Hill, an established artist, and Adamson, a young engineer who had recently set up shop as a photographer in Edinburgh, began their pioneering collaboration in June 1843, taking portraits of the founders of the Free Church of Scotland in preparation for a historic monumental painting of the group. Following this project, Hill and Adamson went on to make portraits of most of the citizens of Edinburgh and their distinguished visitors. They also created what is considered to be the first social documentary series in their pictures of the inhabitants of the fishing village of Newhaven.
In the course of only three years, Hill and Adamson were to make about three thousand photographs using the calotype process, the first photographic technique that, unlike the daguerreotype, used a negative, thus allowing multiple copies of an image to be made. Theirs was a synergistic partnership with Hill the artist arranging the poses and lighting of each shot, while Adamson provided the optical and chemical expertise in wielding the camera and developing the prints. The collaboration ended only with Adamson’s premature death in January 1848.