It took Joseph Niépce 10 years of failed experiments to get it right, but in the summer of 1826, the world’s first photograph was created. With the 180th anniversary of Niépce’s contribution to photography upon us this year, digital imaging leader Epson provides its take on the future of photography– from electronic paper to printing from television.
Ramon Ollé, CEO Epson Europe says, “Photography has been an important part of our society for decades. We all possess the desire to produce a photo, to show, to share and to store for years to come. The persistence and discoveries of innovators during the last 180 years has brought us to where we are today – a premium quality photo is now easily printed at home in less than a minute. There is no doubt that Joseph Niépce would have been amazed to see how easily we now obtain our photos”
A snapshot of photography
To capture the world’s first permanent image, Niépce set up a camera obscura and placed within it a pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea. After more than eight hours exposure time, the image was made visible on the plate through a mixture of lavender oil and white petroleum, which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen that had not been hardened by light.
The image depicts the view from the window of Niépce’s workroom at his estate in Gras, France. Since Niépce’s success, there have been countless others who have paved the way for what we know as photography today; a technology that has continued to filter through our everyday lives.
The 1830’s brought with it Louis Daguerre and the Daguerreotype. Using a process that produced images on silver-plated copper. By 1840 William Fox Talbot had revealed his own process to develop a photo, using paper sheets with silver chloride that could produce positive prints. His ideas were later refined and by 1901, chemical photography was established.
Black and white output was mainly used until 1935 when the first modern colour film was launched and access to photography grew from professional customers to the consumer. It was 55 years later (1990), the DCS 100 camera launched for the professional customer and marks the milestone of the first digital camera.
In 1994, there was a household adoption of computers, the introduction of digital cameras and high-qualty inkjet printers, such as the Epson Stylus Colour, (the world’s first 720dpi photo printer.) It is from here that we see the most rapid developments in photography technology in its 180-year history.
In 2003, 3.6 billion digital images were printed or stored in Western Europe. In 2006, that figure is predicted to grow to a staggering 34.6 billion images  .
Today the chemical photo processing has been largely replaced with digital photo printing and photos are easily produced from inkjet printers offering up to 5760dpi for a premium quality photograph.
“We are now much more involved in the photography process – after we have captured an image, we can change the colours or even the people in the photo and print it ourselves, making further choices such as the number of copies, size of the photo and type of paper. The most amazing part is that we can do all of this at home and even without a computer,” says Ollé.
“The move towards photo-labs for the home has played a major role in getting people more involved. You can now scan, print and copy images all without a computer. This technology has allowed us to really enjoy the benefits that digital has brought us. You don’t need to be an expert or spend hours producing a photo, as Niépce had to do only 180 years ago.”
The future is digital
As the digital revolution has occurred largely in the past ten years, it begs the question – what does the next ten years hold?
It was through the convergence of two processes – optics and chemistry – that photography was born. In the past ten years we have witnessed another convergence – between optics and information technology. Information technology replaced the chemical process in capturing and saving an image, opening up new and exciting possibilities for the printing, displaying and sharing of the digital photographic image.
Ollé says, “At Epson we believe that colourful images will be everywhere and immediately available at the touch of a button. The desire to capture special moments in our lives with photography will remain. It is simply the options we have to view the photos that will continue to expand.”
“We have already developed prototypes of electronic paper that may replace the traditional photo album. Imagine your memories moving on the page. “
“Also the way we print our photos will continue to develop, imagine printing your digital photographs directly from your TV by simply pressing a button on your remote control.”
“Our homes may feature large flexible wall displays with changing images that will ‘open-up’ the walls of our homes, creating different settings and atmospheres. You choose what you want from your digital photo library, depending on the occasion and your mood.”
Ollé says, “I have no doubt that photography of some form will always have a place in our lives. However, the technology will transform dramatically, and that provides an exciting challenge for us as digital imaging specialists – to keep pushing the boundaries. In the next 180 years, we are bound to see developments equal in magnitude to the transformation from pewter plates to pixels.”