rate.

Then, the point-and-shoot camera was introduced in 1978, and it changed the world. You didn’t need to know a thing about photography to use this camera. Just point and shoot, and it did the rest.

It was followed by digital and disposable cameras, but the point-and-shoot was the real game-changer of the 20th century.

The Cellphone Revolution

The 21st century has been the most exciting of all for photography enthusiasts. In 2000, the first cell phone with a built-in camera was released, and it changed the way people thought of photography. Sure, they still needed their cameras, but they could carry a backup in their pockets, courtesy of their cellphones.

Now, people don’t even need to carry a backup. Over the years, the smartphone camera has replaced the DSLR for many photographers. In fact, people even take them to rental photography studios to snap professional photos.

An Ever-Evolving Medium

Photography has evolved quite a bit over the years, and that evolution is far from over. There’s no telling what’s next in the world of photography, but expect the medium to continue to get better.