11 Vintage Photos of What Photography Used to Look Like

When you consider the scope of human history, it’s kind of incredible to think how far photography has come since its birth just a few hundred years ago. From the humble camera obscura to the ridiculously cool technology we all use to shoot now, it’s pretty amazing to look back on the history of photography itself and realize just how much has changed, and how much we take for granted. So, for Throwback Thursday, we went hunting for vintage photos…of vintage photographers!

Here are just a few — including at least one OG selfie:

vintage sports photography

What sports photography used to look like, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

vintage photography
The National Archive of the Netherlands calls this one “Beach photographer taking pictures of mother, children and a dog. The Netherlands, about 1930.”

vintage birdwatchingThis image has a lot of history, courtesy of the National Media Museum, who write:

“Richard and Cherry Kearton introduced the ‘hide’ method of bird-watching and photography. Cherry stands on Richard’s shoulders to take a picture. The brothers were pioneers of wildlife photography, producing their book ‘With Nature and a Camera’ illustrated with a 160 photographs in 1899.

Richard Kearton (1862 – 1928) moved to London from Yorkshire in 1882 to work for Cassell’s publishing house; worked with his brother Cherry Kearton, their book ‘With Nature and a Camera’, was published in London by Cassell & Co in 1899, written by Richard with photographs by Cherry.

Cherry Kearton (1871 – 1940) was a photographer and documentary film maker of animals and nature; worked with his brother Richard Kearton, their book ‘With Nature and a Camera’, was published in London by Cassell & Co in 1899, written by Richard with photographs by Cherry; film director; set up his own film company producing natural history and expedition films.”

vintage photography


vintage photos of cameras


These images from Florida Memory (of a Naval photography school instructor and his students at NAS in Pensacola) are kind of like an early version of a CreativeLive class. Sort of.

vintage photographersOf this old-school selfie, the National Media Museum notes:

“William R. Bland was an amateur pictorial photographer who worked as a banker throughout his life. He took up photography aged 40 and became an active part of the local photography community. He exhibited and judged competitions including for the Royal Photographic Society of which he was a fellow. His work was influenced by photographer J. Page Croft.”

Some of his portraits are also part of the collection, including this one.

This image of a bridge is one of his most well-known. Bland, according to the New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, “took up photography at the age of 40, initially in order to instruct his son on the use of a camera, and subsequently joined and exhibited his work in local photography clubs.”

vintage photographers

This photo comes from the Swedish National Heritage Board, but was taken in Geneva, Switzerland. The subject’s name is Elsa, and the photographer, Berit Wallenberg. The photo is dated 1921.

vintage photographers

This image, from the State Records of New South Wales, features Mr Ralph Freeman at the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1913. Freeman was a structural engineer who designed the bridge, so in all likelihood, he’s not actually taking a picture in this picture, but rather, surveying the landscape. Still, it’s a good photo.

vintage cameras

This image comes from the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, via the Library of Congress, who have the following note attached: “Photograph shows photographer Gertrude Käsebier, standing next to a tripod-mounted camera, an unidentified man is standing behind the camera.” Käsebier was an extremely influential American photographer, photographing Native American families, and especially mothers, in the early 19th century. You can read more about her here.

wilbur wright


Wilbur Wright (yes, that one) is the subject of this photo, also courtesy of the Library of Congress. The image is dated 1909, and was taken in Paris.

underwater photographyUnderwater photography is pretty easy now, but it didn’t used to be. This photo, from the LOC’s Bain News Service collection, featured a title written right on the negative, which read “Photo shows John Ernest Williamson (1881-1966), pioneer of undersea photography, entering his “photosphere.”

Williamson invented the photosphere as a way to capture underwater landscapes safely and without damage to his equipment. The son of a ship captain, he was already prone to interest in the deep sea, but needed a method for exploring it with a lens. The tube he used to go underwater was actually repurposed from boat repairs, which makes the whole thing a pretty creative feat.

The photosphere was used in popular entertainment, helping to film the underwater scenes from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

You can read more about him in this fascinating biography from the LOC.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.