Photography Timeline

  • First Permanent Image

    First Permanent Image
    French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce uses a camera obscura to burn a permanent image of the countryside at his Le Gras, France, estate onto a chemical-coated pewter plate. He names his technique "heliography," meaning "sun drawing." The black-and-white exposure takes eight hours and fades significantly, but an image is still visible on the plate today.
  • First Photo of a Person

    First Photo of a Person
    In 1839 French painter and chemist Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre photographs a Paris street scene from his apartment window using a camera obscura.The long exposure time (several minutes) means moving objects like pedestrians and carriages don't appear in the photo. But an unidentified man who stops for a shoeshine remains still long enough to unwittingly become the first person ever photographed.
  • First Colour Image

    First Colour Image
    Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell creates a rudimentary color image by superimposing onto a single screen three black-and-white images each passed through three filters—red, green, and blue. His photo of a multicolored ribbon is the first to prove the efficacy of the three-color method, until then just a theory, and sets the stage for further color innovation.
  • First Underwater Colour Photo

    First Underwater Colour Photo
    William Longley and photographer Charles Martin use an Autochrome camera and a raft full of explosive magnesium flash powder to illuminate the shallows of Florida's Dry Tortugas and make the first undersea color photographs.
  • First High Altitude Photo

    Explorer II, a helium balloon with a hermetically sealed magnesium alloy gondola. The balloon takes off near Rapid City, South Dakota, and ascends 72,395 feet (22,066 meters) into the stratosphere, a world altitude record for manned flight. Captain Albert Stevens takes the first photograph showing the curve of the Earth and the first color photographs taken from the stratosphere.
  • First Photo Taken from Space

    First Photo Taken from Space
    Researchers with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory strap a 35-millimeter camera to a German V-2 missile and launch it into space from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The camera snaps a picture every second and a half as the rocket ascends to 65 miles (105 kilometers) above the surface. The camera falls back to Earth and slams into the ground, but the film, contained in a steel cassette, is unharmed. The developed photos are the first ever to show Earth from space.
  • First Survey of Night Sky

    First Survey of Night Sky
    A seven-year project to produce the first photographic map of the Northern Hemisphere's night sky. The work is done at the Palomar Observatory in California using "Big Schmidt," a new, 48-inch (122-centimeter) camera telescope. The result is a comprehensive study of the heavens that leads to the discovery of many new stars and galaxies and is still used by astronomers today.
  • First All Colour Photo

    First All Colour Photo
    After decades of pioneering color photography technology, National Geographic magazine introduces a new era in February 1962, becoming the first major American periodical to print an all-color issue. The magazine goes on to publish more color in its editorial pages throughout 1962 than any other major magazine in the country.
  • First Digital Still Camera

    First Digital Still Camera
    Kodak releases the first commercially available, professional digital camera in 1991. This device, extremely expensive and marketed to professional photographers, uses a Nikon F-3 camera body fitted with a digital sensor. Over the next five years, several companies come out with more affordable models, and today, the market is overwhelmed with thousands of digital still camera models.
  • First Digital Camera Trap

    First Digital Camera Trap
    National Geographic photographers had been using camera traps to take pictures of wildlife for years. But in 2006, George Steinmetz becomes the first to do so using a digital setup. The shoot, meticulously arranged at a watering hole in the Sonoran Desert, involves wired and wireless strobes, a digital SLR camera, and an infrared remote camera trap.