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7 Surprising Photography Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

surprising photography facts

Photography has a long and fascinating history full of interesting facts and stories. Here are 7 photography facts that may surprise you.

Fact #1 – All in the name

We use terms like photography and camera all the time, but where do these words actually come from? Photography fact number one hearkens back to the origins of many of the words we use today.

photography facts language
f/7.1 1/40 ISO 500

The phrase photography actually originates from the Greek words photos and graphé. Photos translates as “light” and graphé means “a representation by means of lines” or “drawing”. When used in conjunction, the two words come together to mean “drawing with light”. The coining of the word “photography” is generally attributed to Sir John Herschel in 1839.

The word camera, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term camera obscura, which means “dark chamber.” The term was originally used to describe a means of projecting an external scene onto a flat surface in a dark room. Sound familiar? The camera, as we know it today, evolved from the camera obscura configuration.

7 Surprising Photography Facts You Probably Didn't Know

Fact #2 The Kodak Moment

And speaking of words, did you know the term Kodak is simply made-up? Founder George Eastman favored the letter K because he believed it was a “strong, incisive sort of letter.”

Using an anagram set, Eastman and his mother came up with the Kodak name. They used three principals in devising the phrase. The word needed to be short, easy to say, and unlike any other name or association.

Kodak, or rather the term Kodak Moment, later entered the common lexicon to describe occurrences that seemed ideal for a photograph.

photography facts letter k
Eastman believed the letter K was a visually strong letter

Fact #3 – The first selfie

Self-portraits are commonplace today. But what you may not know is that the photographic selfie itself dates way back to 1839.

Robert Cornelius, a lamp manufacturer with a keen knowledge of chemistry and metallurgy, took on the task of perfecting the daguerreotype alongside chemist Paul Beck Goddard.

In 1839, Cornelius decided to turn the camera on himself, sitting for around a 10-15 minute exposure. The resulting daguerreotype depicted an off-center rendering of Cornelius – the oldest known intentionally-created photographic self-portrait.

Fact #4 – One small step

There are many earth-bound photography facts out there. But there are plenty of interesting factoids sourced from outside our planet too.

Taken in December 1972, Blue Marble was made by the crew of Apollo 17 on their way to the Moon. The first photograph that depicts the entirety of our planet from space, the picture was taken approximately 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) from the surface of the Earth. The photograph subsequently became one of the most reproduced images in history.

7 Surprising Photography Facts You Probably Didn't Know
f/8.0 1/500 ISO 100

Another interesting space-related photography fact is to do with the fate of many of the cameras that have accompanied astronauts to the Moon.

Hasselblad cameras have captured some of the most iconic images in history – including our first steps on the lunar surface. However, due to weight restrictions, not all the cameras that have embarked on Moon missions have made it back. Up to 12 Hasselblad cameras remain on our planet’s only natural satellite to this day.

Fact #5 – The first photo book

Number five on our list of photography facts is based around photobooks.

Photobooks have a rich history in photography, but Anna Atkins seems to be the one that started it all. Atkins, a British botanist, learned early photographic processes from Henry Fox Talbot. She is also one of history’s first female photographers.

photography facts macro dandelion puff
Some of the first examples of botanic photography were made by Anna Atkins. f/6.3 1/80 ISO 200

Atkins made a visual documentation of botanical specimens using the Cyanotype process. She then compiled her cyanotypes into the 1843 publication of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. Atkins produced three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1853. Today, only 17 copies of the book are known to exist.

Fact #6 – The most viewed photograph

Photographed by former National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear in 1996, Bliss is an image of rolling green hills and a semi-clouded blue sky in Sonoma County, California. Microsoft bought the rights to the image in 2000. The company then used the image as the default computer wallpaper for the Windows XP operating system.

The success of Windows XP and corresponding marketing material has led to a general consensus that Bliss is the most viewed photograph of all time. Even O’Rear himself conceded that he would probably be best known for the image saying, “anybody now from age 15 on for the rest of their life will remember this photograph.”

Fact #7 – Camera eye

The camera lens and the eye have a lot in common – leading us to the last of our photography facts.

photography facts aperture diagram

Aperture can be defined as the opening in a lens through which light passes. A camera lens can either permit or restrict the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor with the aperture blades.

In our eyes, the iris does the same job, relaxing and constricting muscles to regulate the amount of light entering the eye. When you move between bright and dark environments, the iris in your eyes expands or shrinks to alter the size of the pupil.

Interestingly, the human pupil can expand to around 7 mm. This equates to our eyes operating from around f/8.3 in very bright light to around f/2.1 in the dark.

Conclusion

From the first selfie to the eye’s aperture equivalent, there is an abundance of fun photography facts to know. Do you have a favorite photography fact? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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Megan Kennedy
Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications. More of Megan’s work can be viewed at her website or on Instagram at ejekt_