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7 Fascinating Photography Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Fascinating photography facts you probably didn't know

Looking for fun, compelling, or even weird photography facts? You’ve come to the right place.

Photography has a long and fascinating history full of interesting events, items, and people. In this article, we share seven photo-related facts that are guaranteed to impress, including tidbits on cameras, photographic words, the most-viewed image ever created, and more.

Let’s dive right in!

1. It’s all in the name

We use terms like “photography” and “camera” all the time, but where do these words actually come from? And when were they created? Our first photography fact hearkens back to the origins of many of the words we photographers use today.

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

And the word “camera”? It comes from the Latin term “camera obscura,” which means “dark chamber.” The term originally described a means of projecting an external scene onto a flat surface in a dark room or box, which was then used to aid painters with perspective and scale.

photography facts camera obscura

In fact, the camera as we know it today actually evolved from the camera obscura configuration. Early photographers simply placed light-sensitive materials at the back of a camera obscura, then waited as an image was produced. Over time, cameras became more sophisticated and portable, but elements of the original camera obscura still remain!

2. “Kodak” is a nonsense word

Speaking of words, did you know the term “Kodak” is simply made up? The company founder, George Eastman, favored the letter “K” because he believed it was a “strong, incisive sort of letter.”

photography facts letter k

Then, using an anagram set, Eastman and his mother came up with the name “Kodak.” When devising the phrase, they used three principles:

  1. The word needed to be short
  2. The word needed to be easy to say
  3. The word needed to be unlike any other name or association

As Kodak cameras became more popular, the word “Kodak” – or rather the phrase “Kodak moment” – was used to describe occurrences that seemed ideal for a photograph.

Unfortunately, despite its initial success, Kodak’s popularity didn’t last. In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy; in the years that followed, Kodak sold its photography patents and shed its camera business. And while you can still find Kodak cameras on the shelves, they aren’t made by Kodak; they’re simply part of a licensing deal that takes advantage of the Kodak name.

3. The first selfie?

Self-portraits are commonplace today; we even have selfie sticks and front cameras for easy framing! But did you know that the photographic selfie dates way back to 1839 (the year in which photography was first unveiled to the world)?

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

In 1839, Cornelius decided to turn the camera on himself. While the daguerreotype created surprisingly sharp images, exposure times were very long, at least initially – so Cornelius was forced to sit perfectly still for around 10 to 15 minutes. The resulting daguerreotype depicted an off-center rendering of Cornelius, the oldest-known, intentionally created photographic self-portrait.

4. The Blue Marble

While there are many Earth-focused photography facts, you can also have plenty of photo-knowledge fun with facts from extra-terrestrial adventures.

Taken in December 1972, The Blue Marble was captured by the crew of Apollo 17 on their way to the Moon. The picture was taken a whopping 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) from the surface of the Earth and is the first photograph to depict the entirety of our planet from space. The photograph subsequently became one of the most reproduced images in history; it also inspired and was used by countless activists in the environmental movement.

photography facts moon

And just so you can have a bit of extra space-photography knowledge: Do you know what happens to cameras that are taken to the moon?

Hasselblad cameras have captured some of the most iconic images in history, including astronauts’ 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 to Earth. To this day, up to 12 Hasselblad cameras remain on the Earth’s only natural satellite!

5. Photobooks are old

When was the first photobook released? 1950? 1900? 1880? Nope!

Photobooks have a rich history in photography, and Anna Atkins, a British botanist, seems to have started it all. Atkins learned early photographic processes from Henry Fox Talbot (who, incidentally, is the inventor of the calotype, one of the original photographic processes and rival of the daguerreotype). Atkins is also one of history’s first female photographers.

photography facts macro dandelion

Atkins documented botanical specimens using the blue-tinted cyanotype process. She then compiled her cyanotypes into the 1843 publication of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. From 1843 to 1854, Atkins produced several volumes of her Cyanotype Impressions series. Only 17 copies of the work still exist.

6. The most-viewed photograph ever

I’ve seen it! You’ve seen it! We’ve all seen it! Captured by former National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear in 1996, Bliss depicts rolling green hills and a semi-clouded blue sky in Sonoma County, California. In 2000, Microsoft bought the rights to the image; the company then used the image as the default computer wallpaper for the Windows XP operating system.

The success of Windows XP and its corresponding marketing materials has led most researchers to agree that Bliss is the most-viewed photograph of all time. Even O’Rear himself conceded that he would probably be best known for the shot, claiming that “anybody now from age 15 on for the rest of their life will remember this photograph.”

Despite its surreal appearance, Bliss isn’t manipulated. O’Rear captured the photo using a medium-format camera on film. He said: “I think that if I had shot it with 35mm, it would not have nearly the same effect.”

7. Cameras aren’t eyes…right?

Here’s your final fascinating photography fact:

The camera lens and the eye have a lot in common – more than you might realize!

You see, all lenses have an aperture, the diaphragm through which light passes. Therefore, a camera lens can restrict the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor by adjusting the diameter of the aperture opening. Smaller apertures, such as f/8, let in very little light, while wider apertures, such as f/1.4, let in lots of light:

photography facts aperture diagram
The wider the aperture, the more light that hits the camera sensor. Wider apertures also produce a narrower depth of field and hence stronger background blur effects.

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

Interestingly, the human pupil expands to around 7 mm in diameter. This equates to around f/2.1, though the pupil narrows down to around f/8.3 in very bright light.

Fascinating photography facts: final words

photography facts language

Well, there you have it:

Seven photographic facts to impress family, friends, and more! As you can see, photography is full of amazing facts; if you have the time, see if you can share them all.

Now over to you:

Do you have a favorite photography fact? A fun fact I haven’t mentioned in this article? Share it 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 MK_photodiary.

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