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.

Autochromes

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

References:

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

29, no. 2, 1884, pp. 129–135. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44460725.

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

125, no. 5250, 1977, pp. 317–327. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41372510.

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,

www.jstor.org/stable/3102363.

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 https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Video content demand continues to rise, while filming comes to a halt 

According to Hubspot, no matter which generation you belong to, video is in consistent demand for business brands everywhere. On average, 54% of users prefer video content, to all other available content online.

54% of users prefer video content

Meanwhile, it came as no surprise that since the pandemic started, most in-person filming sessions postponed until next year or cancelled altogether. The only sets that allowed for a single camera operator to work alone, tended to be events, of which all were canceled or postponed until 2021.

Even for small sets – ones with teams of three people or less – have had their own difficult circumstances to navigate. Which begs the question, how do you film in a pandemic?

How do you film in a pandemic?

Since we work with so many businesses, and many of our clients are considered essential, we are extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to film on rare occasion since March. Sadly, the rest of our industry is facing a very different story.

In the very beginning, we relied on cloth masks and distance. But after our team had a COVID-19 scare, and very luckily all tested negative, we decided to put more safety controls in place. If all of the staff on a small business gets sick, there will be a long and daunting road ahead to stay open – up to two months – with no reimbursement for lost work. Due to this, we decided to increase our protective equipment and policies, as well as to always work with less than four people on set, including clients. We try to work with two of our staff or less whenever possible, but during interviews we have found that to be largely impossible.

As you can see below, we went from cloth masks, to fitted cloth masks, to a combination of standard cloths masks plus an extra protective N95 beneath the cloth mask. We also began including small, medium and large latex gloves in our kits, instead of the one size fits all. Loose gloves often get caught in our equipment, not good!

After the shoot is complete, we pack equipment into one vehicle. However, all staff rides separately to decrease exposure. Back at the office, the equipment is unload, with a new set of gloves on, sterilized, checked and stored.

Even with all of these protections in place, we still have restrictions on travel and some businesses are still not able to operate yet. That left us with one question – how do we generate the content necessary to meet the demand of video?

Generating content when you can’t film

Remote production

This one might come as a surprise to some, but we’ve actually turned shipping our clients DIY-type equipment and setting up remote production sessions. If you’d like to learn about having us film with you this way, contact us here.

Screen recording

This works in cases when we need a simple display of how our clients are operating during these times. These screen recordings are low-fi, but work great when we need an example.

Looping Screen Recording

Reusing old content

It’s ok to recycle content! Especially when it is relevant. We are all about efficiencies here at Illuminate, and we have found that the older content that we’ve stored of our clients has become incredibly valuable. We can continue to work, as long as we can find a fresh and meaningful way to display the video clips and photos we’ve stored.

More animation, less film

With little fresh content to spare, we’ve relying more on using animations to complete our clients’ visions.

Looping Animation Example

Virtual Post Production

With all of these possibilities to continue working, we still make our best efforts to continue working in post production safely. So how do you maintain an active team of editors, colorists, animators, writers, and project managers to collaborate across dozens of projects per week? All while working in separate rooms across the country? With over communication and the right tools.

Whether you’re a business owner, artist, executive, or buyer, spending your resources on a video for the first time can be a daunting process. There are many creative components and opinions to consider. On the technical side, it’s just like any other project, so even the most basic project management skills can apply here.

Determine your goals

Before you begin to think about the video itself, consider why you’re shopping for a video at all. Videos are increasing in popularity each year. They come highly recommended and are incredibly useful. In order to maximize your effectiveness, you need to put your goals first. A video isn’t a magic wand, so it can’t solve every problem. However, it can solve a great many of them and can be designed to help you if you are clear about goals.

Do you want to raise brand awareness? Increase leads? Onboard new clients? Educate staff or contractors? Reduce incidents and accidents at your facility? A good video can accomplish all of these needs.

Determine your constraints and resources

Time. How long do you have to present or distribute a final video? Weeks? Months? Determine this constraint first. If you are outsourcing, some services will charge a rush fee or may not be available at all. Oftentimes, creative professional services can be booked weeks to months in advance. A professionally produced commercial with animation, professional narration, and custom music could take 4-8 weeks.

If there is no definitive answer, decide on a realistic or optimal time frame and set that as your deadline. You can use this to your advantage later if you need to move the deadline to adjust for a different project constraint.

Economics. Do you have a budget already set? Great. Consider presenting this information to your production service of choice so they can organize their own constraints and resources accordingly and present options. Having a budget upfront will also help you determine if a company partner or vendor is the best fit, sometimes right away. It may also tell you if you have reserved too much or too little. If you have more budget than you realized you would need, consider hearing out the production partner or vendor on how they would use it. This may lead to a major camera upgrade or additional videos. If you have less budget than you realized you needed, it’s ok to take a step back and consider other paths to your goal until you’re ready to buy. In the long run with business or commercial services, it’s better to do it right.

Logistics. Are all people, locations, equipment, clothing, and props going to be in the right place at the right time?

Decide how to produce

You can spend the budget on a variety of options. Let’s narrow it down to the three core categories:

  • Professional, turn-key video service
  • Insourcing: Hiring an employee or volunteering a current one
  • DIY

Professional Turn-Key Video Service

If you chose a great company who is the right fit, you’ll end up with a low-hassle project that leads to profits for many years. For tips on how to choose a great video production company, check out this article. It may come as a surprise, but outsourcing your video or photo production needs is sometimes the least expensive option. Read on to learn why.

Insourcing: Hiring an employee or volunteering a current one

One of the top reasons a company starts their own media production department is to produce a high volume of media at a lower cost. If you are a first-time buyer, it is strongly recommended you start with one video and forego considering adding a media production department.

If you are still wanting to pursue this option, you can check out our article on insourcing here. We’ll cover all of the pitfalls you might hit while pursuing this.

Warning – if you aren’t a seasoned media production professional – prepare for difficulty in judging and coaching this person’s work. And especially in determining their work load.

DIY

Is learning how to make videos going to be the best use of my time?

Will it save you money? Maybe. Maybe not. Beware, too much DIY can lead to you becoming your own video production department. The first question you should ask yourself is “Is this going to be the best use of my time?” If you are doing this to save money, consider the following –

You start with an inexpensive DSLR video camera, but after filming a short segment of someone speaking on camera, realize it doesn’t sound very good and it’s hard to understand what the person is saying. You realize you’ll need to purchase additional audio equipment and all of the accessories. Now you need better lighting. Next you’ll need a better computer to process all of this data you created. Finally, you’ll need more experience and knowledge in the video production process. This will lead you to understand why your equipment isn’t giving you the results you expected. And it’s probably because you need more expensive equipment to get the look and sound you loved so much in that one video you saw online.

If learning how to make videos is going to be the best use of your time, you should check out our favorite resources:

If you have additional questions before purchasing a video, don’t be shy! Reach out, we’re here to help –