Photographic Firsts #3 – The first photograph of the moon

The question of the first photograph of the moon appears to be a bit of a fuddle.  Daguerre (1787 – 1851) himself is said to have photographed the moon.  Unfortunately, on March 8, 1839 Daguerre’s diorama, his laboratory, early experimental works, and his notes were all destroyed in a fire.  So his image of the moon was destroyed.  Indeed, there are currently less than twenty-five existent daguerreotypes that can be unambiguously attributed to Daguerre.

Next, the New York University Professor John Draper (1811 – 1882), who collaborated with Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) actively produced daguerreotypes of the moon in March of 1839 at NYU’s observatory in Washington Square.  An image in the archives of NYU taken on March 26, 1839 appears to be the earliest moon photograph currently in existence.

Figure 1 – John Adams Whipple “View of the Moon, 1852” in the public domain.

A very interesting exposure sequence daguerreotype of the moon was taken by Samuel D. Humphrey, author of “Handbook of the Daguerreotype,” on September 1, 1849 in Canandaigua, NY.  As a side note, because the moon is lit by the sun, photographing the moon is like photographing an earthly scene on a sunny day.  As a result, the exposure typically falls within the old rule of thumb, shoot at f/11 at one over the ISO.  This rule served Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984) well in determining the correct exposure for “Moonrise Hernandez, NM, 1941.”

Finally, a magnificent set of daguerreotypes of the moon were taken by Harvard Professor John Adams Whipple (1822-1891), in collaboration with astronomer William Cranch Bond (1789-1859), between 1847 and 1852.  These images won the prize for technical excellence in photography at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London.  On the night of July 16–17, 1850, Whipple and Bond also made the first daguerreotype of a star (Vega).

I’ll leave you with that image to ponder.  By 1852 astrophotography was certainly born as a tool for science.

This entry was posted in History of Photography.

One Comment

  1. Paul Rubinstein November 29, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    As a bit of a lunatic I found the history and photograph absolutely wonderful!

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Super Moon | Hati and Skoll Gallery on July 13, 2014 at 6:31 am

    […] and took this picture, my thoughts wandered to consider John Draper (1811 – 1882).  His first daguerreotype of the moon was taken on March 26, 1839.  I do a quick calculation to add to my wonder – 175 years […]

  2. By The birth of a moon | Hati and Skoll Gallery on July 29, 2014 at 6:30 am

    […] We tend today to take this kind of imagery for granted, rather than marvel at it with the awestruck devotion that it deserves.  It all began with Draper’s first daguerreotype of Earth’s moon in 1839. […]