The Daguerreotype Photo Printing Process: France’s Gift to the World

France’s foremost contribution to the world of photography was through the successful experimentations performed by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce and his physicist/French painter associate Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. At that time, photo imaging was accomplished through a photography process known as camera obscura.

The Portable Camera Obscura

The earliest methods of capturing an image is by manually tracing a likeness of a photo subject. Camera obscura refers to a dark room used to project an image on the other side of the wall transmitted through a wall-hole outfitted with a lens. The image projected will then be used as guide in manually tracing the exact likeness of the subject into a piece of drawing.

Up until the time when Nicéphore Niépce devised portable box to serve as camera obscura, the portable method of capturing an image, was by improvising a dark room by way of a tent. Another aspect of photography that still needed an invention, was a method that will make it possible to directly print an image projected by a camera obscura.

The Invention of a Drawing-Less Method of Capturing an Image

Although the idea of of capturing an image sans the need for drawing, was first experimented on in 1800, by a British potter named Thomas Wedgwood, it yielded only a mere shadow of the subject. Wedgwood’s image obscured when exposed to sunlight.

Twenty years later, Nicéphore Niépce, who invented the portable camera obscura, tried to improve on Wedgwood’s photo capturing concept. Niépce already had heliograph technique, which let the captured image stay fixed on a paper coated with silver chloride. Still, the process still needed improvement since the captured image, which took 8 hours to develop, was of poor quality.

Nicéphore Niépce passed away in 1833, but his drawing associate Louis Daguerre, who was also a physicist, continued to improve on the image development process started out by Niépce. In 1939, Daguerre was able to perfect a photography development technique that yielded the exact image of the photo taken by camera obscura, which took only 20 to 30 minutes to process.


Calling the style the daguerreotype, France bought the rights to Daguerre’s invention and unveiled the rudiments, as the country’s gift to the world.

How the First Daguerreotype Portraits were Processed

Louis Daguerre and his daguerreotype of photo imaging quickly caught on. Not a few French artists learned the method, since it was deemed as a less costly alternative to having their portraits painted. Still, only the affluent can afford to have their portraits taken, because each image was cast on a silvered copper plate.

The entire daguerreotype photo imaging involves polishing the silver-coated plate until it is highly reflective. After which, the plate is sensitized with chemical compounds before the it is loaded in the camera. Once the subject is ready, the photographer lifts the lid to capture the image of the sitter and puts the lid back on, as if opening and closing a shutter.

The silvered plate will then be taken back to a dark room where it will be treated with fumes produced by heated mercury. After the image completely appears, the plate will be bathed in hyposulphate solution of soda, rinsed with distilled water and allowed to dry. Once dry, the daguerreotype photograph will be covered with a glass plate and then mounted in a frame or case.

Fortunately for modern day wedding photographers like Catherine J Ross of, there was no let up in the pursuit of economical and less laborious methods of printing. Photography technology greatly improved by the 1990s upon the introduction of digital cameras and computerized photo printing.