Photography’s rapid evolution (1840–1850)

Zahid Parvez
3 min readFeb 9, 2023

The period between 1840 and 1850 was a time of rapid evolution for the art and science of photography. A number of notable events happened which has shaped modern photography.

The calotype process and multiple prints

The calotype (or Talbot) process was an early form of negative-positive photography developed by Henry Fox Talbot in 1841. The process involved creating a negative image on a sheet of paper coated with light-sensitive silver chloride. The negative would then be contact printed onto another sheet of light-sensitive paper, creating a positive print.

This process was originally invented in 1835, however it required an exposure of up to 15 minutes which was considerably slower than the more popular Daguerreotype process. In 1841, Talbot refined the process to only require 1–2 minutes of exposure by using chemical development.

This process was significant in the history of photography as it was the first time where a photographic negative could be used to make multiple positive prints.

Staffa near Fingal’s Cave (1850). Photo taken using the calotype process

The calotype process inspired the creation of the Edinburgh Calotype Club, this was the first photography club. Notably, the club created the first photogtaphy albums — “Edinburgh Calotype Club Album — Volume 1 (and 2)” consisted of over 300 photos taken by its members. You can view the images from the album here: https://digital.nls.uk/pencilsoflight/search.cfm

The first record of astrophotography

John William Draper, an American scientist, is credited to have taken the first ever photograph of a celestial body. In 1840, he had taken the first picture of the moon using the Daguerreotype process.

First Astronomical Photograph — John W. Draper (1840)

The collodion processes

In 1948, Frederick Scott Archer had first invented the collodion process, this is also known as the wet plate process. While imperfect at first, the collodion process eventually became the most dominant form of photography and basically eliminated the use of the Daguerreotype and calotype process. In fact, this…

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Zahid Parvez

I am an analyst with a passion for data, software, and integration. In my free time, I also like to dabble in design, photography, and philosophy.