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The first photograph of a person, in color

Colorized version of Boulevard du Temple taken by Louis Daguerre which is the first photograph of a person ever taken.
Colorized version of the ‘Boulevard du Temple’ by Louis Daguerre, which is believed to be the first photo to feature a person.
Credit: Angelina Karpunina

The image above is believed to be the first time a person was captured in a photograph. It was a daguerreotype taken by French pioneering photographer Louis Daguerre in 1838 from the window of his Paris studio. The photograph is of the thoroughfare Boulevard du Temple at 8 am; at first glance, you may not notice any life captured in the photo. However, if you look to the bottom left of the photograph, you can see a person having their shoes buffed by a shoeshiner. The person getting their shoes polished is clearly visible, and if you look hard enough, you can also see the shoeshiner!

A close up version and upscaled section of the first photograph of a person showing a customer having their shoes shined.
Upscale and Zoom in on an important section of what is believed to be the first photograph of a person.

You may be curious as to why a street in France’s capital would look so empty at what would typically be a busy time of the day. It’s likely that the road was bustling with activity, but no carriages or other people are seen because the exposure time needed to capture the image was between 4 and 5 minutes. Therefore, anything moving would not have been captured on the plate, and only a person getting their shoes shined, who would be stood still for a prolonged period of time, features in the first photograph of a person.

Boulevard du Temple taken by Louis Daguerre which is the first photograph of a person ever taken.
Original black-and-white version of the ‘Boulevard du Temple’ photograph known for being the first photo of a person, 1838.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Color was digitally added to the photograph by talented colorization artist Angelina Karpunina who would have spent hours researching and manually colorizing the image to produce a result as historically accurate as possible. Be sure to follow their Instagram and Twitter!

The first photograph of a person was captured as a daguerreotype which was the photographic process invented by Louis Daguerre and revealed to the world in 1839. A sheet of silver-plated copper sensitized by iodine would be placed in the camera and exposed to light, then after the exposure, it is developed on hot mercury until the image displays. Once the image is on the copper sheet, it is placed in a solution of sodium thiosulfate so that the result does not vanish.

While this may be the earliest known photograph of a person, many people may feel unsatisfied finding out that it is just a small silhouette of a person and a shoeshiner from far away. Therefore, we thought we should also include some clearer photos of people that were taken around the same time as Louis Daguerre’s in 1838. The dates of most early photos are difficult to 100% confirm, but the following are believed to be some of the oldest surviving photographic portraits:

A collage of some of the first portrait photographs of people. Photographs taken by Robert Cornelius, John William Draper and Hippolyte Bayard.
(Top Left) Self Portrait by Robert Cornelius (1839)
(Top Right) Portrait of John William Draper (1839)
(Bottom Left) Portrait of Dorothy Draper by John William Draper (1840)
(Bottom Right) Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man by Hippolyte Bayard (1840).
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

RELATED ARTICLE: The Oldest Photograph in History in Color


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