What Was The First Commercial Photography Process

What was the first Commercial Photography process?

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Being a commercial photographer means you are employed by an organization to take photographs or videos. Commercial photographers make their money by taking pictures of products, people, events, places, etc., for others to use in promotional materials.

It can be pretty rewarding, especially if you love working with clients and collaborating on ideas that will hopefully result in successful projects.

Let’s take a look at the history of photography and find out what was the first commercial photography process.

Let’s start with some History

Photography began in remote antiquity with the discovery of two critical principles; camera obscura image projection and the observation that some substances are visibly altered by exposure to light. Together these two principles form the basis of all photography.

The first photographs were created by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827, by painting on glass or metal plates covered with a light-sensitive silver nitrate solution.

The First Commercial Photography Process

The first commercial photography process is called the daguerreotype and was invented by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre.

The daguerreotype process involves a silver-plated sheet of copper treated with iodine vapor to make it light-sensitive, a lens for focusing an image on the surface, and a ‘mirror’ made from mercury-coated silver.

When the picture is taken, the camera lens projects a point of light onto the surface coated with mercury, reflecting an inverted real image.

The real image then forms a second projection as it hits the concave mirror where it is then projected upside down upon another iodized plate which serves as paper in this process.

Commercial Photography Timeline

In 1839 Daguerre partnered with the French government to make this process available for all of France.

By 1841 he had his own studio in Paris where he perfected the daguerreotype process further by replacing mercury with silver chloride.

This new improvement allowed him to wipe away undeveloped areas of the surface, which increased the amount of detail that could be captured in a picture. He also developed short exposure times, reducing it to thirty seconds or less.

After Daguerre displayed his photographic method, Thomas Wedgwood developed an early prototype camera in 1826 using a faster but more reactive photosensitive substance than silver and a lens capable of focusing an image onto it.

The drawback of Wedgwood’s method was that light-sensitive substances would darken when exposed to sunlight, so Wedgwood’s camera could only be used in the dark.

Alphonse Giroux built the first commercially successful camera based on Daguerre’s technology in 1839. It was called a Diorama because it employed a screen that projected images from within onto a wall or screen to form a moving picture.

Also, in 1839, after Daguerre published his findings of the new photographic method, Charles Chevalier developed another similar process; however, he coated pewter instead of silver as the imaging material. His process yielded better results than Wedgwood’s but wasn’t as good as Daguerre’s.

In 1841 Giroux also invented a variation of the daguerreotype process to produce larger-sized plates with greater detail for portraiture.

By 1843 nearly every major city throughout Europe and America had opened up daguerreotype studios employing hundreds if not thousands of photographers. One of these was William Lincoln, credited with one of the first portrait photographs ever made in a studio.

In 1851 Calvert Adams invented another variation of the daguerreotype process, which used iodized paper instead of a silver plate. He was also able to develop a way to make copies using a medium such as glass or water.

The most successful and popular prototype camera ever made was created by Henry Goodwin in 1854 and is called the ambrotype. The images produced were on black-backed glass plates, so they appeared positive when held to a light. This process made them easier for viewing compared to daguerreotypes which required a separate case for viewing, usually under a protective layer of transparent glass.

In 1861 Frederick Scoff Archer invented the first negative-positive image camera allowing for the first practical method of making multiple copies.

Some of the most well-known commercial photographic techniques were invented in 1839. Several other types of early cameras were also made but were not nearly as widespread or long-lasting.

Some cameras used different chemicals to develop images on metal sheets, while others recorded images on thin glass plates, paper, or leather.

However, after 1861 all commercial processes used paper negatives placed in a camera to take exposures on light-sensitive paper instead of light-sensitive silver plates.

The images obtained from this process were positive prints that could then be turned into any number of photos using wood engraving printing methods.

In 1862 after two years of research by Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas A. Edison, they perfected a printing method using a negative placed on chemically treated paper to produce positive prints.

This process allowed for full-length portraits as well as outdoor photography. That too, without the need for cumbersome cameras or the limited exposure times typical with early cameras. Instead, they could expose their plates outdoors during sunny days and achieve exposures up to several minutes long.

By the 1880s, after the development of gelatin dry plates with emulsions capable of producing photographic negatives, photography would never be the same again.


Commercial photography took a while to get picked; however, when it was introduced, it took the advertising world by storm. No corporation, big or small, can imagine promoting and growing their business without commercial photography. 

Commercial photography has come a long way as it serves as an employment opportunity to many people today.  Every photography enthusiast should think about what was the first commercial photography process and know how it evolved. 

Every artist needs to know their medium and the fundamentals of art before creating something perfect.  Likewise, as a commercial photographer, you should be aware of the important history of commercial photography. 

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