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Home /History / History of Negative Photography

History of Negative Photography

By Katy Sommerfield

Today, everyone carries a camera in their back pocket or purse, and we don’t have to think twice about taking a picture.

We no longer have to take our camera film or disposable cameras to Walgreen’s for development.
With all of our advanced technology, it may be hard for some of us to remember a time when developing photographs was a much longer process. Negative photography was the reigning method of photo production for more than 100 years, and it’s crazy to think there’s a whole generation born in the new Millennium that may have no idea how negative photography works! Negative photography has a fascinating history and has left a major impact on photographic processes. 


Negative photography has its beginnings all the way back in 33 AD. The first-ever possibly negative image is considered to be the Turin Shroud, an image of a deceased man’s body imprinted into linen cloth. There are some theories as to who the man is and how this image came to be, but no one truly knows who the image depicts and how the image was produced. The fact that some areas of the image are dark where they should be light and vice versa has made some scholars deduce that this is the first example of negative photography in history.

After the Turin Shroud, there is almost no evidence of negative photography until the 19th century. Nicephore Niepce, a French inventor and scientist, is often credited with creating the first negative photograph in 1826. Titled “View From the Window at Le Gras,” Niepce captured this image on a piece of metal using a camera obscura and light-sensitive silver salts scrubbed on the surface. It took several days of exposure to sunlight for the silver salts to leave an impression on the metal surface, but eventually, a negative image was produced. 

Negative photography quickly developed after Niepce’s revolutionary creation, and soon new types of photography were created using different sorts of chemicals and exposure methods. Negatives were still produced first, and would then need to be developed in order to see the image in its intended shading. 

Photography existed only in black and white until 1935 with the introduction of Kodachrome, a color reversal film created by Eastman Kodak. The invention of color reversal film completely changed the art of photography. Now, for the first time in history, photographers and amateurs alike could take negative photos that would appear in many different shades of interesting colors and then produce a naturally colored image of the photographed subject after development. This revolutionary process of negative photography is actually still how reversal film photography is developed to this day. 

The invention of digital photography came about 1957. The first digital photograph produced by a computer was done by Russel Kirsch, an engineer. The photo was of his own infant son. Digital photography as we know it today is actually not very different from film photography in the way that the images are produced. Instead of using photosensitive chemicals that require a chemical bathing process in order to be developed into a positive image, a light impression is captured with photosensitive sensors and saved to a computer chip inside the camera. The foundations of negative photography remain, even to this day. 

Photography has come a long way since the 19th century, and there’s still more to come as technology advances. Who knows how we’ll be taking photos in another 100 years!

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