12 Of The More Interesting Early Photos We Know About Today

Created on Nov 08, 2017 by Kathy Pinna
Thanks to smartphones, taking photos is a part of everyday life; whether with friends, taking selfies or even taking snapshots of your meal at a restaurant. It's hard to believe today, but it wasn't until 1839 that Louis Daguerre introduced the first modern type camera to the world - the daguerreotype. Prior to that, the camera obscura - described by Leonard da Vinci in 1502 - and pinhole cameras were available but neither was widely used since exposure time could be up to 24 hours long and they were big! When the daguerreotype was introduced and adopted in the early 1840s, it made it easier to take photos and record a moment in real time. Of course, it still took a while to take a photo - exposure time could be up to 8 minutes - but at least individuals could be seen in "modern" surroundings and they would have a true version of how they looked. Today with smartphones the process has changed dramatically and we take photos on a whim all day long.

Here are twelve of the more interesting early photos taken with the daguerreotype. Some are blurry, some miss the details, but all of them are the progenitors of our modern photo fixation!

12 Of The More Interesting Early Photos We Know About Today

Queen Victoria of England, 1887

Queen Victoria of England

Just two years after Victoria became Queen of England, photography became available to the public. There are many photos of Queen Victoria and her family throughout her decades long reign, but this is the only known photo of her when she was smiling. Taken in 1887, a smiling Queen gives you a whole new view of her.

1909 color photo

King Edward VII

This is the only known color photo of King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria. Taken in Scotland, the King is in full Highland dress. The photo was just recently found.

1826 - the earliest photo of real life found so far

The first photo, ever

It's not very clear, but this was an amazing photo in its day. Invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, heliographic photography used a camera and an engraving. His first permanent photo used a camera obscura focused onto a sheet of 20 × 25 cm oil-treated bitumen then exposed for 8 hours. This was the view from Niépce's window at his estate. He called it, of course, View from the Window at Le Gras (Le Gras was the name of his estate).


Hannah (Stilley) Gorby, 1840

Hannah (Stilley) Gorby

Born in 1746 (!), Hannah (Stilley) Gorby sat for the first known portrait of a person (at least a woman) in 1840 - within a year of the new invention being introduced in France. She was 94 in this photo and she died soon after. Born in Delaware, she saw a lot of changes in her world.

1838 Paris - with people!

1838 Paris

Louis Daguerre took this photo of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris in 1838. It's the first known photo that contains people in a cityscape. The exposure time was 8 minutes, so city traffic didn't show up. But in the lower left corner, a man is having his shoes shined. So he must have stood still for at least 8 minutes!

The first selfie, 1839

The First Selfie, 1839

A photography "enthusiast" and chemist, Robert Cornelius took this photo of himself in 1839. He took the lens cap off of his camera then ran to sit down, sitting for one minute. Then he ran back and put the cap back on the lens. He called it “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”

1850 daguerreotype

Phineas Gage

A very early daguerreotype, this is thought to be a photo of Phineas Gage holding the tamping iron that went through his head during a railroad explosion in 1848. He survived the accident but those who knew him said the his personality and behavior changed dramatically. He died in 1860.


Photographic van, 1855

Crimean War photographer

Roger Fenton was a Britain who was one of the first war photographers. He travelled to the warfront during the Crimean War and took over 350 photos of the action. This wagon carried his equipment. He would have been amazed by the ease and portability of the iPhone!

1893 - Photographer photographing himself

1893 Photographer's studio

Without Photoshop, the technology in this 1893 is amazing. You can see the camera, the studio, the photographer - and the subject, the photographer himself. Notice how the stand behind the "subject" holds his head still.

1906 San Francisco

San Francisco Earthquake

In 1906, photography was common enough that photos of disasters began appearing. This is a photo of Sacramento St in San Francisco on April 18, 1906 - just hours after the Great Quake. You can see the effects of the quake and the beginning of the fires that followed the quake. The street is crowded - with most people standing still watching the fire. Notice that some people are blurred - those are the ones moving.

The first photo using photography - 1825

1825 photograph

This is a photo of an engraving - the first photo using a camera and an engraving. Invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, heliographic photography paved the way for further developments in photography.

1957, the first scan

First digital scan

At the US National Bureau of Standards in 1957, the first scanner - a drum scanner - was developed. This is a scanned image of the team leader's son, 3 month old Walden Kirsch. The image was 176 pixels (can you tell?) and is considered the first digital photograph.

Have photos that you'd like to see included? Share your photos or see some of the most popular photos on on the next page.

Some information courtesy of Smashing Lists
Back to Top