St Andrews was a centre for research during the earliest developments in photography, due to the presence in the University of Sir David Brewster, a physicist with a special interest in optics, and Principal of The United College of St Salvator and St Leonard.

Brewster was a friend and collaborator of William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor in 1839 of the first successful negative/positive process, known as the Calotype. Brewster was also Vice-President of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, established in 1838. Although this was never a photographic society, Brewster did present papers to it on optics and early work on photography.

Out of this grew a circle of pioneer photographers including Dr John Adamson, Thomas Rodger — who in 1849 became the first professional photographer in the town — and Robert Adamson, who collaborated with the artist David Octavius Hill in and around Edinburgh to lay the foundations of documentary photography. A “St Andrews Photographic Society” came into existence around 1907 and local directories record the names of the Office Bearers in 1909 and 1913. Little else is known and the society seems to have ceased during World War I (1914-18).

The modern society was founded in 1958-1959, according to founding member Dr David Thirkell (University Biochemistry Dept.) and Ian Kinghorn (Biochemistry technician and son of George) who joined the club a year or so later.