The History of Photography

Camera technology has progressed leaps and bounds in the last 20 years from the dinky digital cameras of the 90s and early 2000s; now we are watching the wave of mirrorless cameras progress to incredible heights (looking at you Canon R5.) However, the development of camera and film technology didn’t happen that long ago and with the exception of the invention of color photography, progressed rapidly in 200 years.

Heliographs and the First Photo

There is no one person responsible for the invention of photography, and the idea of creating a fixed image on paper was coveted and pursued by several individuals. Tom Wedgwood and Humphry Davy were two of the men who began research into this process.  They worked together on the discovery that silver chloride was light sensitive and if paper or leather were soaked in the chemical, it would blacken with exposure to the sun. However, neither man was able to find a way to fix the image permanently, and eventually the paper turned solid black. In France, a man named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented a process called Heliographs in 1813. This process used pewter plates, Bitumen of Judea, and oil of lavender. When the plates were exposed to light for eight hours, the Bitumen of Judea would harden where light reached, and the excess washed away with oil of lavender. This was considered to be the first complete photographic process since the images were fixed on the plate and didn’t disappear over time. Niépce is known to have created the world’s first photograph, and it can still be seen today at the University of Texas Ransom Center.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce / Public domain

The Daguerreotype

In 1829, Niépce partnered up with the well known Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, and eventually gave Daguerre license to further develop his heliographic process. Niépce died before he saw his process completed. It was not until several years after Niépce died that Daguerre discovered a way to decrease exposure time from 8 hours to 30 minutes. By coating a copper plate with silver and then floating it in iodide, he was able to make it light sensitive. He then used heated mercury to develop the image onto the plate. The smooth plates made for extremely crisp images that displayed stunning details for this time period. Daguerre did not discover a way to fix the image onto the plates until 1837, with the discovery of sodium thiosulfate by John Herschel. Daguerre coined his new process the daguerreotype and sold the patent to the French government in 1839. In one of his initial prospectus, he describes the process as “…not a tool for drawing nature; it is a chemical and physical process that gives nature the facility to reproduce herself.” Daguerre’s book detailing the process, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Various Processes of the Daguerreotype and the Diorama, became an instant success and was translated into 29 different languages before the end of the year.

“…not a tool for drawing nature; it is a chemical and physical process that gives nature the facility to reproduce herself.”

-Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, 1839

Since the daguerreotype process was released “free to the world” by the French government in 1839, people began to rapidly experiment with the method and improve on the technique. In 1840, several inventors out of Vienna were working to improve the speed and clarity of the daguerreotype process. Jozsef Petzval and Friedrich Voigtlander worked to create a more sophisticated camera and a faster lens, and Franz Kratochvila created an accelerant of bromine and chlorine to make the plates more sensitive. By the end of 1840, a British chemist, John Frederick Goddard, had improved the accelerant enough to reduce the exposure time from 30 minutes to 3 minutes. This finally made it possible to use daguerreotypes for portraits.

The Calotype

While Daguerre was inventing his methods, another man by the name of Henry Fox Talbot was creating his own process, the Calotype. Completely unaware of his French competition, he compounded on the ideas of Wedgewood and Davy by soaking paper in a sodium chloride solution and then brushing the dried salt paper with silver nitrate to make it light-sensitive. However, these images weren’t nearly as crisp as those made on the copper plates of the daguerreotypes, so they weren’t as well received. To combat this, he began waxing his salted paper to create a much clearer image. Talbot then discovered that by creating the initial image on oiled paper, it would produce a negative image. From that negative, multiple positives could be created through contact prints on the photo paper. This negative-based process is the basis of film photography today and because of this, Talbot is known as the Father of Modern Photography.

Wet Plate Collodion

In 1851, the photography world was turned upside down by the invention of wet plate collodion. Frederick Scott Archer, an English sculptor, fathered this much faster technique. It had the speed and duplicity of the calotype, the crisp detail of a daguerreotype, and it had no patents to hold Archer back. This process uses guncotton, ether, alcohol, and iodide to coat a glass plate. The solution creates a saran wrap-like film over the top of the plate and when silver nitrate was added on top, the chemical reaction created silver iodide, thus making the plate light sensitive. These plates were then loaded into the camera while still wet, exposed to light and then developed in a harsh chemical compound to remove the unexposed silver halides. Many photographers who adopted this process had issues with explosions in their portable darkrooms because these chemicals were so volatile. Though this process had the downfall of dangerous chemicals and the need for a portable darkroom, it had unprecedented clarity in the photos and created a boom in popularity for photography.

Dry Plates

Though ‘wet-plate’ dominated the photography world for almost 30 years, a desire to have a safer and simpler method was still out there. In 1871, physician Richard Leach Maddox invented ‘dry plates.’ An emulsion of bromine, gelatin and silver nitrate was used to coat the glass plates. This emulsion was allowed to dry and could be used at any time afterward. Not only was it more convenient, it was also significantly more sensitive than the wet-plate method. Because this method was so much faster, cameras were no longer chained to a tripod and handheld cameras made their way onto the scene. This sparked the revolution of amateur photography.

The First Kodak

George Eastman, known for the invention of the Kodak camera, got his start in the dry-plate production business. However, because the plates were relatively expensive to make and didn’t make enough profit, he began looking for a cheaper solution. Eastman partnered with William Hall Walker, who was experienced in creating his own dry-plate camera and printing kits. They successfully created and patented the roll film system that would fit onto plate cameras and, after a year of trial and error, created a film that functioned well and could be developed with consistent results. The prints that were made from this new film weren’t as sharp as the glass negatives, and much to the chagrin of Eastman, professional photographers didn’t switch to the new system. Considering the roll film a professional failure, Eastman decided to market towards the amateur photographer and created the first Kodak camera in 1887. This all-in-one camera was sold to the general public with the film already inside. When the film was used up, the customer simply brought back the whole camera to Eastman to develop and print the images for a fee. In 1888, the Kodak camera was awarded the invention of the year medal at the annual photographers’ convention in Minneapolis. The invention of the Kodak camera exponentially increased the number of amateur photographers in America by simplifying the previously tedious and complex process enough for the average person.


In September 1907, a press conference was held in New York City to announce the invention of color photography by the Lumiere brothers. Photographers flocked to this new method. Many seminars were held around the world; countless journal and newspaper articles were written. For the first time in photography’s history, photographers worked together to overcome the technical problems posed by autochromes. Older forms of color photography relied on using red, blue, and yellow glass plates layered together to create a projection of a color image on a screen; the autochrome process, ultimately, was an improvement on this method. After fourteen years of work, the Lumiere brothers found that instead of three separate glass plates, they could use microscopic grains of potato starch treated with chemicals sensitive to the red, blue, or yellow light to create a color screen. These grains were mixed together randomly, varnished onto a glass plate, and then topped with the photographic emulsion. Because of the layering of the plate, the emulsion of starch faced away from the subject when placed in a camera so that the light would pass through the color screen before hitting the light-sensitive emulsion. When developed, these created a transparent color image on the glass, viewable through a handheld viewer or projected onto a screen. This process still was unable to produce prints because of the lack of a color photo paper available. Since the color process was so technical, photographers were unable to do the post-production editing in the darkroom, which they had previously used to express creativity in their black and white photos. Instead, they now had to stage the image perfectly before the shutter was pressed. The glass plate process already had very long exposure times, but the autochrome process took fifty times longer than black and white. Despite these limitations, photographers still preferred to shoot in color.

An autochrome viewer
Arnold Genthe / Public domain

Cameras Will Continue to Develop

Since the 1800s, photography has developed and changed immensely. As technology takes over the artistic process in multiple ways, there has been a revived interest in these older processes. Film photography and alternative processes are becoming more common with modern photographers, and artistic expression is not limited to the most current technology. While the demand for film photography in today’s world is very low outside of artistic expression, I actually still work in this medium. I am a bit of a camera hoarder and half of my collection is made up of different film cameras. My hobby eventually became obsessive enough that I built a darkroom in one of my spare bedroom closets. Several months have been spent researching and working in alternative processes: such as recreating the original salt prints. That adventure was exciting and involved enough that it deserves its own blog post or demo video (or both!)

Salt Prints by Hailey West


Caldwell, William A. “Dry-Plate Photography.” American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, vol.

29, no. 2, 1884, pp. 129–135. JSTOR,

Gill, Arthur T. “East Anglia and early photography.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol.

125, no. 5250, 1977, pp. 317–327. JSTOR,

Jenkins, Reese V. “Technology and the Market: George Eastman and the Origins of Mass

Amateur Photography.” Technology and Culture, vol. 16, no. 1, 1975, pp. 1–19. JSTOR,

Nickel, Douglas R. “Autochromes by Clarence H. White.” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton

Siegel, Steffen. First Exposures: Writings from the Beginning of Photography. J. Paul Getty

Museum, 2017.

Vallencourt, Margaret. The History of Photography. Britannica Educational Publishing in

Association with Rosen Educational Services, 2016.

Photos sourced from

Camera Settings: How They Work Together to Create an Image

One of the first concepts learned when diving into the world of manual photography is the relationship between the big 3 settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. There are many other important settings that a camera operator should know, but these are the main 3 that will affect what kind of raw image you will be getting. Each of these settings has its own unique impact on the final image, but they all work together to affect the amount of light that reaches the sensor and, depending on the settings, can result in wildly different creative outcomes.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the most obvious of the 3 as to what is being affected: how fast the shutter is clicking. It is measured in a fraction of a second, but most cameras list it as a single number for ease of reading. So if your shutter speed is showing on camera as 50 what this actually means is 1/50th of a second. This seems really fast, however, in handheld photography, the lowest shutter speed recommended is 1/60 or else new photographers won’t be able to get a clear image due to hand shake. Now that we know what shutter speed is measuring, let’s talk about how it affects the final image; the faster the shutter speed, the less movement you will see in your final shot. Think about any sports photo you’ve seen. They typically have no motion blur because they are shot with a very fast shutter speed. Have you ever seen a night sky photo where it looks like the stars are lines in the sky? This is because the photographer used an extremely long shutter speed in order to capture the star movement across the night sky as the earth rotates. Shutter speed is an important variable used to impact the creative outcome of any photograph, but in video it is significantly less flexible. Typically, video is shot in either 24 or 30 frames per second (fps). Slow-motion footage (also known as high-speed footage) is shot in 60fps or higher. This is important because the shutter speed is directly tied to the fps of a clip and should always be double the fps. So if you are shooting in 24fps then your shutter speed should be 1/50, if you are shooting in 60fps then your shutter speed should be 1/120, etc. When these two settings slip from this relationship, the final image tends to have an unpleasant stuttering effect as if the frames are sticky.


ISO stands for International Organization of Standardization. This setting, however, doesn’t actually refer to the organization itself, but the sensitivity to light. This setting is also referred to as film speed and if any of you were into film photography, you will remember that when you purchased a roll of film it had the speed listed on it. Film speed has also been called ASA and DIN in the past. These were combined together to create ISO, but they all basically had the same meaning: how sensitive is my sensor or film to the light coming in? ISO speeds are measured as whole numbers and on digital cameras can range anywhere from ISO 50 up to ISO 4,000,000! Not only does it affect the sensitivity to light, but it also affects the amount of grain that can be seen on the final image. A lower ISO will have very little or imperceptible amounts of grain, whereas a higher ISO speed will result in a grainy look to your image. Creatively, this can be an interesting effect to add to a shot depending on what you want the final image to look like. However, with the many advances in post-production software, if you don’t shoot to have film grain in your original, you can add it in while editing. On the flipside, if your photo has more grain than you wanted, it can also be smoothed in post, but it isn’t quite as quick of a fix as adding grain.

Here you can see that a high ISO was used and the dark colors have a heavy grain to them


While shutter speed and ISO are settings that are camera-based, aperture is a setting that is dependent on the lens you have on the camera. The aperture size is often referred to as lens speed, and the lower the aperture a lens can achieve, the “higher speed” the lens is. Aperture is measured in f-stops: the ratio between the diameter of the lens opening and the focal length of that lens. This affects how much light ultimately comes through the lens and lands on the sensor of the camera. Aperture tends to be the setting that new photographers have the most trouble understanding because the numbers are counterintuitive. With shutter speed the larger the number, the faster the shutter click and with ISO the larger the number, the more sensitive the sensor is to light. However, with aperture, the smaller the number the larger the lens opening; an aperture of f/1.8 is much larger than that of f/22. The way aperture affects the end result of an image is through depth of field. The larger the aperture the lower the depth of field of an image. So if you are wanting an artistic image where only a small portion is in focus you will want to use an aperture of f/4 or larger. If you are shooting landscapes or commercial stock footage, typically you will use a very small aperture of f/10 or smaller to capture the details across the whole horizontal plane of the image. When shooting interviews, there is a depth of field line that needs to be walked. It is pleasing to have the background of the subject blurred out, but if you have too large of an aperture your subject might fall out of focus when they lean forward or backwards slightly while speaking.

How they work together

We’ve learned how each of these individual settings affect the light hitting the camera sensor, and the creative properties of each setting, but how do they work together? First you have to decide the look you are going for and base your settings off of that creative vision. Say you want a long depth of field and no motion blur. You start with a fast shutter speed to stop the motion of your image, then you choose a small aperture so that the depth of field is across your whole image, then based on these settings you would adjust your ISO in order to properly expose the image based on these other two settings. Once you find a combination that is exposed properly you can create a chart of exposures to quickly and easily adjust to change the look of the final image. Aperture and shutter speed can easily be adjusted together. If you increase the shutter speed by one stop you can simply decrease the aperture by one stop and the image should remain exposed perfectly. There are many combinations of these three that can result in a properly exposed image. Ultimately,  you need to decide which path you are going to take to get to an exposed image that fits your creative vision. 

Color Grading in Video

How we see

The average human eye has the ability to perceive about one million unique colors and it plays a huge role in our lives and in video. To learn more about how the eye works, check out this link to the National Institute of Health.

How it works

Different camera brands are known for their different styles of color science. Here at Illuminate, we shoot on Sony cameras whose built-in color profiles tend to have beautiful purple undertones. Most brands of cameras offer several options for color profiles to film in depending on the lighting that you are shooting in and the look you are wanting for your final product. 

Many production teams choose to shoot with the in-camera color profiles because the post-production time and cost are cut down significantly since there isn’t a need for a colorist. There are many other factors that affect the way a video will look, and one of the most influential settings is white balance. 

White Balance

Cameras generally have generic settings to help you choose a white balance based on your lighting environment: cloudy, direct sunlight, shade, tungsten light, etc. However, a more precise way to balance your whites and make them match across multiple cameras is to use the Kelvin Scale. Some cameras give the operator the option to change the temperature of the light with this method. So if the scene lighting falls somewhere between the generic settings, the camera operator will be able to precisely match the in-camera light temperature to that of the scene.

Even if the operator uses a color profile and compensates for white balance, sometimes footage still needs some assistance either to look more natural or to match other clips that are going to be in the video. This is where color correction comes in.  There are several programs available to correct color, but often video editing software has powerful color tools build in. 

Ungraded vs graded

A video that is shot in an ungraded color profile will come out of the camera looking lackluster and very dull.  All the colors will be muted and have a very similar tone to them. In our Sony cameras, the ungraded footage has a grey tone to it. The benefit of shooting in this style is that the colorist can use this neutral canvas to curate a specific look for the overall video.

For example, in Scorsese’s, The Aviator, he uses a Two-strip and Three-strip Technicolor palate that creates the same effect as that of the color film technology available in the 30’s and 40’s. Here at Illuminate, our only ungraded project currently in the works is the Rosehill Farms Documentary. 


Ungraded footage can be colored in a couple of different ways, but one of the more popular ways to color it is with the use of Look Up Tables, or LUTs. There are thousands of generic or custom LUTs that can be found online, but they can also be created within adobe software. For our Rosehill Farms Documentary, I have been creating custom LUTs for each clip in Photoshop and exporting them into the project.

Creating a custom LUT in photoshop

LUTs are an extremely valuable tool for editors’ ungraded footage, however, if used incorrectly they can negatively impact the overall quality of a video. LUTs are meant to be used on properly exposed and balanced footage, so if you are trying to use them on footage that is underexposed or too cool/warm on the Kelvin scale, more than likely the image will not result in something pleasing to the eye. 

So next time you are working on a video or commissioning a job from us at Illuminate, take a second to think about the color feel of the final product. We’d be happy to help you achieve that look!