Teachers Lesson Plans

Drawing With Light


5th century BC

  • Chinese philosopher Mo Ti observes that light creates an inverted image when it passes through a pinhole in a screen.


4th century BC

  • Greek philosopher Aristotle observes images of the partially eclipsed sun projected on the ground as sunlight travels through the gaps between the leaves of a tree.


10th centuryAD

  • Arab scientist Alhazen observes that an image of the sun can be produced in a darkened room by light shining through a small hole in one wall.


  • Italian artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci observes that when light rays from illuminated objects pass through a small hole into a dark room, an image of the objects is formed on a piece of paper placed at some distance from the hole. The image is in colour, reduced in size, and upside down.


  • Italian physician and professor of mathematics Girolamo Cardano mentions the use of a lens in conjunction with the camera obscura.


  • Italian scientist Giovanni Battista della Porta publishes Magie naturalis (Natural Magic). This book makes the camera obscura widely known.


  • German astronomer Johannes Kepler coins the term “camera obscura.”


  • Portable box and tent cameras obscura are widely used by artists as drawing aids.

Athanasius Kircher
Large portable camera obscura (1646)
Austin (Texas),
Gernsheim Collection© Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
The Univerty of Texas at Austin


  • Thomas Wedgwood produces sunprints but is unable to fix the images.


  • Joseph Nicéphore Niépce makes the first photograph. It is a view from his workroom window, fixed on a pewter plate. The exposure takes eight hours. Wedgwood calls his process heliography.

Joseph Nicéphore
Niépce View from the Window at Le Gras 1826
Heliograph 20.3 x 25.4 cm
© Gernsheim Collection
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
The University of Texas at Austin


  • William Henry Fox Talbot makes salted paper prints. He calls them photogenic drawings. His early attempts are unstable.


  • Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre makes his first daguerreotype.


  • The daguerrotype is announced to the public. It is the first commercial photographic process.
  • Talbot makes photogenic drawings that are increasingly stable and sensitive.
  • Sir John Herschel discovers sodium thiosulphate (?hypo?), a chemical for fixing photographs. He also coins the terms "photography," "negative," "positive," and "snapshot."
  • Hippolyte Bayard makes direct positive images on paper.

William Henry Fox Talbot
Articles of Glass (before January 1844)
Salted paper print from a calotype negative


  • Talbot produces the first chemically developed negative. He calls it a calotype.
  • The daguerreotype and calotype processes thrive until the mid 1850s. They are replaced by the wet-collodion.process.


  • Talbot patents the calotype process.


  • Talbot publishes installments of The Pencil of Nature.

William Henry Fox Talbot
Doorway at Lacock Abbey: The Ladder (April 1844)
Salted paper print


  • Hermann Carl Eduard Biewend produces many beautiful daguerreotypes. They include portraits, landscapes and architectural views.

Hermann Carl Eduard Biewend
Hermann and Mathilde (née Biewend) Koch and Children (including Robert Koch) with Helene Biewend and Children at Clausthal


  • Frederick Scott Archer publishes the wet-collodion process.


  • James Clerk Maxwell makes the first full-colour image.

Louis Ducos du Hauron
Trichrome, early experiments (1869)
© Société française de Photographie, Paris


  • Louis Ducos du Hauron proposes a number of methods for making colour photographs.


  • Richard Leach Maddox describes the use of a gelatin emulsion on glass – the “dry plate” negative.


  • George Eastman begins to manufacture gelatin dry plates at his factory. The plates are glass.


  • Eastman invents gelatin roll film.


  • George Eastman’s first Kodak camera is marketed. Targeted to amateurs, the slogan is “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.” The camera contains enough roll film to make one hundred 2½ inch diameter prints.


  • Pictorialism dominates photography.
  • Pinhole photography is popular.


  • The Kodak brownie box camera is introduced.


  • Alfred Stieglitz forms the Photo-Secession group, to promote photography as a fine art.


  • Stieglitz opens the "291" gallery in New York to showcase the work of the Photo-Secession.

Alfred Stieglitz
View of the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (Camera Work, April 1906)
© Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
The Univerty of Texas at Austin


  • The Lumière brothers market the Autochrome plate, the first commercially marketed material for making colour photographs.


  • The Photo-Secession disbands.


1920 ca

  • Straight photography replaces pictorialism.
1920's California
  • Edward Weston's mature style begins to emerge.

Edward Weston
Shell and Rock Arrangement
1931, printed before July 1969
gelatin silver print


  • Man Ray revives the practice of making photograms, which he calls Rayographs.

Man Ray
Rayograph (1922)
© Man Ray Estate / ARS (New-York) SODRAC (Montreal)


  • The first flash bulb is introduced on the market.


  • Harold Edgerton pioneers the use of strobe flash illumination to make stop-action photographs.


  • The Group f/64 is formed. Edward Weston is a founding member.


  • The First Canadian International Salon of Photographic Art is held, at the National Gallery of Canada.


  • Kodachrome film is introduced on the market. It is the first practical colour film.


  • Yousuf Karsh publishes his first book, Faces of Destiny.

Yousuf Karsh
Martin Luther King (1929-1968)
gelatin silver print
© 1962 Yousuf Karsh


  • Edwin Land introduces the first Polaroid Land Camera and his “one-step photography” that made instant prints a reality.


  • Edward Steichen organizes The Family of Man exhibition of photographs for the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.


  • Conceptual artists and performance artists begin to use photographs as a means of materializing their concepts or recording their performances. This is often identified as “photo-based art.”
late 1960s
  • Pinhole photography, cyanotypes, gum bichromate prints and many other forms of “hand-made” photography enjoy a revival.
  • RC photographic paper – paper made waterproof by a polyethylene coating on both sides -- replaces uncoated baryta paper for most commercial printing applications.

Manfred Buchheit
Dodd’s Lane, Torbay, Newfoundland (1981)
Collection of the artist/CMCP Education study collection
© Manfred Buchheit


  • Polaroid markets Polacolor, the first material for making instant colour photographs.


  • Edward Burtynsky discovers his mature theme, the industrialized landscape.


  • Eric Renner founds the Pinhole Resource.

Eric Renner
John Wood at Penland
gelatin silver print


  • The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography is founded and affiliated with the National Gallery of Canada. It collects the best of documentary and art photography produced by Canadians.
  • Burtynsky founds Toronto Image Works.
  • Renner begins publishing Pinhole Journal.


  • The Dycam Model 1 is introduced on the market. It is the world’s first completely digital consumer camera.

1990's worldwide

  • The digital revolution in photography begins.


  • Abelardo Morell begins to use the camera obscura in his work.