Picture perfect: photographic innovations

Since 1839, photography has revolutionized the arts as much as it has technology. Its history is punctuated by a myriad of varied inventions, with new equipment and processes (most of which have been patented) continually emerging. Find out more…

Les petits papiers de Gustave by Jean Baptiste Gustave LE GRAY. Brevet d'invention déposé le 08.12.1851 pour un genre de papier préparé pour la photographie (1BB12738).Original Source: archives INPI


In the middle of the 19th century, photography was in its infancy. Certain individuals devoted themselves to developing the practice, while people specializing in other fields of study developed this new medium for their own purposes. Already a painter and photographer of renown at the time, Gustave Le Gray developed a new kind of paper negative, which he used in 1851 when he took part in the Mission Héliographique ('heliographic mission'), a photography project aimed documenting the architectural heritage of France.

La terre vue du ciel by Gaspard Félix TOURNACHON dit NADAR. Brevet d'invention déposé le 23.10.1858 pour un système de photographie aérostatique (1BB38509).Original Source: archives INPI

When seeking a method of carrying out topographical surveys, the French photographer and artist Nadar discovered aerial photography. Attached to the basket of a hot-air balloon, his device took the first birds-eye-view shots of Paris.

A la loupe ! Photographie et astronomie by Léon FOUCAULT. Brevet d'invention déposé le 17.03.1862 pour un héliostat de grande dimension applicable aux observations astronomiques et aux opérations photographiques dites de grandissement (1BB53377).Original Source: archives INPI

French physicist Léon Foucault developed the "heliostat," a device used for observational astronomy from which photographic enlargements could be produced.

Souriez ! by André Adolphe Eugène DISDÉRI. Brevet d'invention déposé le 27.11.1854 pour des perfectionnements en photographie, notamment appliqués aux cartes de visites, portraits, monuments, etc. (1BB21502).Original Source: archives INPI


During the Second French Empire, photography was sometimes criticized and often mocked. Despite this, it was becoming increasingly popular, with more and more photographers opening their own studios. By the end of the 19th century, people of all backgrounds had had their photo taken, leading society to wonder if photography would soon eliminate the notion of social class.

On ne bouge plus ! by Oliver SARONY. Brevet d'invention déposé le 21.12.1865 pour un appui-tête perfectionné (1BB69796).Original Source: archives INPI

Regardless, photography studios were gradually amassing the required equipment to take all types of photos, from the variety of accessories needed to meet the staging requirements of an increasingly demanding clientele to more specific apparatus for long exposures.

La photochromie by Félix Alexandre TESTUD DE BEAUREGARD. Brevet d'invention déposé le 17.11.1857 pour la photochromie (1BB34351).Original Source: archives INPI


From the invention of photography, even as enhanced, hand-painted images were produced, the possibility of direct shooting in color was often considered. As early as 1857, Testud de Beauregard invented photochromism, a process involving the tinting of photographic prints using different chemical mixtures. The discoveries made in the field of chemistry meant that photographic techniques progressed considerably throughout the 19th century.

La photolithographie by Léon VIDAL. Brevet d'invention déposé le 12.03.1874 pour un procédé de photolithographie en couleurs (1BB102415).Original Source: archives INPI

Later, Leon Vidal invented a trichromatic printing process which consisted of superimposing 3 monochrome prints to obtain a polychrome print.

La photographie des couleurs by Louis Arthur DUCOS DU HAURON et André QUINSAC. Brevet d'invention déposé le 08.09.1883 pour un procédé pour la réalisation de la photographie des couleurs, héliochromie Ducos du Hauron, par la phototypie (1BB157506).Original Source: archives INPI

It was Ducos du Hauron who finally mastered color photography. The Lumière brothers later invented and commercialized autochrome, which originated from a process used for a different color photography method. Ducos du Hauron and Charles Cros are considered to be among the fathers of color photography.

Excursion photographique by Charles Louis CHEVALIER. Brevet d'invention déposé le 11.10.1854 pour un appareil dit euphotographe (1BB21045).Original Source: archives INPI


As inventions progressed, the devices became simpler and the equipment became easier to use. The processes were refined and became more widespread. The various products needed also became more accessible. As a consequence, photography could be practiced outside the studio and the prospects of those who practiced it expanded.

Promenade photographique by Gaëtan MATTIOLI. Brevet d'invention déposé le 03.11.1891 pour un système de pied mobile pour vélocipèdes etc. dit : pied-photo-vélocipédique(1BB217178).Original Source: archives INPI

Amateur photographers of varying levels of expertise organized themselves into associations, societies or photo clubs: it was a time of excursions, traveling and the birth of reportage photography.

You press the button, we do the rest ! by George EASTMAN. Brevet d'invention déposé le 04.09.1888 pour des perfectionnements dans les chambres noires photographiques (1BB192778).Original Source: archives INPI

Then, in 1881, George Eastman founded Kodak. He designed and industrialized the first portable camera and made it widely available, giving everyone the ability to capture the world as they see it from that moment onwards.

La chronophotographie by Georges Emile Joseph DEMENŸ. Brevet d'invention déposé le 10.10.1893 pour un appareil destiné à prendre des séries d'images photographiques à des intervalles de temps égaux et très rapprochés sur une pellicule sensible (1BB233337).Original Source: archives INPI


Long before the invention of photography, no doubt since the camera obscura, scholarly minds were searching for solutions to move on from still images to animated images. The development of photographic processes and cameras allowed these dreams to come true. People were interested in animated images for a wide variety of reasons: Some people had a scientific interest in animation, such as Georges Demenÿ and Étienne-Jules Marey who studied human locomotion.

Photographier le mouvement by Edward James MUGGERIDGE dit Eadweard MUYBRIDGE. Brevet d'importantion déposé le 17.07.1878 pour des perfectionnements apportés dans la prise des photographies instantanées d'objets en mouvement (1BB125692).Original Source: archives INPI

Eadweard Muybridge was also a pioneer of the technique known as chronophotography and used hundreds of shots taken almost simultaneously to study movement, particularly that of horses.

Vers l'image animée by Auguste et Louis LUMIÈRE. Brevet d'invention déposé le 13.02.1895 pour un appareil servant à l'obtention et à la vision des épreuves chronophotographiques (1BB245032).Original Source: archives INPI

As for the Lumière brothers, were they guided by anything other than joy and the need to discover? In any case, their invention laid the foundations of cinema and opened a new path in the world of pictorial art.

Credits: Story

Conception et réalisation : service Archives, INPI archives@inpi.fr
en collaboration avec Amandine GABRIAC archives@inpi.fr

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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