History of Photography: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Smile and say 'cheese!' Have you ever wondered who first figured out how to take photographs? This lesson will explain how photography developed from the earliest days to present-day digital cameras.

Camera Obscura

Before there were cameras, there was the camera obscura, which means 'dark chamber.' It was officially invented over 700-800 years ago, but even before that, people experimented with the idea. The camera obscura was a box with a hole in one end, where light came in and hit a mirror. This made a picture on the back of the box of whatever was in front of the hole. Unfortunately, this picture would disappear when the light was gone.

Camera Obscura

Many artists used the camera obscura to help with their drawings and paintings. They'd put a canvas inside the box and trace the image. Since then, many scientists worked to make a better camera, using the camera obscura as a starting point.

Early Photography

The word photography is based on two Greek words: fos, meaning 'light,' and grafo, meaning 'to write.' So, photography means 'writing with light.' Joseph Niepce and Louis Daguerre were the two scientists who first figured out how to make real photographs.

Niepce put chemicals on metal plates and put them in the sun. Around 1826, he finally made the first photograph! He put his camera on the windowsill of his house and left it there for at least eight hours so it could record the view outside. This is the world's oldest photograph. It's very blurry and difficult to see, but it still exists!

The Oldest Photograph

Around the same time, Daguerre was also experimenting with photography. Daguerre, called the 'Father of Photography,' figured out how to bring photography to all people. His photographs, called daguerreotypes, caused much excitement. Everyone wanted to see them!

Unfortunately, if you wanted a photo of yourself, you'd have to sit still for over 20 minutes to get a daguerreotype taken! If you moved at all, the picture would be blurry. Because of this, most of the pictures taken at this time were landscapes and things that didn't move.

Advances in Early Photography

Others also experimented with ways to take photographs. The biggest problem was keeping the picture from fading away. Scientists tried different chemicals and experimented with using paper, metal, glass, and other surfaces for the images.

Scientists discovered a better way to take pictures of people using different chemicals and paper. People did not have to stand still for so long to have their pictures taken. It then became popular to give photographs to friends and family.

Photographer from 1850s

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