Undoubtedly photography has greatly changed public perception of war; but there is no clear point in which photography began to be used—whether for documenting war or anything else. So I’m left wondering, in which war was photography first used to document?

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    Why is this tagged United-States? Are you specifically looking for instances of wars the USA were involved in? Or did you pre-tag it in reference to your answer? Jan 26, 2017 at 9:50
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_photography. I thought we were trying to complement common historical references, not duplicate them.
    – Brasidas
    Jan 26, 2017 at 13:46
  • The closing of the question was absolutely unfair. The theme is NOT covered by Wikipedia.
    – Gangnus
    Jul 3, 2017 at 9:43
  • By asking "which war was photography first used to document?" do you mean documenting all sides of the conflict, from beginning to end, at the front and at home, in battle and in boredom and in propaganda and in medicine and in transport and in weaponry and in tactics and in battlefields and in politicians and in rallies and in uniforms, etc.? To what extent do you infer such documentation? Would a snapshot of a soldier cleaning a weapon count as documentation of such a war? I'm unclear as the the level and detail of usage of photography in documenting a war is being sought here.
    – Kerry L
    Dec 3, 2018 at 2:59
  • The answer can not be easily answered by looking up the relevant topic on Wikipedia! It is an obvious lie. There were wars before Mexican war and after the daggerotype invention. And photography was used in some of them.
    – Gangnus
    Dec 16, 2019 at 12:16

2 Answers 2


Cameras saw limited use in the Mexican War and in Britain's Crimean War, but their first significant use came during the American Civil War.

Matthew Brady and his skilled assistants, among them Alexander Gardner and Timothy O'Sullivan, photographed not only the generals and their foot soldiers but also the battlefields strewn with the human debris of death—forever changing the way we view war.

During the Civil War, however, photography was used only for documenting the remains of war; battlefields, for instance, and troops camping, NOT actual action. The Franco-Prussian War was the first in which an actual ongoing battle was photographed.

enter image description here

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    Why "Britain's Crimean war"? Britain was a part of the coalition (France, Turkey and Sardinia).
    – Alex
    Jan 26, 2017 at 7:48
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    Which war is that photo from? Jan 26, 2017 at 14:47
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    @IlmariKaronen searching "franco prussian war photographs" brings this photo up on Google, however I cannot find any reliable sources
    – MCMastery
    Jan 26, 2017 at 21:04

There is an article on this very subject. (http://militaryhistorynow.com/2012/06/12/how-early-photographers-captured-historys-first-images-of-war/). But we don't need to believe there were no other war photos.

Since daguerreotype invention in 1839 there were the following wars in which Europeans participated:

source: list of wars from wiki

  • Russian Conquest of Bukhara - from 1842

  • Franco-Moroccan War - 1844

  • Franco-Tahitian War - from 1844

  • First Anglo-Sikh War - 1845-46

  • Hutt Valley Campaign - 1846 (Britain) For that we can see the photo of the governor George Grey who initiated the war

enter image description here

  • Galician slaughter - 1846 (Austria)
  • Dutch intervention in Northern Bali 1846
  • Seventh Xhosa War - 1846-47 (Britain)
  • Second Carlist War - 1846-49 (Spain)
  • Sonderbund War - 1847 (Swiss)

There are photos from the next one - Mexican war - 1848

enter image description here

First acknowledged war photographer, according to the article mentioned, is Carol Popp de Szathmari, Hungarian. After him there started French photographer Ernest Eduard de Caranza and British photographer Roger Fenton, Crimean war http://www.allworldwars.com/Crimean-War-Photographs-by-Roger-Fenton-1855.html

I have found an even earlier war photographer. "John McCosh, a surgeon in the Bengal Army, is considered by some historians to be the first war photographer known by name. He produced a series of photographs documenting the Second Anglo-Sikh War, from 1848–49". There was an exhibition about him in London in 2009.

enter image description here

There is one English photo of Afghan soldiers of 1843, but it is an inscenated one, they are really actors. enter image description here

There is a picture of New Hampshire Volunteer Militia on parade in 1846. I have found more photos of soldiers from 1846, but the date was unsure for them. This seems to be the oldest military photo.

enter image description here

The problem is that even if we'll find a photo of earlier times, the most probably we won't recognize it as a photo, for they were of very low quality and were drawn on for improvement of the image quality.

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