36 fantastic photographic firsts


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(Pocket-lint) – Photos serve an important purpose in life. They capture precious moments, funny moments, once in a lifetime moments and many more. With the rise of social media, we’re snapping and sharing more photos than ever. According to a recent survey, more than 2.5 trillion photos were shared online in 2016 alone, more than 30 times the amount of photos we took in the 1990s.

Among the several trillion photos taken over the years, there have been many photo firsts and we’ve done our research to find the best of them. So join us as we take a trip down a visual memory lane of the photographic milestones of the past 190 years.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 2

First photograph made in a camera

The oldest surviving photograph is the View from the Window at Le Gras, taken in 1826 or 1827 by Nicéphore Niépce. It was taken on a camera obscura which projects the image being taken through a pinhole in screen, where it shown as a reversed and inverted image.

The image on the original plate is quite hard to distinguish, but thanks to modern technology it’s been manually enhanced to show buildings and the surrounding fields of the Le Gras estate. It’s been voted as one of the 100 most important photographs in the world.

Louis Daguerre [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 3

First photograph of a person

Louis Daguerre was friends with Niépce, and after Niépce’s death in 1833, Daguerre continued to experiment with various and eventually created the Daguerreotype process. He’s also responsible for taking the first photo to feature people.

Taken in 1838 at the Boulevard du Temple, in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement, the long exposure means that that all the traffic in the street has vanished, but two men are clearly visible in the bottom left, who, thanks to one having his boots polished by the other, have remained static long enough to become visible on the negative.

Robert Cornelius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 4

First photographic self-portrait

Before we called them ‘selfies’ and we flitted around with smartphones, there was a breed a photographers such as American Robert Cornelius, who did things the hard way.

A man of infinite patience he is credited with creating the first ever photographic self-portrait in 1839, a feat that required him to sit motionless in front of his camera of a 15 minute exposure.

Hippolyte Bayard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 5

First photographic hoax

The accolade of first staged photograph goes to a one Hippolyte Bayard. Bayard was considered Daguerre’s rival, as he came up with his own photography method called the direct positive process. Bayard wanted to be considered the pioneer of photography, but Daguerre beat him to it. As a reaction, Bayard took a photo of himself drowning in water, claiming he had killed himself, when in fact it was all staged.

He even wrote a full paragraph on the back of it, claiming “The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself.”

Unknown29 fantastic photographic firsts image 6

First real “news” photo

Despite the name of the photographer who took this 1847 image being lost to the passage of time, this Daguerreotype image of a man being arrested in France by soldiers is widely regarded as the first photograph of a news event.

James Wallace Black [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 7

First aerial photograph

The first aerial photo on record is a view of Boston in 1860 at a height of 2,000 feet. Back then photographer’s didn’t have drones, so this photo was taken from a hot air balloon. It’s titled “Boston, as the Eagle and Wild Goose See it”.

However, French photographer Nadar (real name Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) is credited as being the exponent of aerial photography in 1858, but unfortunately none of his work has stood the test of time.

By Southworth & Hawes (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 8

First photo of a U.S. President

As is often the way with images from the early years of photography – just because an image is first doesn’t means it survives. So it is with the early pictures of the U.S. Presidents. On March 8, 1841 William Henry Harrison became the first sitting president to be photographed but sadly the image taken on the day of his inauguration speech has been lost.

It is therefore this 1843 image of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President, that has become the oldest surviving image of a Commander in Chief, despite it being taken over a decade after he left office.

James Clerk Maxwell (original photographic slides) ; scan by User: Janke. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 9

First durable colour photo

Colour images started appearing in the late 1840s, but the techniques of the day were so laborious and the results so fragile, that it wasn’t until 1861 that the first durable colour image was produced.

The image, called Tartan Ribbon, was created by photographing the same subject three times, using red, green, and blue filters over the camera’s lens. When the pictures were developed, they were printed onto glass sheets and then shone onto a wall via three different projectors – each fitted with a coloured lens that matched the filter used to take the original picture.

The Daily Graphic (The Daily Graphic) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 10

First halftone photograph ever printed in a newspaper

Halftone refers to the technique of producing an image using several small black dots of varying size and spacings. It’s an optical illusion of sorts, as the human eye sees the dots as a gradient.

The first printing of a halftone photograph was in the 4 March, 1880 issue of The Daily Graphic, an American newspaper. The image in question was “A Scene in Shantytown, New York”,

By George R. Lawrence (1869-1938), George R. Lawrence Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 11

First photo taken from an unmanned aerial vehicle

Having narrowly survived falling 200 feet from a captive airship, American aerial photographer George R. Lawrence pioneered a safer technique for getting his 22kg cameras to elevated vantage points.

Through the use of kites, Lawrence was able to capture amazing images such as this one of the ruins of San Francisco following the 1906 Earthquake. The image sold like wildfire netting the photographer $15,000 – almost $400,000 by today’s standards.

The first photograph of a tornado

This is thought to be one of the oldest photos of a tornado in existence. It was taken in 1884 near Howard, South Dakota in the United States by F.N Robnison. 

It’s not necessarily the first, as others were said to have been taken an hour earlier, but those were destroyed before they could be processed and witnessed. This one is, therefore, the oldest surviving image of a tornado. 

By Jack Aeby [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 12

First photo of an atomic bomb being detona

As is often the case throughout its history, photography has often been used to document the very best, and the very worst of mankind’s achievements.

On July 16th, 1945 the first ever atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity Site in New Mexico. Of all the numerous images taken of the blast, Jack Aeby’s is the only colour photo of the blast to have emerged well exposed enough to show the fireball in all its terrifying glory.

By U.S. Army [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 13

First photo of the Earth as seen from Space

On October 24th, 1946 The White Sands Rocket, officially referred to as V-2 No.13 took the first ever photograph of the Earth from Space.

Captured using a DeVry 35mm camera the picture was taken from an altitude of 65 miles (104.6Km), 5 times higher than any other picture taken before.

Courtesy of Playboy29 fantastic photographic firsts image 14

First Playboy front cover

Ever the showman, when Hugh Heffner launched Playboy magazine in December 1953 he knew he needed something big to woo his potential readers, and they didn’t come much bigger than Marilyn.

Thanks in part of Marilyn’s star power, along with there being very little direct competition for the startup magazine, Heffner quickly sold all 53,000 copies printed and the publishing icon was born.

Mogens von Haven/World Press Photo29 fantastic photographic firsts image 15

First photo to win the World Press Photo competition

The World Press Photo of the Year is considered as one of the most prestigious press photography competitions in the world.

It was this image from 1955 of a rider falling off his motorcycle during the Motocross World Championship at the Volk Mølle course that won Danish photographer Mogens von Haven the inaugural title.

Russell A. Kirsch (National Institute of Standards and Technology) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 16

First digital image

Russell A. Kirsch is credited as the man who produced the first digital image. While working at the National Bureau of Standards, Kirsch and his team developed a digital image scanner.

The first image scanned was of a photo of Kirsch’s three month old son, captured at one bit per pixel. It’s considered to be one of the 100 photographs that changed the world.

The first photo of the North Pole

This image was originally thought to be the first photo of the North Pole. Taken by Admiral Robert Peary with his team of four Inuit guides by the names of Ooqeah, Ootah, Egingwah, and Seeglo and Matthew Henson. 

It was later discovered that the image was actually taken somewhere between 30 and 60 miles from the actual pole location. 

NASA29 fantastic photographic firsts image 17

First photo of the Earth as seen from the Moon

The first photo of the Earth, taken from the moon, was taken on 23 August 1966. The photo was taken by the unmanned Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft and transmitted to Earth, where it was received at a NASA tracking station near Robledo De Chavela near Madrid, Spain.

The first photo of a sun eclipse

This photo dates back to 1851 and is known to be the first solar eclipse photograph taken using the daguerrotype process, at the Royal Observatory in Königsberg, Prussia. 

It was also viewed as the earliest scientifically useful photograph of the sun during a total eclipse and the start of a long history of sun photography and research. 

NASA / Bill Anders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons29 fantastic photographic firsts image 18

First colour photo of the Earth

The first colour image taken of our planet was shot by Astronaut William Anders as part of the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. Anders used a highly modified Hasselblad 500 EL camera with an electric drive and 70mm colour film. 

Life magazine has since regarded Earthrise as being “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

NASA29 fantastic photographic firsts image 19

First full view of Earth

Four years after the first colour image of the Earth was taken, the crew of Apollo 17 captured an image of the entire planet. The photo was taken on 7 December 1972 and is now known as the “Blue Marble”.

COURTESY NSSDC/GSFC/NASA29 fantastic photographic firsts image 20

First photo of another planet’s surface

In 1975, whilst on an unmanned mission to Venus, Soviet spacecraft Venera 9 captured these images of Venus’ surface. They became the first photos to show us the surface of another planet in our solar system.

First photo taken on Mars

This image was taken by the Viking 2 spacecraft in 1976. It’s the first photograph taken on the surface of Mars and though the image itself isn’t particularly interesting, it would go on to represent the beginning of an interesting era of Mars photography in the years and decades that follow. 

The first footprint on the moon

20 July 1969 was the day that Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon and this photo was snapped to commemorate the moment.

This is a significant image, not just because of the events surrounding it, but also because the footprint will potentially still be visible in another million years as there’s no dust on the Moon that could interfere with it.  

Silvio de Gennaro/CERN29 fantastic photographic firsts image 21

First photo to be published to the Internet

In July 1992 Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, turned to Silvio de Gennaro, his colleague at CERN, and asked if he had a couple of pictures that Berners-Lee could upload to the web to test the newly created support for the Gif file format.

De Gennaro happened to have to hand a series of pictures he had taken of the CERN parody tribute group Les Horrible Cernettes. Being a fan of the group, Berners-Lee decided they would make an ideal test image and selected this frame of the girls posing to upload.

Philippe Kahn/Full Power Technologies29 fantastic photographic firsts image 22

First photo taken on a camera phone

Having a camera on our phones is now considered essential, but there was such a time when you would have to use a separate, dedicated camera if you wanted to take photos, as having one on your phone seemed farfetched.

That all changed in 1997 when Philippe Kahn created the first camera phone, which was done by literally combining a digital camera and a mobile phone, and took the first photo of his newborn daughter. He then sent the the photo wirelessly to 2,000 people around the phone.

Jean-Paul Goude for Paper29 fantastic photographic firsts image 23

First photo to “Break the Internet”

While it didn’t literally “break the Internet”, it did come under a lot of stress when Paper Magazine released naked photos of Kim Kardashian in the WInter 2014 edition.

The photos were shot by French fashion photographer Jean-Paul Goude, and Paper Magazine’s website received 50 million hits in one day, which accounted for 1 per cent of all US internet traffic that day

Kevin Systrom/Instagram29 fantastic photographic firsts image 24

First photo to be uploaded to Instagram

The very first photo to be uploaded to Instagram was this picture of a dog at a taco stand. It was taken by Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom and uploaded on 16 July 2010.

Since its inception, Instagram has gone on to become the most used social site ever. As of April 2017 the service has 700 million active users and well over 1 billion photos have been uploaded.

Ellen DeGeneras/Twitter29 fantastic photographic firsts image 25

First “super-selfie”

One of the most famous selfies ever was taken at the Oscars 2014. Ellen DeGeneres got as many celebs as she could to get in frame, including Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Glenn Close, Julia Roberts and Kevin Spacey. It was Bradley Cooper that got to press the shutter button.

Since then, the photo has become the fastest retweeted image to date, amassing more than 3.4 million retweets

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Kevin Abosh29 fantastic photographic firsts image 26

First photo of a potato to sell for more than $1m

No, we kid you not. In a world where photography has long vied to be treated equally to art, it’s hardly surprising that photographs should start selling for crazy insane amount of cash.

There have been several stories over the last few year’s of individual photographs changing hands for vast sums of money but for sheer understated elegance you can’t go beyond a potato photographed by Kevin Absoch.

For the uninitiated, American photographer Abosch specialises in celebrity portraits and has developed a cult following. It was during dinner at the artist’s Paris home in 2015, where a European businessman saw ‘Potato #345’ hanging on the wall and had to have it, regardless the cost, which was a cool million dollars.

beyonce/Instagram29 fantastic photographic firsts image 27

First photo to get over 10 million likes on Instagram

With over 700 million users, it was only a matter of time before a photo uploaded to Instagram would get over 10 million likes. It happened in February 2017 when Beyonce uploaded a photo announcing that she and partner Jay-Z were expecting twins.

The image has now gained more than 11 million likes and over 500,000 comments.

Jim Hellemn29 fantastic photographic firsts image 28

First Gigapixel photo

In 1998 underwater photographer Jim Hellemn started to photograph the Bloody Bay Wall off the Cayman Islands. Shooting for 10 days straight over 23 dives, Hellemn painstakingly captured a 20 ft by 68 foot area of the wall in 280 overlapping frames.

Post processing of the shots took 6 months with Hallemn using a drum scanner to import each frame into a Mac G4 at 4000ppi. All 18GB of RAW data got combined to create a stunning 1.77 Gigapixel final image. When the project was completed in 1999, it was believed that Hallemn had made the largest image ever created outside of the scientific community.

First photo of far side of the moon

In January 2019, China’s Chang’e 4 lunar probe made a soft touchdown on the far side of the moon. At that point, the probe snapped the first photo of that region. The image represented a number of different firsts as it was also the first time that area of the moon had been explored. 

The first photo of a Black Hole

In April 2019, another historic feat was achieved with the help of an international network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope. This system was used to capture the first image of a Black Hole. 

Although perhaps not the most impressive photo (many would complain about it being “blurry”) the image itself is actually incredible when you take a look at the facts surrounding it. The first of which is the fact that this Black Hole, known as M87, is located 53 million light-years away from Earth. It’s also a terrifying sight as it is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. It’s huge, powerful and utterly dangerous. The effort that went into capturing this image is also impressive. You can find out more about how they did it here. 

The first photo of the Sun (1845)

In 1845  Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault managed to take the very first photograph of the sun. Quite a feat for the time. 

The first use of photographs in science (1862)

In 1862, Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne was pioneering the use of electric shock techniques to map human facial expressions in the belief that they were directly linked to the soul. 

He was using photography to capture his work and this is one terrifying example. 

Writing by Max Langridge and Stuart Miles. Editing by Adrian Willings.

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