Decoding the History of Photography – Free & Inexpensive E-books (Tuesday Tips)

Atget Getty

 Eugène Atget, Place de la Bastille, Albumen silver print, negative 1910-11; courtesy of the Getty Open Content Program

There are many wonderful books available on the history of photography, on photographic processes and identification. You can purchase them, or refer to them in, or check them out of, a library. But there are also free and inexpensive e-books available online to help us get a grasp on those 19th and early 20th century photographic processes, formats, and various passing styles.

I keep several of these e-books, and some digital editions of 19th century photo periodicals, on a flash drive or on Kindle.  All these items are contemporary with the 1840-1920 period I work with. I have them at hand in case I want to know more about a process, I want to verify a citation, or I need a quotable quote. It is a time-saver not to have to look up the publication online again (and it is a fantastic thing not to have to go elsewhere to see these on microfilm anymore!).

The following list of selected publications (there are many others) is divided into four categories: Classic Texts; Processes, Formats, and Styles; Researching Photographers; Looking at Photographs. All are readily available, and of course, you can certainly find these books yourself. If you haven’t looked for them yet, and you like having a list in one place, here you are.


  • Price is stated unless the e-book is free
  • I suggest getting the Kindle-form of a free e-book from Amazon, rather than elsewhere, if you have a Kindle reader, or have the app on an iPad, PC, or other device.
  • Some of these e-texts were created several years ago by Gregory Walker, in Austin, Texas, for the Digital Daguerreian Archive Project, “electronic texts from the dawn of photography.” Thank you, Gregory!

Pencil of Nat. MET

Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature, printed in 6 parts, with salted paper prints; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Jean Horblit, in memory of Harrison D. Horblit, 1994, no. 1994.197.1–.6

Classic Texts

The classic text by William Henry Fox Talbot, who created the first photographic negative in 1835 (made public in 1839), is The Pencil of Nature (1844) at  Notice the other useful links on this site.

This classic is available for download in a PDF directly from Project Gutenberg at If you would like another format, in EPUB or Kindle, or just to read online, go to Read more about Talbot and the significance of this book on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website

History & Practice of the Art of Photography, by Henry Hunt Snelling (1849) is available from Amazon in Kindle format, from Internet Archive in EPUB, Kindle, and also in a PDF from Google Books.

The Principles & Practice of Photography, by Jabez Hughes (1861) is there for you on Google Books in EPUB or PDF, and from Amazon as a Kindle edition (be sure to specify “Kindle” in your search).

WomanReadingGirl GettyDagWoman Reading to a Girl, about 1845 French Daguerreotype, photographer unknown; courtesy of the Getty Open Content Program 

Processes, Formats, and Styles (in chronological order)

Another classic is The American Handbook of the Daguerreotype, by S. D. Humprey (1858) – this is in Kindle format on Amazon (search Kindle ebooks only), or as a Project Gutenberg eBook to be read online only It is a bit tough to find the Project’s other available formats, so see those at

AtkinsLeucojamVAriumAnna Atkins & Anne Dixon, Cyanotype of Leucojam Varium,  1854; courtesy of the Getty Open Content Program

The cyanotype is a process that has been used for over 150 years. In all that time it has remained virtually unchanged, its popularity waxing and waning through the decades. This “useful resource for historians, curators and conservators of photographs, and for students of iron-based analogue imaging” is now available through the extreme kindness of its author, Mike Ware: Cyanomicon – History, Science and Art of Cyanotype: Photographic Printing in Prussian Blue (, 2014). [2017 update, Mr. Ware has updated, expanded, and illustrated this publication, as Cyanomicon II, which you will see on the same page].

JFW Heschel

Sir John Frederick William Herschel, astronomer, inventor of the cyanotype process, albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1867; courtesy of the Getty Open Content Program

A book covering both wet and dry processes (collodion, albumen, gelatin, wax, resin, silver,  etc.), tinting and coloring, and various formats, is The Silver Sunbeam, a Practical and Theoretical Textbook…. (1873) by John Towler; available on Internet Archive in various formats.

Book of the Lantern: Being a practical guide to the working of the optical (or magic) lantern (1889) was digitized by Google and is located in Internet Archive ( to be read online or downloaded in EPUB, Kindle, etc. , or in a PDF on Google

Regarding the subject of lantern slides, as well as others in early cinema, optics, etc., you definitely want to check out the veritable cornucopia of e-books available on the “Digital Books on Magic Lanterns” page of the Magic Lantern Research Group at

booklantern p12Page 12 in the Book of the Lantern, 1889

Photographic Reproduction Processes (1891) by Peter C. Duchochois (on processes not using silver salts; including a few interesting chapters on the Platinotype), is available in EPUB, Kindle, and PDF formats, or to read online via Internet Archive There is also a connection to Project Gutenberg here. Also from Amazon as a Kindle edition

Available from Project Gutenberg and Google Books is Bromide Printing & Enlarging by John A. Tennant (1912). The full title is a mouthful – Bromide Printing and Enlarging: A Practical Guide to the Making of Bromide Prints by Contact and Bromide Enlarging by Daylight and Artificial Light, With the Toning of Bromide Prints and Enlargements (whew!).

A guide to a style most popular in the late nineteenth and early 20th century is Pictorial Photography, its Principals and Practice (1917) by Paul Lewis Anderson.  It is available via Google books  It is also located on Internet Archive in the various formats mentioned above (some do not include the illustrations)

Before closing this section, I want to mention Gary W. Clark’s nice series on 19th and early 20th century processes and formats, available in digital form for $4.95 – $7.95 at . I plan to review both his Photo Restoration KwikGuide (2012) and his new Archive Photography (2014) on this blog later this year.

SelfPortrait GettyJean-Gabriel Eynard (daguerreotypist) [Swiss] Self portrait, ca. 1845; courtesy of the Getty Open Content Program

Researching Photographers

NOTE: as of 2018 none of Morris’s publications, or his site Classy Arts, are online. I hope to find the location of these fine publications, and bring this section up to date. Meanwhile I will let this section remain as is. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Andrew J Morris’s Photographers Travelling: Photographers from the Hamburg Embarkation Lists, 1877-1914 (2010; available formats: PDF) can be purchased for $5.00 at

Entries include full name, occupation (translations for the different occupations are given), approximate year of birth (calculated from their age), sex, residence, nationality and personal destination; also gives the name, embarkation date, port of embarkation and destination or destinations for the ship (some entries lack the personal destination and/or nationality of the traveler, and often the ship’s ultimate destination is simply ‘Amerika’ or ‘Nordamerika’).

I have both verified and discovered several Georgia photographers in Photographers Travelling, and I recommend this e-book for anyone with an interest in immigrant photographers.

A section on “Finding Biographical Details about a Photographer” is in Morris’s very nice Identifying & Dating Historic Photographs – I really love that section of this resource because it tells people exactly how I do what I do every day!

This digital guide will soon become an e-book, and I expect a price to eventually be associated with it – so now is the time for you to check it out! Available for free at

As an FYI, another not-quite-free compilation by Morris is his Dated Photographs from the 1860s (2011). This e-book is available in a PDF, and can be purchased for $5.00 at It includes clues to dating some of the features found in the “30 dated photographs” he highlights.

Looking at Photographs

We learn by looking, don’t we? I know I do. You can’t do much better than taking a look through the beautiful publications produced by the Getty. Now many of those pubications are offered in digital form for free through the Getty open content program. Their Virtual Library’s Free Digital Backlist titles are located at

For example, the 1998 book by Bates Lowry & Isabel Barrett Lowry The Silver Canvas: Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum, is now available for everyone to read online or to download. In a PDF file of 22.8 MB you get all 256 pages, with 80 reproductions of Daguerreotypes from the Getty Museum’s collection; it also includes a ‘Roster of Daguerreian Makers in the Getty Museum’ as of 1998.

You will also find two books on Julia Margaret Cameron’s work, and two publications on Walker Evans, including Walker Evans: Florida (2000) in here, for free.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers digital copies of some of their publications at

Several issues of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin have included significant articles on photography. For instance, “Inventing a New Art: Early Photographs from the Rubel Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art” is in, v. 56, no. 4 (Spring, 1999), and “The Art of Seeing: Photographs from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection” is in v. 35, no. 4 (Spring, 1978); both available for free in PDF form.

But the book from the exhibition After Daguerre: Masterworks of French Photography (1848–1900) from the Bibliothèque Nationale (1980) must be read online. So what? what is important it that it is freely available!

If you ever wondered what your photographer-grandpa or grandma actually did everyday, here is your opportunity. And if you, like me, are researching photographers you are not related to, there is a goldmine of freebies out there for your personal research library. Here’s to our successful, and inexpensive, Hunting & Gathering!

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Wonderful tip! Thanks for sharing this great information 🙂

  2. Thank you for visiting, glad you find it useful!

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