The camera has a long and distinguished history as a means of recording phenomena from the first use by Daguerre and Fox-Talbot, such as astronomical events (eclipses for example), small creatures and plants when the camera was attached to the eyepiece of microscopes (in photomicroscopy) and for macro photography of larger specimens. The camera also proved useful in recording crime scenes and the scenes of accidents, such as the Wootton bridge collapse in 1861 and the Staplehurst rail crash of 1865. One of the first systematic applications occurred at the scene of the Tay Rail Bridge disaster of 1879. The court, just a few days after the accident, ordered James Valentine of Dundee to record the scene using both long distance shots and close-ups of the debris. The set of over 50 accident photographs was used in the subsequent court of inquiry so that witnesses could identify pieces of the wreckage, and the technique is now commonplace both at accident scenes and subsequent cases in courts of law. The set of over 50 Tay bridge photographs are of very high quality, being made on a large plate camera with a small aperture and using fine grain emulsion film on a glass plate. When the surviving positive prints are scanned at high resolution, they can be enlarged to show details of the failed components such as broken cast iron lugs and the tie bars which failed to hold the towers in place. The set of original photographs is held at Dundee City Library. The photographs show that, in the words of the Public Inquiry the bridge was “badly designed, badly built and badly maintained”. The methods used in analysing old photographs are collectively known as forensic photography.
Between 1846 and 1852 Charles Brooke invented a technology for the automatic registration of instruments by photography. These instruments included barometers, thermometers, psychrometers, and magnetometers, which recorded their readings by means of an automated photographic process.
5×7 in. unretouched photograph of the Wright brothers’ first flight, 1903.
Photography has become ubiquitous in recording events and data in science and engineering, and at crime scenes or accident scenes. The method has been much extended by using other wavelengths, such as infrared photography and ultraviolet photography, as well as spectroscopy. Those methods were first used in the Victorian era and developed much further since that time.