9 Analog Photography Techniques You Need to Know

Note: Excerpted from Artsy.

“Camera obscura” literally means “dark chamber” in Latin and it describes the first known imaging device, which can be traced back to antiquity. The camera obscura, which is the most basic manifestation of a modern-day camera—a device with a hole and a surface on which to reflect and capture an image—holds to the same technical principle as the pinhole camera, but on a much larger scale. An inverted image passes through a small hole and is projected onto a surface inside a darkroom or tent.

The camera obscura gained popularity in the 16th century when the darkroom evolved into a portable box that included a lens and a mirror so that the image could be visibly reflected within it. Artists such as da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Vermeer are believed to have used the device to aid in an accurate depiction of light and shadow; scientists used the technology to observe the cosmos; and it led to the development of the variations on the camera that we know today.

Below, we capture 9 analog photography techniques used to create images with these early cameras.


Nicéphore Niépce, Point de vue du Gras, 1825 or 1827. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In the early 1800s, French inventor Nicéphore Niépce experimented with chemically treated metal plates, which he placed on the back of the camera obscura’s box-projected surface, ultimately recording the oldest permanent image: View from the window at Le Gras (1826-1827). Taken from a window overlooking the French countryside—and across some grainy rooftops—the analog image required several days of exposure, a naturally occurring asphalt known as Bitumen of Judea (which can be traced back to ancient Egypt), lavender oil, and a pewter plate.

The rarity and cost of the chemicals—and the incredibly long exposure time required—rendered Niépce’s photography technique impractical. The Royal Society, a scientific academy that supports technological innovation, rejected Niépce’s pewter plate on the grounds that they refused to publicize discoveries that involved undisclosed secrets (and Niépce kept his methods under wraps). By the end of the 19th century, his technique had fallen into obscurity. In 1952, his work was rediscovered and View from the window at Le Gras was authenticated as the first photograph. Although Niépce’s legacy only crystallized some 60 years ago, his work would influence his collaborator Louis Daguerre’s time-efficient photographic method known as the daguerreotype.

How It Works

Naturally occurring asphalt is used to coat glass or metal. The asphalt hardens over the areas hit by light, and the substance is washed away from the dark areas with lavender oil