Photography is a subject we’re all familiar with. All those wonderful photos we’ve take over the years, using film, instant Polaroid pics that developed in front of our eyes and now digitally.
Photos document snippets of time that make up our lives. How great it is to sit around with a friend or family member, look at old photos, and reminisce about days gone by? All those memories that photos can make brand new again. It can be a very emotional experience. Can you picture your life without photos? I know I can’t. But where did it all begin?
In today’s post, we’re going to have a look at the origins of photography. It’s a hefty subject so we’re going to focus on the role that the camera obscura played in its evolution. I’m also going to introduce you to an awesome photographer who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for decades, Larry Herscovitch. His work is something you’re going to want to see for yourself.
Defining Photos and Photography
The word photography was coined in 1839 by Sir John Herschel. Its origins are from the Greek words ‘phots’ meaning light and ‘graphê’ meaning drawing. Together their meaning is ‘drawing with light’. He was also the first to refer to photographs as negative and positive.
We can define photography as the art or practice of capturing and processing photographs which are pictures made with the use of a camera. Pictures are created using film or some other light-sensitive material. Chemical treatments are used to make the images permanent. Today, photo developing isn’t used much anymore and images are stored digitally using different types of media.
Source: Tech Radar
Photography didn’t actually start with Herschel though. We need to go much further back in history for its origins, way back to antiquity. At that time in history, two critical principles were observed: the ability to create image projections with a pinhole camera and the realization that certain substances can be visibly altered by their exposure to light.
Before photos were even a spark of an idea, people were ingeniously working on concepts that became the forerunners of what we know today as the camera.
The pinhole camera, also known as camera obscura (from the Latin meaning ‘dark chamber’), is where historians believe it all began. The earliest writings about camera obscura can be found in China in the Mozi, an ancient Chinese text that dates back to the 5th century BCE.
The term camera obscura was first used in 1604 by Johannes Kepler.
Simply put, think of the camera obscura as a completely enclosed room with only a small, round window (the aperture) on one wall to let the light in.
As the light rays bounce off of objects, some of the rays bounce in through the window/aperture and project an image of the objects onto the opposite wall of the room. Because the room is dark, you can easily see the image.
When the aperture is small, the image is darker and clearer. When the aperture is larger, the image will be much brighter but less in focus.
Source: NV Photography
So, why is the image upside down and backward? That’s because light rays only move in straight lines.
Look at the diagram above with the candle. Follow the line from the tip of the candle right through the aperture to the opposite wall where the image is being projected. What do you notice? That’s right, the line goes right through from top to bottom. The top of the flame now appears at the bottom of the projected image. Think of it as a 3D cone of light rays entering the box through the aperture then exiting as an inverted 3D cone on the opposite wall of the box. Interesting, eh?
Another interesting thing about the camera obscura is that it can be any size. It can be a box you can easily hold in your hands, it can be a tent or it can be the size of an entire room! It can be any dark enclosed space with a small aperture to allow light to enter the space.
Source: Don’t Take Pictures - Camera Obscura, Catalogue, William Y. McAllister,
New York, c. 1890
A Brief History
The camera obscura has been used in many ways over the centuries. Its uses can be found as far back as 1000 CE in Egypt as well as in Arab and European cultures in places of worship. Typically, pinhole gnomons project a circle of light on a specific spot on certain days of the year, for example, on a solstice.
Source: Wikipedia - The gnomon projection on the floor of the
Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral during the solstice on 21 June 2012
From 1000 to 1400 CE, camera obscura was used for many things. It was used to study optics. It was an astronomical tool that allowed astronomers to make several new observations about the sun and other planets in our solar system. It also became a way to safely view solar eclipses without eye damage. Something you may not have thought about the camera obscura though is that it was used to project live performances for entertainment.
During 1450 to 1600 CE, many mathematicians and astronomers experimented with camera obscura, including Leonardo da Vinci, who is said to have drawn 270 diagrams of it in his notebooks. He experimented with various sizes of apertures and compared the working of the human eye to that of the camera obscura.
Source: the Research Gate - the camera obscura sketched by Leonardo da Vinci in Codex Atlanticus (1515), preserved in Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan (Italy)
The use of camera obscura changed as technology evolved and the convex lens was invented. By adding a lens to the aperture opening, the projected image was brighter and sharper. It became a drawing aid widely used by artists. These were first tent sized then later, as technology continued to advance, became more manageable sized boxes.
Source: Wiki Commons
By adding a mirror, the image could be projected upright without being inverted. It also made it possible to project the image onto a horizontal surface.
In 1827, an art critic complained about the over use of camera obscura because many paintings in that year’s Salon exhibition in Paris had been created using this device. It’s been suggested that Johannes Vermeer used this method to paint some of his most famous artworks. What do you think? (Check out the movie ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ to find out more about this theory.)
Johannes Vermeer - Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman,
'The Music Lesson' - Google Art Project
Camera Obscura to Camera
During the first half of the 19th century, camera obscura developed into what we know today as the camera.
Camera obscura boxes were used to expose light-sensitive materials to the image that was being projected into the box. The results of the image varied depending on how long the exposure to light was. A short exposure produced a slight chemical change while a longer exposure caused the image to gradually darken.
The first permanent photograph to be take was in 1825 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce using a sliding wooden camera made by Charles and Vincent Chevalier. The photograph was the view from his window and it took eight hours of exposure time to create. This image is known to be the world’s oldest surviving photograph.
Source: Wikipedia - View from the window at Le Gras (1825)
Early photography used silver-plated copper sheets covered in light-sensitive chemicals. In the mid 19th century, glass plates became the standard.
In 1885, the first roll of film was made by George Eastman. It was a flexible and made of paper.
A few years later, the first roll of film using transparent plastic began to be used. The problem with it was that the nitrocellulose material it was made of was highly flammable. By 1908, Kodak introduced a plastic film made of cellulose acetate and promoted it as ‘safety film’.
The Evolution of the Camera
To finish off, here’s a summary, in visual form, of the evolution of the camera.
Source: Facebook – Avid Learning
There is a lot more we could discuss when it comes to photography, but we’re going to cut it off here and save it for a future post. Let’s move ahead now and meet our guest artist.
3T Art Blog Guest Artist – Photographer Larry Herscovitch
Many people enjoy photography. Of those, only a limited few really have an eye for it. I’d like to introduce you to Larry Herscovitch, a popular Toronto photographer who definitely has the eye for it! And the patience. Let’s catch up with Larry and learn about him and his work.
Larry’s love of being behind a camera began at a very early age. Back in grade six, he took his first photography course where he actually learned how to develop his own black and white film. Since then, he’s been taking photographs in one form or another.
“The digital photography revolution further ignited my photographic passions."
Reservoir, Thornhill Ontario, Canada
Larry earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto and has worked in the automotive industry for most of his career. During this time, his education and love of photography continued. He’s taken a number of Continuing Education Photography courses at Humber College to help him hone his skills.
The Crack, Kilarney Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
When asked why he creates, Larry replied:
“Part of creating for me is being completely in the moment, where your focus is only on what you are doing, and nothing else. It can be a kind of meditation. Also it is a chance to create something completely your own that has never been done before, and how cool is that?”
Larry’s creative inspiration comes from all aspects of nature. Skies, clouds, storms, deserts, mountains, wildflowers, butterflies, amphibians and birds all fuel his passion.
North York, Ontario, Canada
He’s travelled extensively to get just the right shots. His favourite locations to shoot locally in Toronto are the Scarborough Bluffs and Leslie Street Spit. In North America, he prefers the American Southwest deserts and mountains, along with the West and East Coasts.
“I am always looking for that new place to explore and photograph.”
Hurricane Ridge, Washington State, USA
When it comes to subject matter, one of Larry’s favourites are storms. He’s actually quite a storm chaser! I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s really the only way to get some of those on-the-edge shots. Check out Larry’s recent blog post on Tdot Shots about storm and weather photography to find out what’s involved in chasing storms.
Leslie Street Spit, Toronto Ontario, Canada
Though Larry doesn’t look for a specific colour palette when he’s setting up a shot, but he does focus on the colours that nature provides for him.
“I am always amazed at the surreal colours that a stormy sky will take on at sunset, I also love the bright greenish look of a pond at the height of summer on a sunny day.”
Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park Montana, USA
When it comes to process, Larry has two basic approaches that he likes to use to create his best work.
1. The first one involves wandering in nature and constantly scanning his surroundings for interesting things to photograph while always keeping in mind composition and background. He uses this approach primarily for the non-magical light hours which are around sunset and sunrise.
Rosetta McClain Gardens, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
2. The second one involves sunset or sunrise; setting up on a tripod at a beautiful vista and constantly adjusting composition and camera settings for the dynamically changing light. Larry will monitor the weather very closely. He looks at Satellite photos, forecasts, radar and uses various cell phone apps so as not to miss the magic light when it happens. Then, he processes the raw files in Adobe Lightroom.
Polson Pier, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
As for equipment, Larry prefers to use a Canon 5D Mark IV and a Canon Powershot SX50 (recently replaced by the SX70).
“The Canon 5D Mark IV for it low light, low noise capabilities although the digital camera technology is always improving. Canon Powershot SX70 is a point and shoot which is very light weight and compact with a 65X optical zoom offering many convenient photographic possibilities.”
Cathedral Bluffs Park, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
I’m sure you’ll agree, Larry definitely knows his equipment and he’s fine-tuned his process to create incredible landscape and nature photography. It only makes sense that, since 2012, he’s been the recipient of many awards and has had his photography printed in major publications.
Here’s a list of a few of his accomplishments so far:
2012 Landscape Photography Magazine on line publication the final frame Glacial Serenity.
2014 Practical Photography Print magazine Niagara Falls Photo.
2014 CD Cover Photo for the Eclipse Project - Perfect Gradient Sky
2017 Canadian Geographic Ontario Wall Calendar, September photo from Killarney Top of the Crack.
2018 Canadian Geographic May/June print edition published one of my Cabot Trail Nova Scotia photos.
2019 National Geographic Published on line my best photos of February 2019 photo of the day.
2019 May photo published in Happy Trails book on biking and hiking adventures in the GTA
2019 June honourable mention in the seasoned Landscape category Humber College photography contest.
I should mention too that Larry isn’t just a photographer, but also an accomplished oil painter. He was recently awarded Best Landscape Painting in the 2021 Don Valley Artist Spring Online Show for his piece Big Sur Moonlight.
Click HERE to see more of Larry’s paintings.
Currently, Larry is semi-retired from engineering work. After the sudden death of his beloved mother in December 2020, Larry wanted to stay close to home. He vastly cut back his work hours so he could spend more time with his father who also shares Larry’s passion for photography. They take weekly photography trips together to locations in and around Toronto looking for that perfect shot and most times they find it.
East Point Park, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
At this point, Larry isn’t teaching any photography workshops of his own but he thinks it would be something he’d really enjoy doing. So, if you’re thinking about learning the ins and outs of photography, Larry recommends you check out the Continuing Education Photography courses that Humber College offers. His work is the best referral as to how passionate the instructors are about photography and about teaching it. He says it’s also a chance to meet nice people with similar interests.
Crested Butte, Colorado, USA
If you’re interested in a commission, you’ll be happy to know Larry offers commissions in both photography and painting. He currently has a commission to create a photo library for the Ontario Farmers Market which you’ll be able to find on their social media channels and in their newsletters.
To contact Larry directly, you can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can view more photography on his website at: www.ljherscovitchphotos.com
And, to keep up with Larry’s most recent photos, follow him on Instagram @larryjherscovitch
Cheticamp, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Photography is a wide reaching topic. We could only touch on a bit of it in this blog post. I do hope you enjoyed learning about the camera obscura and how is shaped the evolution of photography. Where would we be without photographs and photographers like Larry? It's something I don’t even want to think about it!
Until next time.
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