What is Daguerreotype?

The French inventor, physicist and painter Louis Daguerre (1787–1851) unveiled in 1839 a device that allowed images to be recorded through a chemical procedure. This device was known as a daguerreotype.


The term is used to name both the machine and the image obtained with it. It is also used as a synonym for daguerrotipia, which is the name given to the technique in question.

Louis Daguerre

Daguerre continued the work initiated by another French scientist: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833). To obtain a photograph, the daguerreotype used a silver copper plate that was exposed to iodine vapour to make it photosensitive. Then, with mercury vapors, silver and mercury amalgams were generated that gave rise to the revealed image.

In addition to all that has been stated, we have to make known that at the time Daguerre publicly released the daguerreotype was in August 1839. He did it at the French Academy of Sciences with great repercussions.

It should also be known that, with the passage of time and with the backing of his brother-in-law, this illustrious character managed to put up for sale a camera of his own invention that responded to the name of Daguerréotype, which had the peculiarity of carrying his signature.

Thanks to this camera and the pace achieved by the aforementioned Gaul, progress was made in leaps and bounds in the world of photography. Thus, among other things, the first magazine on photography that was created was in 1850 and was titled “The Daguerreian Journal”.

In the same way, it is interesting to know that, thanks to the daguerreotype and the aforementioned camera, in 1842 the photographer Carl F. Stelzner managed to obtain the first photograph of an event. In particular, it was the image of a fire that hit a neighborhood in the city of Hamburg.

Of course, it should not be forgotten that the daguerreotype was used within the scientific field. A good example of this is that the Soleil optician created, in 1839, a microscope-daguerreotype.

The daguerreotype is considered the first successful process in history to take photographs. However, the exposure time to capture the image, the impossibility of obtaining copies, the fragility of the photo and the contamination generated by mercury vapour were some of the drawbacks presented by the device.

At that time there were also other photographic procedures besides the daguerreotype. Among them was the calotype, created by the British William Fox Talbot. In this case, paper treated with gallic acid and silver nitrate was used: the images it captured were fixed by sodium hyposulphite.

The advantages of the calotype over the daguerreotype were that it required a shorter exposure time, it was less heavy and the products used to reveal and fix it were not so toxic.

The advancement of techniques such as the daguerreotype and the calotype allowed, over the years, the development of modern photography, which gave a new technological leap from the creation of digital photography.


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