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What is a daguerreotype and how does it work?

Qué es un daguerrotipo

Today we will know what a daguerreotype is and everything related to it, a device that started photography as we know it today.

For all of us who know and love photography, it is important to know the history that has led us to have the possibility of even taking pictures from our mobile phones and how it all started.

What is a daguerreotype?

daguerreotype photography

The daguerreotype is a device that allows taking photographs in a completely different way than what we know today.

This device was developed and improved by a French physicist and inventor named Louis Daguerre in 1839.

The capture of images was done through a chemical process in which a silver or copper surface (where the image would be captured) and other elements participated.

The invention had some problems and shortly thereafter it would be forgotten with the appearance of other devices that, for example, presented greater facilities when reproducing previously taken images.

Now that you know what a daguerreotype is, we can learn a little more about how these devices work.

How does a daguerreotype work?

daguerreotype photography

The operation of the daguerreotype is really interesting and striking and we will get to know it below.

It is important to understand that the process changed over the years and that each modification made the process a little better and safer.

The first thing you need for a daguerreotype to work and replicate an image is a very well polished silver or copper surface without any unevenness (so that the image can be replicated well and smoothly).

This surface on which the image would be developed had to be covered with iodine vapors in order to have the necessary sensitivity to react with light and reflect the image without problems.

Finally, the image had to be exposed to light and developed with mercury vapor so that the image could be seen without problems.

After finishing the process, it was essential to cover the surface with a glass, since direct contact with air could quickly damage the photograph.

Over the years the process improved a bit and with the participation of other chemical substances it was achieved that in just 1 minute the photographs taken were developed without any problem.

What were the drawbacks of taking portraits with a daguerreotype?

daguerreotype photography

Photos could not be copied

One of the big problems and reasons why the daguerreotype quickly disappeared from the market is that the photographs taken had no way of being replicated, that is, each photo taken by this device was totally unique.

In short, to obtain another image just like the first one, the photo should be taken again (and photography lovers know that this is not always possible and that there are photos that can hardly be taken again).

Mercury and its vapor is highly harmful to health

In Daguerre’s time, it is possible that he and all the experts who worked with the daguerreotype had no idea of the damage that was being done by using mercury vapor in their revelations (a substance highly harmful to health).

This is a huge disadvantage of the first widespread photographic device in history.

The photograph obtained was really weak and could be easily damaged

If the image was not placed directly on a sturdy glass and was very careful with it, it is likely that it could be damaged and there would be no way to recover it.

Clearly this is a problem because it can be a bit difficult to have this kind of care with all the photographs taken.

Image is reversed

An interesting and fun fact about the Louis Daguerre daguerreotype is that the images or photographs taken by this device were inverted as if we were looking at a mirror.

At that time, this generated a lot of confusion when trying to find some places that had been seen in photographs and that when seen in person were somewhat different (in the image they were flipped).

The influence of the daguerreotype on photography as we know it today

daguerreotype photography

Despite the fact that the operation of this device is totally different from the cameras today, the influence of the daguerreotype on the camera is enormous and clearly what we have today has a lot to do with that very good and unexpected invention of Daguerre.

It is possible that this inventor never thought that his invention could influence so much the society of that time and that it would reach what it is today and that with technological advances we could take photographs in seconds from a device that we carry in our pocket to take calls, send messages and much more.

Clearly his invention and his ingenuity got many people interested in a great novelty: being able to portray and take images of landscapes, streets, buildings and even themselves.
Which caused many more people to come up with new ways of taking photographs and little by little to invent new devices to make this process much easier.

Which caused many more people to come up with new ways of taking photographs and little by little to invent new devices to make this process much easier.

As we mentioned before, the success of the daguerreotype in photography did not last long, it was presented in 1839 and only a few years later (in approximately 1850) it would be an almost obsolete device thanks to the appearance of other processes such as the one used by the calotype.

Every lover of photography should know how this thing began that captures us so much and that makes us spend hours and hours looking for the perfect photograph, the right moment to record something that remains in history as an image of an event, of something that has passed and we want to watch forever.

Thanks to Daguerre, many moments have been marked in images throughout history and we can relive things that we would only imagine otherwise.

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