Before the advent of digital photography, standard photographs required the camera to expose the photo-receptive film to direct light, in order to produce an image. The earliest cameras and photographic films required exposures of many hours for enough light enter the camera itself and create an image. Individual photons interacting with light-sensitive chemicals created one of a kind images.
This is the earliest known photograph. Titled "View from the Window at Le Gras," it was taken by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. 1826! Amazing! The exposure time for this image was 8 hours.
In 1837, French chemist Louis Daguerre, with collaboration from Niépce, developed what is known as a Daguerreotype. This was a much faster method for capturing images on a photographic plate and finally allowed for images of human beings. Even though the exposure time was comparatively short, the subjects still had to be strapped into a device which kept their heads and bodies from moving!*
Here is an early American example from 1839.
The technology grew and grew and became so practical that anyone could take their own photographs, with exposures of less than a second.
Digital photography changed all that, as people no longer needed to use chemicals of any kind to capture the photons, instead using digital receptors.
The beauty of long exposures was not to be denied though. Check this out. (click image to enlarge)
British photographer Justin Quinnell is making waves with an amazing six month exposure he made in Bristol, England of the sun rising and falling over the city’s famous suspension bridge. He made the photo not with a fancy digital camera but with an extremely rude, homemade device — a pinhole camera made from an empty soda can with a .25mm hole punched in it and one sheet of photo paper inside. He strapped it to a telephone pole and left it there for six months, from December 19, 2007 to June 21, 2008. If those dates sound familiar (or astronomically significant), they are — they’re the winter and summer solstices, respectively.
The lowest arc in the photo is the sun’s trail on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The highest arc is the summer solstice. The lines which are punctuated by dots represent overcast days when the sun penetrated the clouds only intermittently.
Mr Quinnell, a world-renowned pin-hole camera artist, of Falmouth, Cornwall, said the photograph took on a personal resonance after his father passed away on April 13 - halfway through the exposure. He says the picture allows him to pinpoint the exact location of the sun in the sky at the moment his father passed away. ( Ransom Riggs - Mental Floss )*
What a beautiful image. It is almost like becoming god-like, able to see the passage of time in an instant, like a giant redwood tree, living it's thousands-of-years existence while we humans go by in the blink of an eye.
(*Thanks to MentalFloss.com and to Neatorama.com for research material)