David Octavius Hill was born in 1802 in Perth, Scotland and lived mostly in Edinburgh. His father was a bookseller and publisher active in re-establishing Perth Academy so David and his brothers were educated there. David learned lithography in the School of Design and produced Sketches, landscape paintings, book illustrations, including illustrations for editions of Walter Scott and Robert Burns.
He was present at the Disruption Assembly in 1843 when more than 450 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland assembly to found the Free Church of Scotland. David and his friends Lord Cockburn and physicist Sir David Brewster wanted to record the dramatic scene. They came up with an idea to use the new invention, photography, to get likenesses of all the ministers present.
Brewster was himself experimenting with this technology which only dated back to 1839, and he introduced Hill to another enthusiast, Robert Adamson. Their collaboration, with Hill providing skill in composition and lighting, and Adamson considerable sensitivity and dexterity in handling the camera, proved extremely successful. Adamson's studio, "Rock House", on Calton Hill in Edinburgh became the center of their photographic experiments. Using the calotype process, they produced numerous portraits, both in the studio and outdoors, often amongst the tombs in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
They photographed local and Fife landscapes and urban scenes, including images of the Scott Monument under construction in Edinburgh. They photographed ordinary working folk, particularly the fishermen of Newhaven, and the fishwives, produced several groundbreaking "action" photographs of soldiers and - perhaps their most famous photograph - two priests walking side by side.
Their partnership produced around 3,000 prints but was cut short after only four years due to the ill health and death of Adamson in 1848. Hill died in 1870 and is buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.