Shutter speed time it took to make the first photo of a human by Daguerre. Photo of Boulevard du Temple in Paris

The first image was made by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827. A decade later, in 1839, Louis Daguerre took this picture of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. For the first time two humans where recorded on a photo!

A man who has his shoes polished by another person shot on a light sensitive plate! To be honest, I think only one shoe is being polished in this photo. Too bad the exact shutter speed (the time it took to make the photo) of that image is not known. Loads of pages and blogs on the internet state different speeds. I found shutter speeds varying from 7 minutes up to almost half an hour, though most people talk about a shutter speed of 10 to 15 minutes. This Wikipedia page however mentions “almost half an hour” (changed to 4 to 5 minutes on 6-7-2021).

Below a detail of the photo.

time boulevard du temple photo shutter speed

The entire time it took to make the photo, the man clearly stands on one leg. And suddenly I thought: ”Did that man really stand on one leg for that long?” If he didn´t you should see a change of shoe/leg in the image. The position of the left and right leg is different. If a leg is, for example, in one place only 50% of the time you will see this as grey instead of black. Both legs are clearly black in this image. And the edges are quite high in contrast from black to white as well. So my conclusion is that it is very unlikely the man changed the position of his legs. Which leads me to believe only one shoe was polished in the time it took to take the picture.

How much time can it take a shoe shiner to clean one shoe?

If the shutter speed would have been 10 to 15 minutes, would it have been possible for the man to stand still, on purpose, while the shoeshine worked on one of his shoes? Maybe it was no coincidence that this man was captured on photo. Maybe his friend (Mr. Daguerre) was working on something new and had told him to stand still until he got a sign from him.

It didn’t feel right. A day later I decided to dive back into it. Most websites I found talk about a shutter speed of 10 to 15 minutes. See a list here: : The list of websites stating a very long shutter speed is long. And no one talks about the time it takes to polish just one shoe. So my search continued.

Finally I stumbled upon this article

It is a publication from 1840 in Galerie de la Presse. It’s about a meeting that was attended by Mr. Daguerre and a French minister. During that meeting it was announced that Mr. Daguerre had truly invented something new. This is an excerpt from the publication:

This is the English Google translation of the above text:

Gentlemen, he said, at the meeting of June 15, 1839, we believe that we are meeting wishes of the room, offering you to acquire the property of a discovery too useful than uninspired, it is important, in the interest of the sciences and the arts, to be able to The advertisement. Mr. Daguerre, continued further on, Mr. Minister, Mr. Daguerre has succeeded in fix the images of the dark room and thus create, in four or five minutes, by power of light, drawings, where objects retain their shapes, even their smallest details, where the effects of linear perspective, and the degradation of tones, from the aerial perspective, are charged with an unknown delicacy so far.

So 4 or 5 minutes! There it was.  I had the feeling I was onto something! Strange that in most articles on the internet it is stated that the shutter speed was seven minutes to almost half an hour. Luckily I stayed suspicious. Doing research pays off. Now I just have to inform everyone else that the time to took to make that photo was only 4 to 5 minutes. Maybe this publication is a good start!

The same pdf article also states:” At the beginning of March 1839, a disastrous fire destroyed in two hours all these magnificent productions that Daguerre was exhibiting incessantly”. So it is likely that the Boulevard du Temple photo was shot in 1839, not 1838. And maybe the Boulevard du Temple image, wasn’t the first image with people on it. But the only remaining photo from that period.

Text: Dutch photographer Wilmar Dik, The Hague, The Netherlands, January 8, 2021. Thanks to: Gary W. Ewer, ed., The Daguerreotype: an Archive of Source Texts, Graphics, and Ephemera,

The Dutch article can be found on this page: A press release is published on

Wilmar Dik is a Dutch professional photographer. Other photo’s shot by Wilmar can found on these websites: (portfolio site), (travel photography) and (portrait photography).

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Wilmar Dik

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2515 NJ Den Haag