Eadweard Muybridge

 Eadweard Muybridge
(April 9, 1830 – May 8, 1904)

was a British-born photographer, known primarily for his early use of multiple cameras to capture motion, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated celluloid film strip still used today.



Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge at Kingston-on-Thames, England. He is believed to have changed his first name to match that of King Eadweard as shown on the plinth of the Kingston coronation stone, which was re-erected in Kingston in 1850. Muggeridge became Muygridge and then Muybridge after he had emigrated to America in the early 1850s.

In 1855 Muybridge arrived in San Francisco, starting his career as a publisher’s agent and bookseller. He developed an interest in photography that seems to have been boosted when he was recovering in England after nearly being killed in a stagecoach crash in 1860. By 1866, Muybridge returned to San Francisco and joined up with a local photo business. It has been suggested that he acted as an assistant to landscape photographer Carleton E. Watkins, but there is little evidence of this.

Muybridge's The Horse in Motion.Muybridge began to build his reputation in 1867 with photos of Yosemite and San Francisco (many of the Yosemite photographs reproduced the same scenes taken by Watkins). Muybridge quickly became famous for his landscape photographs, which showed the grandeur and expansiveness of the West. The images were published under the pseudonym “Helios.” In the summer of 1868 Muybridge was commissioned to photograph one of the U.S. Army’s expeditions into the recently territorialized Alaska.

In 1871 the California Geological Survey invited Muybridge to photograph for the High Sierra survey. That same year he married Flora Stone. He then spent several years traveling as a successful photographer. By 1873 the Central Pacific Railroad had advanced into indian territory and the United States Army hired Muybridge to photograph the ensuing Modoc Wars.

In 1872, soon-to-be California governor Leland Stanford, a businessman and horse-racing track owner, had hired Muybridge to settle a question (not a bet, as is popularly believed): Stanford claimed, that there was a point in a horse’s full gallop when all four hooves were off the ground. To answer this proposition, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. Muybridge’s technology involved chemical formulas for photographic processing and an electrical trigger created by Stanford’s electrical engineer, John D. Issacs. His relationship with Standford was long and torrid, and it would ultimately prove to be his entrance and exit from the history books.

Muybrideg patent model of method and apparatus for photographing objects in motion
Muybridge patent model of method and apparatus for photographing objects in motion

In 1874, still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns; said, “Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife”; and shot and killed him. He was put on trial for the killing, but acquitted of the killing on the grounds that it was “justifiable homicide.” This episode in Muybridge’s life is the subject of The Photographer, an opera by composer Philip Glass?with words drawn from the trial and Muybridge’s letters to his wife.

Muybridge thought his wife’s son had been fathered by Larkyns (although, as an adult, the young man had a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge). After the acquittal, Muybridge left the U.S. for a time and photographed in Central America, returning in 1877.

By 1878, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of fifty cameras. Each of the cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse’s, and each of the camera shutters were controlled by trip wires which were triggered by the horse’s hooves. This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford University, is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that, indeed, the hooves all leave the ground, although not at the point of full extension forward and back, as contemporary illustrators tended to imagine, but rather at the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse, as it switches from “pulling” from the front legs to “pushing” from the back legs.

A set of Muybridge's photos in motion.He then conducted research in order to improve the chemistry of his development methods to better capture motion in his photography. Hoping to capitalize upon the considerable public attention those pictures drew, Muybridge invented the Zoopraxiscope, a machine similar to the Zoetrope, but that projected the images so the public could see realistic motion. The system was, in many ways, a precursor to the development of the motion picture.

Muybridge used this technique many times to photograph people and animals to study their movement. The people were often photographed in little or no clothing in a variety of undertakings. From boxing, to walking down stairs, and even small children walking to their mother were sufficiently interesting to Muybridge to be the subject of his photographs. In any case, Muybridge’s work stands near the beginning of the science of biomechanics and the mechanics of athletics.

Similar setups of carefully timed multiple cameras are used in modern special effects photography with the opposite goal: capturing changing camera angles with little or no movement of the subject.

Eadweard Muybridge returned to his native England in 1894 and died in 1904 in Kingston-upon-Thames while living at the home of his cousin Catherine Smith, Park View, 2 Liverpool Road. He was cremated and his ashes interred at Woking.



  • Étienne-Jules Marey – recorded first series of live action with a single camera

  • Thomas Eakins – an artist who worked with and continued Muybridge’s motion studies and incorporated the findings into his own artwork

  • Thomas Edison – owns patent for motion picture camera

  • William Dickson – credited as inventor of motion picture camera

  • Animators and artists still use Muybridge’s work as a reference


Look at the Muybridge collection and get inspired for your own animation