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Oldest Photographs in History

Ever wonder what people looked like 200 years ago? The oldest photographs known to man can help uncover that mystery.

By Riley Raul ReesePublished 5 years ago 5 min read

Hard as it may be to believe, the history of the camera is one that spans hundreds of years. Photography, though, has a shorter lifespan. Although cameras and camera-like devices have been around for millennia, actual film photography has only existed for 200 years.

Oddly enough, looking at the oldest photographs still intact can tell you volumes about what life was like back in the days of yore. Here are some of the most surprising and impressively historic shots that you can lay your eyes upon.

The First Photograph in History

This may not look like much, but it's a hugely historic work of art. This shot, which is depicting rooftops in France's Burgundy region, was taken in 1826 by inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.

It's considered to be the very first photograph ever taken. To date, no other photograph has come close to beating the heliograph's age. There may have been older ones, but they didn't survive.

The First Daguerrotype

One of the earliest types of photographs were daguerrotypes, and unsurprisingly, most of these photographs were taken using this photography process.

Currently, historians believe that this is one of the oldest photographs known to man. It was taken in 1837 by Louis Daguerre. It's one of the oldest shots to actually show visible items in the picture, and was proof of Daguerre's technology.

The First Photos with People

This and one other photo are both qualified for the title of being the oldest photographs to show humans in them. This cityscape was a 10-minute long exposure that was set in Paris in 1839. It was taken by none other than Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerrotype.

The human, if you look closely, is a man who was getting his shoe shined. He had to stay still in order to ensure that the shoe-shine boy would get his shoes sparkling clean. Incidentally, this is also the world's first photograph of Paris.

The World's First Selfie

You didn't think Millennials invented the selfie, did you? The first selfie was taken in 1839 by a man named Robert Cornelius. Cornelius sat in front of a camera in his Philadelphia home for about a minute, then covered the lens. He then developed the shot, making him the first of many to take a selfie.

A number of the oldest photos that featured portraiture were self-taken. This included portraits done by Louis Daguerre and other camera inventors.

The First War Photographs

There are a lot of contenders for the first war photographs, and truth be told, there's a lot of bickering when it comes to choosing the oldest photo in this genre. A lot of historians believe that Roger Fenton was the first war photographer.

His shots during the Crimean War in 1855 are considered some of the first true mid-war photographs to be published. Here, you can see Colonel Browning alongside two Russian boys in a war camp.

Shortly after, numerous war photos would be taken in the United States Civil War, marking the real beginning of widespread war photography.

The First Presidential Photo

Believe it or not, we had photos of American presidents before we had photos of war! This fellow here is President John Quincy Adams, who had his daguerrotype taken in 1843.

The photograph was taken long after his presidency, in his Massachusetts home. So, technically, this was not one of the first photos of a sitting president, as much as it was a photo of a retired politician.

Believe it or not, Adams hated his photo! He called it "hideous," and "too close to the original." I guess he had body issues?

The First Photograph of a Sitting President

Today, the tradition of presidential portraits continues on, with the most recent portraits to be added being the Obama family portrait. The oldest photographs in the collection are from the mid-19th century.

The first president to have a photograph of himself was Harrison, who took office in 1840. He died months later in 1841, shortly after this daguerrotype was taken.

The Oldest Photo of a Tornado

Storms have always fascinated photographers, which is why many of the best landscape photographers on Instagram wait for the weather to take their shots. It seems like this is actually pretty common—even back during the days when a photograph was a rare event.

Many older photographs focused on weather shots of the sun and moon. This actually was taken as a way to catalog tornados in Kansas. It was taken by A.A. Adams in 1884.

The First Aerial Photography

In a move that would make the best aerial photographers of today angrily toss their DJIs in the bin, this incredibly impressive shot was taken from a hot air balloon by James Wallace Black and Samuel Archer King. You might expect it to be from the 1890s, but you'd be wrong.

This is one of the oldest photographs in history to be taken from 2,000 feet above. It was taken in 1860 in Boston, shortly before the Civil War. An older aerial photograph by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon was rumored to exist, but has since been lost to time.

The First Royal Photo

This roughed-up daguerrotype is currently the oldest known photograph of a member of a royal family. The shot was taken by William Constable in 1842, and the mustachioed man who is sternly looking into the camera was none other than Prince Albert, future husband to Queen Victoria.

Speaking of royalty, let's take a look at what royal weddings looked like in the eyes of former paparazzi, shall we?

The First Wedding Photograph

Leave it to London to create one of the most adored practices in the wedding industry, right? To date, this particular photo is considered to be one of the oldest wedding photographs ever found. If it looks royal to you, you'd be right on the money.

This photograph was taken in 1844, recreating the royal wedding between Prince Albert and Queen Victoria in 1840. Props to her for still fitting in her wedding dress, right?


About the Creator

Riley Raul Reese

Riley Reese is comic book fanatic who loves anything that has to do with science-fiction, anime, action movies, and Monster Energy drink.

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