What was the first commercial photography process? – Get to know all at once

Who doesn’t like to pose for a selfie? Before smartphones became so common, photographs could only be clicked with a camera. Today, DSLR Cameras are used by professional photographers, but those in your phone allow capturing day-to-day memorable moments.

The only advancement in cameras we have seen is their transformation from analogue to digital, but have you ever wondered what was the first commercial photography process? It was called the Daguerreotype and was invented by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. The Daguerreotype was announced in 1839. It was operated by using silver-polished copper plates upon which the image was exposed.

Interesting fact about the Daguerreotype

It did not produce any negatives. Thus, any picture taken by what was the first commercial photography process could not be duplicated.

This is how a Daguerreotype looked like:

The history behind the first commercial photography process

Even though the first camera obscura was invented by an Arab scholar Ibn Al-Haytham between 945-1040, it was only used for studying optics.

The first photographic image using a camera was actually developed by a French scientist Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1827. However, the images produced by his camera were not permanent and would fade away after some time while their preparation required an eight-hour exposure to light. These images were called sun prints.

Around the same time, another French scientist, Louis Daguerre was also trying to come up with a method to capture images. He partnered with Niepce and together they decided to improve the process. Niepce passed away in 1833 while Daguerre continued experimenting and finally came up with a process which did not result in a disappearing image and required a significantly reduced exposure to light.  He named this effective method of photography after himself, hence the name Daguerreotype.

The following picture was taken by the inventor of Daguerreotype in 1838/39 in Paris

How did it become commercial?

This photography process became commercial when Louis Daguerre along with Joseph Nicephore Niepce`s son sold rights for the Daguerreotype to the French government in 1839. They also published a booklet explaining the entire process. As a result, use of this process became widespread throughout Europe. By 1850, Daguerreotype studios was established in most of the large cities across the world with New York being a home to more than 70 of them.

In wake of the first commercial photography process, portraits became popular, especially amongst politicians and celebrities.

However, unlike the printed photographs we see today, or those that were produced by analogue cameras, daguerreotypes were very heavy. They had mirror-like surfaces and were fragile and inflexible. Some of the daguerreotypes are now preserved in museums. The J. Paul Getty Museum in particular has a sizable collection.

Below is a picture of the daguerreotype portrait of Edgar Allan Poe preserved in The J. Paul Getty Museum:

However, some people interested in art and photography have maintained their personal collection of daguerreotypes like the famous British-American singer Graham Nash.

The introduction of daguerreotype also excited the masses so much that everyone wanted a portrait even if it meant sitting in bright sunlight and remaining perfectly still for several minutes.

Isn`t the idea that the photography process – we take for granted today – originally started from development of daguerreotypes fascinating, yet not widely known?

For this purpose, we shared this story about the first commercial photography process, and hope you like it.

Leave a Comment