10 of the World’s Photography Firsts

What is the world’s first and oldest photograph? How about the first color photograph or the first photograph from space? Let’s take a look at these and more, in our first edition of “Photography Firsts.”

5th Century B.C. — First Known Use of the Camera Obscura (Darkroom)

The first known use of the darkroom dates back to the 5th century B.C. and is attributable to the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti. The construction and use of the darkroom is similar to pinhole cameras of yesteryear. “Camera obscura” is also the term from which the word “camera” is derived.

Note: The word “photography” is derived from the Greek words “photos” (light) and “graphein” (to draw) — i.e., to draw with light.


1826 — The World’s First and Oldest Photograph

Joseph Niepce, a French inventor and pioneer in photography, is generally credited with having taken the first photograph (requiring an eight-hour exposure time). Niepce’s photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras, in recent years has been on display at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.


1838 — The World’s First Photograph of a Person

Louis Daguerre took the first photograph of another person in 1838. The photograph, called Boulevard du Temple, shows a busy street that appears to be largely abandoned (the exposure was 10 minutes long and consequently the traffic is not visible) with the exception of a man in the bottom left corner.

1861 — The World’s First Color Photograph

James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish mathematician and theoretical physicist, took the first color photograph in 1861. The photographic plates used in the process are now located in a house where Maxwell was born (which has since then been converted into a museum) at 14 India Street, Edinburgh.


1875 — The First Self-Portrait Photograph

Celebrated American photographer Mathew B. Brady was one of the first people to ever take a self-portrait photograph (shown below). Self-portrait paintings, of course, have existed for hundreds of years.

1946 — The World’s First Photo from Space

Not long after the end of the Second World War, on October 24, 1946, a 35-millimeter motion picture camera riding on a V-2 missile captured the first photographs from space at an altitude of 65 miles from Earth.


1856 — The World’s First Underwater Photograph

William Thompson took the first underwater photographs using a camera mounted on a pole, which he accessed from above the water. The pictures were of seaweed and of obviously poor quality. The exposure time was approximately 10 minutes and, as expected, the camera flooded but the photograph was salvaged.


Note: Original image unavailable

1903 — The World’s First Aerial Photograph

As you can see, the first aerial photographers weren’t human at all — they were birds! In 1903, Julius Neubronner combined a camera with a timer and attached it to a pigeon’s neck to take aerial photographs. The trick was noted by the German army and consequently used for wartime reconnaissance.


1923 — The World’s First Underwater Color Photograph

The first underwater color photograph (a photo of a hogfish) was taken in the Gulf of Mexico by Dr. William Longley Charles Martin in 1926.


1972 — The World’s First Photograph to Show a Fully Lit Earth

The first photo to show a fully lit Earth is better known as The Blue Marble and was taken December 7, 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17. Because the sun was behind the Earth at the time the photograph was taken, the Earth appears to be fully lit.


3 Responses to “10 of the World’s Photography Firsts”

  1. Nice Collection of Photographs.

  2. In the photo "The Blue Marble", you state... Because the sun was behind the Earth at the time the photograph was taken, the Earth appears to be fully lit." This is not correct.

    The sun was behind the spacecraft when this was taken and THAT is why the earth is lit. Had the sun been behind the earth, the spacecraft would have been imaging the dark side of the earth, not the lit side. Nice picture of course, you just need to fix the caption.

    Al Moskowitz, PhD

  3. Shocked at number 1. That's wonderful information to push the history of photography way back that far. But maybe that's a joke? Never heard of Mo Ti.

    Shocked too to read the first colour shot was in 19th century.

    Surprised and ever so impressed at the quality of the self-portrait image...

    First animal photographed?
    First photograph by a woman?
    First SLR photograph?
    First commercial photograph?

    Just realised you have a whole book. Clever. Thank you very much.

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