It's World Photography Day 2020, but what exactly is it? Well, unlike some sponsored days (sorry, National Avocado Day) it is a genuinely important date – it was on this day in 1839 that the Daguerrotype process was officially gifted to the world (or, in modern lingo, went open source).
But what exactly is the Daguerrotype process, other than an excellent name for a prog band? It was the chemical method developed by French artist and physicist Louis Daguerre, which ultimately became the first commercial photographic process and laid the groundwork for 20th century photography.
We've explained a bit more about that historical moment below (including the classic Parisian street photo shot by Daguerre himself). But if you want to get straight onto some practical ways to celebrate, including streaming the best photography-themed documentaries, scroll further down to our list below. You don't even need a camera – just your smartphone will do...
What is World Photography Day celebrating?
So how exactly did the Daguerrotype process work? As you can imagine, it was a little more involved than pressing your smartphone shutter. First, a copper plate covered in highly polished silver iodide was made photosensitive to light by exposing it to iodine fumes.
Then the plate, transferred using a lightproof holder, was put into the camera, exposed to light, and developed using mercury vapor. Finally, the plate's light sensitivity was halted by immersing it in a hot solution of common salt. So yes, a lot more involved than making an Instagram Story.
One of the most famous photos using this process was 'View Of The Boulevard du Temple' (above), taken in 1838 by Daguerre himself. While the scene appears to be deserted, this is because the exposure was around seven minutes. Despite this, it's thought to be the first photo to include an image of people, with a (possibly staged) man standing in the bottom-left corner having his shoes polished.
Of course, it wouldn't be an invention without some dispute about its originality, with many claiming that Britain's William Fox Talbot (and even earlier, Thomas Wedgewood) beat him to the punch when it came to taking the world's first proper photograph.
Still, it was on August 19, 1839 that the French Academy of Science – who had earlier effectively bought the rights from Daguerre – gifted the photographic process to the world by making its technical details public. And, since 1991, it's the day that's been celebrated as World Photography Day.
The 7 best ways to celebrate World Photography Day 2020:
You can commemorate the day by posting photos on social media using the official #WorldPhotographyDay hashtag, but what if you want to do something a bit more original?
Here are the top seven ways to spark your photographic enthusiasm, no matter what your skill level.
1. Get inspired by the iPhone Photography Awards
You don't need a giant medium format camera to take part in World Photography Day (although if you do have a Fujifilm GFX 100, we're certainly jealous). These days you can take some incredible snaps with your smartphone, as we saw recently with the iPhone Photography Awards.
Most of the winning shots, including the one above from Renata Dangelo taken on an iPhone 8, didn't even use the latest iPhones. And while you may have missed the boat for this year's competition, the 2021 competition is now open to entries – you can enter here.
- Read the full story: Award-winning iPhone photos show you don't need an iPhone 11 to win Instagram
2. Enter the Comedy Pet Photo Awards
Looking for a more relaxed, pet-friendly competition to enter for World Photography Day? The Comedy Pet Photo Awards could fit the bill – it's open to anyone who has a suitably amusing image of a furry friend and could land you a £3,000 prize (around $4,000 / AU$5,485).
The entries so far include some gossiping horses and socially-distanced cats. The closing date is August 31, so you have a bit of time to teach your pet a prize-winning pose. Even if you don't win, there's also a charity aspect to the competition, with 10% of all entry fees going to Blue Cross, a UK pet charity.
3. Colorize your old family photos
Aside from going out and taking photos, one of the most fun things you can do for World Photography Day is give your old family snaps a new lease of life. Thanks to inspiring books like The Colour of Time, colorizing old photos is having a bit of a moment – and it's now easier than ever.
As our in-depth guide shows, you can use smartphone apps like Colorize (iOS) or Colorize Images (Android), web apps like MyHeritage, or go the full manual route with PhotoShop to colorize your old family snaps. It's a great little project, particularly as a surprise for older relatives.
- Read the full guide: How to colorize your old family photos – with smartphone apps or PhotoShop
4. Stream the best photography documentaries
The stories behind classic still images unsurprisingly make for equally compelling films – here are some of the best photography documentaries to stream for World Photography Day 2020.
Finding Vivian Maier (pictured above)
One of the best documentaries of the 2010s, photography-themed or otherwise, Finding Vivian Maier follows the story of someone who, in her lifetime, appeared to be a fairly traditional nanny from New York. But it wasn't until a collector took a punt on some undeveloped negatives that she was later revealed to be one of the finest street photographers of the last century.
A powerful documentary that's as hard-hitting as the titular photojournalist's war photos, this moving profile explores how Don McCullin took some of his most famous shots in conflicts in places like Vietnam, Northern Ireland and Cambodia. An insightful look at the fine line between empathy and voyeurism, the brutally honest McCullin is as candid about the shots he didn't take as the ones he did.
UK: Watch McCullin on Amazon Prime (rent or buy)
(Unfortunately McCullin isn't streaming on any service in the US or Australia, but you can buy the DVD or Blu-ray.)
The Salt of the Earth
A spectacular visual feast that centers around the work of Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, this documentary explores similar themes to McCullin, only this time in the monochromatic landscapes that Salgado prefers to call home. If you're a fan of powerful, black-and-white photography, be sure to give this a watch.
Age of the Image
This recent BBC series is technically only available in the UK, but if you happen to be out of the country, it's well worth using the best BBC iPlayer VPNs to watch this excellent four-part history of photography and imagery. Engagingly presented by art historian James Fox, it explores everything from how 20th century photographers shaped the modern world, right up to the ramifications of today's deepfakes.
5. Climb aboard the international space station
If you need confirmation of how far photography has come in recent years, have a poke around the International Space Station on Google Earth's Street View.
Google partnered with astronauts on the ISS to collect Street View imagery of the space station's many interesting modules. And to commemorate the imminent milestone of the ISS being continually inhabited by humans for the last 20 years, there's also a new book called Interior Space: A Visual Exploration of the International Space Station, which you can back on Kickstarter.
6. Snap up an instant camera
Sure, smartphone cameras can pull off shots that make you look like an HDR master, but there's still something brilliantly tactile about a real camera – particularly one that spits out an actual souvenir print that you can stick on the fridge.
Yes, one of the best things you can do for World Photography Day is grab an instant camera and head out in the real world to take some shots. Don't have an instant camera and not sure which one to get? Our best instant cameras guide has the answer.
Haven't even got time to do that? Our current number one is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11.
7. Marvel at the NASA Mars Rover's record-breaking cameras
Back to space again – remember the NASA Mars Rover's successful launch a few weeks ago? Well, it turns out the Wall-E wannabe is carrying a rather impressive selection of cameras on board, which should give us some spectacular shots when it touches down on Mars on 18 February, 2021.
The rover, called Perseverance, is carrying no less than 23 cameras on board, many of which have a surprising amount in common with the smartphone in your pocket. Read our in-depth guide to what it's doing with all those cameras, other than sharpening its Martian landscape photography.
- Read our in-depth feature: NASA Mars rover launches: a closer look at its record-breaking cameras