Photography soon grew into a new industry – a means of recording facts in an ever increasing range of human activities. Luxurious portrait studios flourished in cities and towns across Europe and the US, and people began accumulating albums filled with images of family and friends. Fortunes were made by the more successful exponents of the new art, but this in turn attracted the attention of many less knowledgeable amateurs. Photography had still to become a respected profession.
From the mid 1850's governments and public institutions showed increasing interest in the potential of the new medium. Photographic records of monuments, architecture and various significant events were created, the police created identification records, and armed forced employed photographers to document the Crimean War (1853-6) and the American Civil War (1861-5). Exposure times were still too long to freeze action but images of battlefields and destroyed buildings brought home the horror of conflicts for the first time. Industry also began using photography for record keeping and promotional purposes. The railways, which were undergoing phenomenal expansion at the time, recorded their engineering achievements as well as the scenic beauty of the country through which their new tracks passed.
By 1870, despite huge advances in technique, photography was still severely limited by practical problems. The many stages of the so-called wet collodion process required not only people with relevant knowledge but also numerous chemicals and cumbersome items of equipment. A typical outfit included a large and heavy camera supported by an equally massive tripod, glass plates, various chemicals, dishes and containers for sensitizing, developing and fixing, and of course a portable darkroom – usually something like a tent. A dry collodion process simplified procedures to some extent but lacked sensitivity and consequently required lengthy exposure times. Outdoor photography therefore remained inconvenient but travel photographers saw the potential of the medium and went to extraordinary, almost heroic, lengths to transport their equipment around the world. Of course their photographs lacked colour, because the various processes in use at the time produced images consisting only of shades of brown-and-white or blue-and-white. Anything approaching true colour could be achieved only by a laborious and somewhat unsatisfactory hand-colouring process.
A significant reduction in exposure times came about in the early 1870's with the introduction of the silver gelatine print. This dry process, like many of its predecessors, initially suffered from insensitivity but was gradually developed to the point where effective instantaneity was achieved. Ease of use, short exposure times, the establishment of the silver bromide process, and the advent of photographs printed on paper launched a photography revolution. The number of books published on photography increased rapidly, and images began appearing in magazines and periodicals in the 1860’s and 1870's. Problems associated with mechanical reproduction and the longevity of printed images plagued the publishing industry and the press for many years, but were gradually overcome. Photography had reached early maturity. The introduction by Kodak in 1889 of a snapshot camera loaded with a roll of flexible film, and later of the Kodak Brownie, finally placed a user-friendly photographic system into the hands of amateurs.