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Graphics Technology

The First Photograph of a Human 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the fist-cheese dept.
wiredog writes "The Atlantic has a brief piece on what is likely to be the first photograph (a daguerreotype) showing a human. From the article: 'In September, Krulwich posted a set of daguerreotypes taken by Charles Fontayne and William Porter in Cincinnati 162 years ago, on September 24, 1848. Krulwich was celebrating the work of the George Eastman House in association with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Using visible-light microscopy, the George Eastman House scanned several plates depicting the Cincinnati Waterfront so that scholars could zoom in and study the never-before-seen details.'"
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The First Photograph of a Human

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  • Cat (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @07:02PM (#34044584) Homepage

    Okay, the first photo of a human, whatever.

    But now I want to see the first photo of a cat. Ideally one with a caption.

    • Re:Cat (Score:5, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @07:54PM (#34044986) Journal

      But now I want to see the first photo of a cat. Ideally one with a caption.

      Here you go, from 1905, the "What Delaying My Dinner?" cat:

      http://icanhascheezburger.com/2008/12/01/funny-pictures-oldest-ever-lolcat-found/ [icanhascheezburger.com]

    • L-old cats?
    • by w0mprat (1317953)
      Why, I'm glad you asked: http://icanhascheezburger.com/2008/12/01/funny-pictures-oldest-ever-lolcat-found/ [icanhascheezburger.com]

      I want to know what the first FAIL was. Were any photos taken in 1912 of the Titanic sinking?
  • The snaps in the article make it clear that you have to really dig to find what you're after. I was hoping for a full picture of someone. Either way, it's amazing how far we've come in terms of photography (and technology in general).

    We can afford to throw away shots. Compared to the film days, that's a big deal.
    • I was hoping for a photo of the first human .... how knows, maybe in another 100-200 years or so (mind you, gotta figure out the whole time travel thing first)
  • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @07:12PM (#34044670) Homepage

    ...is that 162 years later we take digital pictures that don't have the resolution to allow visible-light microscopy-level zooming.

    • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @07:29PM (#34044836) Homepage Journal

      You're mistaken there. I was watching CSI and visible-light microscopy-level zooming is nothing.

    • What will they think of next!

    • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @07:52PM (#34044960) Journal

      Well, the techniques are definitely different. While this photograph is defnitely very high resolution, you likely had to wait ten minutes for the image to be firmly etched into the plate. Would be really hard to take a shot of the World Cup... though you would likely get a good shot of the World Series.

      • by Moryath (553296) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @08:06PM (#34045052)
        The shift to digital is an interesting one.

        We lose a good deal of data even going to . It's possible to take a standard 35mm print (standard photo album size) and extract enough useful information during developing to make prints that look actually pretty damn good at, say, 11x17 or 24"x36" or even larger poster formats as long as the film was good quality, because it's a relatively analog photo (only constrained by the grain of the film itself).

        At the same time, for easy copying and storage space and shorter-term editing ability, the digital photo does wonders.

        The uniqueness of the first man captured on film being there because he was, quite literally, just sitting still the entire time the daugerrotype was exposed is a marvel.

        Part of the major loss with digital, however, is the amount of "thrown away" data. In the old days, photographers filming a busy scene would snap off roll after roll, then develop and check their shots later. I'm reminded of a famous basketball championship where a photographer only realized the next day, going through his rolls, that he'd captured a perfect pandemonium in which, in the midst of all the carnage, he had a perfect view of one of the coaches flipping off a ref. These days, all the other shots - which are actually just as important and form an interesting slideshow of the event - would probably just get deleted out of hand by the guy.

        The other major loss with digital is the work put into staging and arranging a shot. The "well I'll try and adjust and if it doesn't work I'll just delete and go again and photoshop the light sources later" approach just doesn't have the same artistry as someone painstakingly getting it right the first time.

        • by icebike (68054)

          (only constrained by the grain of the film itself)

          At what pixel density to we approach the finest grain film?
          I thought we were well past that already. Perhaps I misunderstood?

          But do we not also "Throw away" information when printing from film? Its such a selective process, exposure just so, or you lose the shadows. Paper also has grain. Is it fine enough?

          • by evilWurst (96042) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @09:30PM (#34045514) Journal

            With a little bit of searching, I come up with about 20 megapixels for a perfect shot on perfect 35mm film, 12 megapixels for a merely "good" shot. The best film scanners can go up to 36 bit color depth per pixel, also.

            The best DSLRs I can find on newegg today are 21 megapixel cameras in the $6000 range and claim true 14 bits per color channel (which would be 42 bit color), so yes, it seems they've passed 35mm film.

            The camera tier under that are about 18 megapixels and 22 bit color, for $800-$1300.

            Keep in mind that to get that top quality data, you'd have to set the camera to save everything raw instead of using lossy compression, so the files will be huge. (A quick, rounded calculation says 110 MB per shot). 35mm film comes in 24 shot rolls, right? So that's 2640 MB for a roll-equivalent. For kicks, looking up the biggest and fastest flash memory card, I see a 64 MB card for over $600 that claims 90 MB/sec write speed. That's equivalent to 24 rolls of film (576 shots), though, and it's reusable. Cheap 35mm film looks to be about $10 for four rolls, so $60 for the same number of shots, but I don't know what higher quality film costs and I'm not sure how to find out. Still, you've come out ahead with the memory card if you fill it more than ten times. Oh, and I left the cost (time and/or money) of developing and scanning the film.

            • by evilWurst (96042)

              I need to preview more. 64 GB flash card, not 64 MB.

            • 64 MB card for over $600 that claims 90 MB/sec write speed.

              Overkill. Also not the way RAW works.

              RAW only has one color sample per pixel. So you need to divide your numbers by 3. So more like 30MB per shot.

              As to your $600 CF Card... no. You can get a 64GB - 60MBs write speed card for $150. Cameras have buffers so you can shoot burst and fill the buffer before needing to write to card. Most cameras can't shoot beyond 3 FPS. Before your buffer fills you could shoot on burst a few seconds of shots with a 60MB card.

              You're spending about twice as much for the me

            • by Estanislao Martínez (203477) on Thursday October 28, 2010 @12:58AM (#34046460) Homepage

              With a little bit of searching, I come up with about 20 megapixels for a perfect shot on perfect 35mm film, 12 megapixels for a merely "good" shot. The best film scanners can go up to 36 bit color depth per pixel, also.

              I've seen so many different numbers given by so many people on this question that I've basically stopped believing all of them. It's a complicated issue; the general opinion, however, is that APS-C digital cameras are as good or better than 35mm film cameras in practice.

              One of the reasons the issue is complicated is because the results you get depend on how you perform the comparison. Let's assume that you take two photos of the same scene, using the same lens at the same aperture, but one photo is taken on the film camera and the other on a digital camera with the same frame size. How are you going to compare the photos? Here's three ways you could do it:

              1. You could scan the film on a film scanner, and compare the scan image file to the digital camera's file. But then the problem you have is that the film scanner might fail to reproduce all of the detail on the film. For example, many film scanners have aliasing effects that magnify the appearance of grain in some conditions.
              2. You could make a print from each of the photos, and compare the prints. The problem then is that unless you scan the film (introducing the problems detailed above), you're going to have to use two very different printing methods for the two photos; a digital print for the digital photo, and a traditional darkroom print for the film one. But now the results are a function of the print method as much as the capture type. And, it's a subjective comparison.
              3. You could put the film on a light table and examine it with a magnifier, and compare it by eye with the digital photo displayed on a monitor at the equivalent magnification relative to the sensor size. This is probably the best, but the comparison is subjective again.

              And I'm sure that somebody who knows this stuff better than me can pick this apart...

              The best DSLRs I can find on newegg today are 21 megapixel cameras in the $6000 range and claim true 14 bits per color channel (which would be 42 bit color), so yes, it seems they've passed 35mm film. The camera tier under that are about 18 megapixels and 22 bit color, for $800-$1300.

              You're assuming that the number of megapixels is an accurate representation of the amount of detail (spatial resolution) that the camera can reproduce. It is not; it's an upper bound on the amount of detail that the camera can reproduce, and nearly every digital camera falls significantly short of its sensor's resolution limit, due to the anti-aliasing filters used to eliminate color moiré artifacts, which basically blur the image at the sensor.

              But wait, there's more!

              • The amount of detail captured is as much a function of the lens as it is a function of the sensor. There's a physical upper limit on how much resolution you can get from a lens of a given aperture, and of course, lenses are also imperfect devices. Today's 18 to 24 megapixel digital cameras are actually starting to hit the upper limits on the amount of detail lenses can reproduce.
              • The 21 and 24 megapixel cameras you cite have a larger sensor than the 18 megapixel models. Larger sensors tend to lead to more detail, because the lenses are larger, and at the same print or display size, they're less demanding on the lens.
              • Nearly all digital cameras use Bayer-pattern sensors [wikipedia.org], which means that the amount of detail captured is color-dependent [ddisoftware.com]. Those 18MP cameras are actually 9MP green, 4.5MP red and 4.5MP blue.
              • by Iskender (1040286)

                I've seen so many different numbers given by so many people on this question that I've basically stopped believing all of them. It's a complicated issue; the general opinion, however, is that APS-C digital cameras are as good or better than 35mm film cameras in practice.

                I'd moderate you up if I had some points. Instead I'll reply and say that I've had the same reaction. At some point I realized that if you string together all the statements about which cameras are equivalent to which (from both film and dig

                • by mcgrew (92797) *

                  Resolutions keep rising all the time. When we have high enough resolution sensors and high enough resolution monitors, we'll be able to have holographic monitors.

                  Stereoscopy has a lot of limits. The eyes and brain (the brain is the primary sight organ) use not only stereoscopy, but rangefinding and focus (among other cues) to determine depth. And with stereoscopy, focus gets in the way, which is why it gives some people headaches.

                  Soon, digital will surpass even large format film.

              • by lee1026 (876806)

                While I agree that resolution is as much a function of the lens as it is of the sensor. We can essentially ignore the lens when we are discussing 35mm film - for the most part, modern DSLRs use the same lenses as 35mm film, so both suffer equally on the lens front. (Assuming you buy full frame, of course)

              • by Smauler (915644)

                To perform a true comparison of detail retained, you could take long range pictures of text, then see if you could decipher it by any means possible. Would this work, or am I being overly simplistic?

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              But you're still nowhere close to a Hasselblad [wikipedia.org] with 70mm film (four times the resolution of 35mm), and there were even larger films. IINM the old deguerrotypes had negatives the size of the print, which would give you incredible resolution.

          • by Eskarel (565631)

            Depends what you mean by film.

            We've already gone past the kind of detail you're likely to get out of the kind of 35mm film you used to buy and get developed down the local shop(though . However, medium format film has a dramatically larger surface area and large format film is substantially higher than that.

            Large format film is 4 inches by 5 inches for a single frame, which if you take a minute to think about it is pretty damned high quality, if somewhat impractical for regular use.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by nedlohs (1335013)

          Why would they get deleted out of hand? Keeping the digital image around is orders of magnitude easier than keeping around negatives or bothering to make prints from them and keeping those.

          I would expect the digital camera user to also just shoot and shoot and shoot and check the photos afterwards as well. With the cost of each click being far less to boot.

          Sure going through them afterwards is also going to be difficult due to the sheer volume. Whenever I dowload images from my camera they get put in YYYY-M

        • Or it's the same artistry--just being done on the computer.

          Ansel Adams dodged and burned his photos in development. It's nothing new. We aren't to the point yet where you can just "photoshop all the light sources" yet but we will. And what's wrong with that? What's the difference between doing it on location where time is of the essence and electricity and lights might be scarce instead of capturing the composition and lighting in post?

          You still have to have an eye for composition and lighting.

        • by Machtyn (759119)

          These days, all the other shots - which are actually just as important and form an interesting slideshow of the event - would probably just get deleted out of hand by the guy

          I'm not a photog pro, but I have had the (un)fortune of browsing through my family's photos (all 1000s of them over a week's reunion) and selecting the best picture from a group that were taken as a quick 3 or 5 snapshot set. Certainly, there is a chance of missing the special image... the process is tedious.

        • by IICV (652597)

          Part of the major loss with digital, however, is the amount of "thrown away" data. In the old days, photographers filming a busy scene would snap off roll after roll, then develop and check their shots later. I'm reminded of a famous basketball championship where a photographer only realized the next day, going through his rolls, that he'd captured a perfect pandemonium in which, in the midst of all the carnage, he had a perfect view of one of the coaches flipping off a ref.

          What? That doesn't make any sense

          • But I've seen plenty of press snappers scanning through their pictures at the event and presumably deleting the ones they don't want. I think GP's point is that those not-so-desirable shots can be removed just minutes after they were taken, and never find their way back to the picture editor. In film days, every snap would be viewed by the editor, who may have liked one that the snapper thought was worthless.

            Of course this wouldn't apply to the amateur, who will purge their collection much later, if at all
            • by IICV (652597)

              I seriously doubt that they're deleting the ones they don't want. Like I said, there's no reason to do that due to space considerations, and like you said, on those tiny little screens they might miss a small detail that would be obvious to someone on a big screen. They're probably just looking through them to see what they've gotten and haven't gotten.

        • by sznupi (719324)

          It's possible to take a standard 35mm print (standard photo album size) and extract enough useful information during developing to make prints that look actually pretty damn good at, say, 11x17 or 24"x36" or even larger poster formats as long as the film was good quality, because it's a relatively analog photo (only constrained by the grain of the film itself)

          People can't tell the difference between 13, 8 and 5 megapixels at 16"x24" [nytimes.com]

        • Maybe I'm in the minority, but I don't delete my photos. Even if they are blurry and completely not suitable for framing or even posting on a website, I keep them. I have a 1TB drive. That's plenty of space for all of the digital photos I've taken since 1999 (when I got my first digital camera). (My digital photos take up about 250GB.)

    • by Animaether (411575) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @08:05PM (#34045046) Journal

      Speak for yourself when you say 'we'.

      People who used daguerrotypes weren't exactly exactly numbering in the millions... the camera, plates, development equipment, etc. required cost a pretty penny even back then.

      So let's take an objective look at things... I don't know which size that particular photo was, but one site on the interwebs lists as the largest daguerrotype plate a 6.5 x 8.5 inch plate. That's -huge-, but let's roll with it.

      Now let's see what other photography equipment you're not likely to find with a typical tourist... how about a LEAF APTUS-II digital back? It's only 53.7mm x 40.3mm and has a resolution of 10,320 x 7,752 pixels.

      Let's blow that sensor up to the size of that plate. The aspects don't quite match.. Losing a bit off the length there you're left with 52.7x40.3mm and 10,127 x 7,752 pixels.

      So now on 8.5" we've got 10,127 pixels or ~1,191.4DPI and on 6.5" we've got 7,752 pixels or ~1192.6DPI.

      Let's call it a round 1190DPI. I'd say that's pretty tight and you'd need at least a magnifying glass to see details no larger than a few pixels - which the blobby messes from the photograph discussed can pretty much be labeled as. (Note that the two photos in the article linked to are different photos - the detail from the photo referenced in the 'microscopy' section can be found on the original page: http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2010/10/22/130754296/first-photo-of-a-human-being-ever [npr.org] )

      That's not even counting large format digital camera backs or -scanning- digital backs (sure, exposure sucks, but daguerrotypes weren't exactly 1/800s wonders either - the second image was a 10-minute exposure) that will give you a much greater resolution yet.

      And all that without the fuss and nasty chemicals and a result you can copy again and again and physically handle any which way you want (other than setting it on fire and electrocuting it, I suppose) without fear of smudging off the exposed elements, etc.

      Then again.. most people don't care to have that much resolution in the first place. The primary mode of display these days is on the internet. While that's gone beyond the 800x600 'e-mail size' photos, by far the most gallery sites still do not post a full 5MP picture, never mind the 10MP that's just about standard now, unless it's a site specifically for great photos or panorama photos (which you most certainly would need a microscope for if printed out at the size specified above.).
      In that respect.. it certainly is interesting.. and makes me wonder why so many people still buy into the megapixel race.

      • by grcumb (781340)

        Well put. A friend of mine who's worked extensively as a war photographer as well as other things once told me [imagicity.com] that, "Photography hasn’t significantly improved since the early years. It’s just become more convenient.

    • Anyone else imagine this guy in his office just sitting there going "Enhance" [youtube.com]

    • Kind of unfair though. Our sensors are about 6cm^2. These were shot on 350cm^2 films. That's considerably larger. Take a modern 21megapixel camera and scale it up and you would have a 1.2 Gigapixel camera.

      Also the shots were extremely long exposure (and black and white). If you built a panoramic head for this 1.2Gigapixel camera and shot a panoramic series of shots over 3-4 seconds you could probably get at least 5 shots in. I would bet that 5.2Gigapixels is more resolution than any of these photos

    • You can't do visible light microscopy on most film images either, even back then. That requires large formats and/or extremely specialized film.

    • by necro81 (917438)

      we take digital pictures that don't have the resolution to allow visible-light microscopy

      Of course you can't - it's a digital image stored on ethereal media. Were you planning on taking a microscope to the SD card or something?

      Get me closer - I can't see the bits yet! Let me tune in the focus better ... and ... Yes! Oooooh, I think I see a ... 1! and that right there is surely a ... 0!

      (I understand and sympathize with your point, but the opportunity was too good to let slide)

  • No, it isn't. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Monkey_Genius (669908) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @07:13PM (#34044692)
    • sadly, that photograph was also in the linked article, but the submitter only read the first half...
      • by Y-Crate (540566)

        Yeah, about a year and a half ago I sat through a lecture on the 1838 photo. We discussed the presence of the two people on the street corner, and how it was such an unexpected treat given the ridiculous exposure times back then (they were measured in minutes). This isn't news.

    • Yeah I saw that on bb last night. I wondered why Daguerre picked such a boring scene with only one person? I suppose the guy getting his shoes cleaned was friendly to long exposures.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by erstazi (1304229)

        It's likely that this was a busy street at the time, but because the image would have taken several minutes to form, only the figure standing still -- getting his boots shined? -- shows up.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I saw six people. There['s a guy standing outside a door, and what looks like children in a window (there's a high resolution image at wikipedia you can blow up in an image editor)

    • Isn't that picture already in the fine article?
    • I downloaded this image so I could zoom in. There appears to be a child's face peering out from the upper left window of the building in the foreground. (That or Alfred E. Neuman is mooning us!) Also--to the right of the man getting his shoe shinned--isn't that a person sitting at a table?
  • It's not the first photo of a human. This was on boing boing a couple days ago. Probably digg, reddit, and who knows where else too. There is a dageurreotype by Daguerre [wordpress.com] from 1838 with a person in it.

    It's o.k. to be a couple days behind on this stuff, but dang, to still be repeating this that were shown to be incorrect a while back is sad.

  • I came hoping for boobs and left disappointed.
  • by bhcompy (1877290) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @07:26PM (#34044804)
    This is so old it's in my Art textbook from my Art 110 GE class.
    • by Scorpinox (479613)

      I was about to post the same thing. I'm taking an online art class and the photograph is printed in the book, "Preble's Art Forms 9th Edition". I do find it fascinating how old news can suddenly jump into popularity all over the web.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    wasnt that supposed to be the first photograph of a human made in the 1200s?

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      1. It's fake
      2. Photographs require light, note the photo part of the word.
      3. If the shroud of turin was what it was claimed to be it would have to have been made almost 1200 years before 1200 AD.

      • by moortak (1273582)
        It may be a fake in the sense of not the burial shroud of Jesus, but it is real in the sense of an artistic and historic artifact. There was a popular theory kicking about for a while that the shroud was formed by a very primitive photographic process. The idea is covered on the wiki.
        • by Jesus_666 (702802)
          Right now upon hearing "primitive photographic process" and "imprints the rough silhouette of a human onto fabric", the only thing I can think of is a nuclear explosion. I don't know why but for some reason I think the bible would have been more awesome if the Romans had nuked Jesus.

          27 And Pontius Pilatus said: 28 "I say we shall smite him with nuclear weapons from atop the Mount Zion. 29 It is the only way to be sure."
  • The guy mentioned in the summary is Robert Krulwich, an NPR correspondent and one half of the wonderful radio show Radiolab [radiolab.org].

    They usually look at the science behind all sorts of things, from psychology to physics to music. The production quality is fantastic, the content is almost always thought-provoking, and the hosts have an interplay that is often humorous while remaining informative. I've linked to several of their shows in the past when they were relevant to the discussion.

    If you have a curious mind

  • if it were a busy street, the presence of people would have reduced the average light creating visible darkness on the road. there are no dark patches or streaks so it was probably an empty street after all.

    • by Gerafix (1028986)
      How many long exposure photographs have you took? That's not how it works. Well in one scenario you'd be correct but people would have to be packed onto that street like sardines.
  • If you scroll to the bottom of the article, somebody spent some time colorizing and tagging various parts of the photo:

    http://www.lunarlog.com/colorized-boulevard-du-temple-daguerre/ [lunarlog.com]

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