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Original photo by Suwan Wanawattanawong/ Shutterstock
5 Amazing Facts About Photography
Read Time: 4m
Article image
Original photo by Suwan Wanawattanawong/ Shutterstock

Imagine a world without cameras — it’s almost impossible. Film, television, history, news, and even our memories are influenced by a technology that has been around for less than two centuries. Here are five facts that explore the amazing history of photography, and how it grew from a quirky laboratory experiment to redefining the human experience.

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We Don’t Know the Names of the First People Ever Photographed

Photo believed to be the earliest photograph showing a living person ,1838.
Credit: GraphicaArtis/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

One day in 1838, Louis Daguerre — physicist, photography pioneer, and inventor of the daguerreotype (the earliest form of practical photography) — stood in a window overlooking Paris’ Boulevard du Temple and snapped a photograph. Since this was one of the first photographs ever taken, the image was actually less of a “snap” and more of a slog, as the process required around 10 minutes to gather enough light to produce an image on a highly polished silver-plated copper sheet. Because of this long exposure time, Daguerre’s photo captured what appeared to be an empty street, as the hustle and bustle of passing traffic didn’t stay long enough to show up in the photo. In fact, the only thing in the image except for immobile trees, sky, and concrete is a lone shadowy figure getting his boots shined, which explains why he stood still long enough to be fixed in the photo. Upon closer inspection, viewers can just barely make out the shoeshiner hard at work. Today, of course, no one knows the name of that man getting a shoeshine, or the person giving it.

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The First True Digital Camera Was Invented to Photograph the Aurora Borealis

View of Icelandic spiral northern lights.
Credit: Shutterstock

The advent of the digital camera was made possible by the invention of a little-known piece of technology called a charged-couple device (CCD) in 1969. At its most basic, a CCD is a light sensor that sits behind a camera lens and effectively replaces the need for film. Eastman Kodak engineer Steven Sasson built the first digital camera prototype in 1975, but his creation was unwieldy, requiring 16 batteries and a special screen just to view the images. The first “true” digital camera came two years later, when the University of Calgary Canada ASI Science Team created the Fairchild All-Sky imager for snapping photos of the aurora borealis. A little more than a decade later, the technology came to consumers when Fujifilm released the FUJIX DS-1P in 1988.

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In 1995 a 1 Megapixel Camera Cost $20,000

Back side of a digital camera stock.
Credit: unomat/ iStock

Every new technology comes with an early adopter tax. The price of the first Macintosh in 1984 comes out to about $6,000 in today’s dollars, and the first cellphone, the Motorola Dynatac 8000x, would cost around $12,000 today (with only 30 minutes of battery life). But those costs pale in comparison to the first 1MP pro camera. Released in 1995, this Fuji X/Nikon hybrid camera had a 1.3 megapixel sensor and a 131 MB removable memory card (capable of storing 70 photos), all for the eye-popping price of $20,000, which is around $38,000 today. Only 12 years later, Apple — which also made the impressive QuickTake camera in the mid-’90s — introduced a 2 megapixel camera on its original iPhone for a fraction of the cost. Today, professional photographers use cameras with 24 megapixels (or more).

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The Most-Viewed Photograph in History Is Probably the Windows XP Wallpaper

A man walks past a Microsoft billboard featuring its latest software, Windows XP.
Credit: Kevin Lee/ Getty Images News via Getty Images

The most-viewed photo isn’t from the lens of legendary photographers like Ansel Adams or Jacob Riis, but a simple picture of a field in Sonoma, California — and chances are you’ve seen it, too. The photograph, originally captured by photographer Charles O’Rear and named “Bliss,” was taken in 1996. Four years later, Microsoft paid O’Rear an undisclosed (but north of $100,000) amount of money to use the image as the default desktop wallpaper for Windows XP in 2002. O’Rear says the image was so valuable that FedEx refused shipment, so he hand-delivered the photograph to Microsoft’s offices near Seattle, Washington. The brilliantly bright green rolling hill (which is now a vineyard) accompanied by a picturesque bright blue sky has likely been seen by billions of people around the world due to the software’s global ubiquity.

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We Probably Take More Photos Every Minute Than Were Taken in the Entire 19th Century

Lots of photograph collections in one image.
Credit: BremecR/ iStock

Two centuries ago, imaging pioneers were only beginning to tinker with ways to capture the world around them using chemicals and light, and now cameras are embedded in our daily lives. We don’t know how many photos were taken in the 19th century, but it’s likely it was a few million at most. In 2014, it was estimated that humanity took a staggering 1 trillion photos that year, which means that every two minutes of 2014, we likely took more photos than were taken in the entire 19th century. Experts believe that the number of cameras in the world passed 45 billion in 2022 (that’s more than five cameras for every person). As cameras continue to get better while shrinking (sometimes to the size of a grain of sand), that number is only increasing, with estimates suggesting humans will take 2 trillion photos in 2025. When that happens, every single minute of the day will create more photos than an entire century of human history.