The Lumière brothers were born in Besançon, France, to Charles-Antoine Lumière (1840–1911) and Jeanne Joséphine Costille Lumière, who were married in 1861 and moved to Besançon, setting up a small photographic portrait studio where Auguste and Louis were born. They moved to Lyon in 1870, where son Edouard and three daughters were born. Auguste and Louis both attended La Martiniere, the largest technical school in Lyon. Their Father Charles-Antoine set up a small factory producing photographic plates, but even with Louis and a young sister working from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. it teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, and by 1882 it looked as if they would fail, but when Auguste returned from military Service the boys designed the machines necessary to automate their father's plate production and devised a very successful new photo plate, 'etiquettes bleue', and by 1884 the factory employed a dozen workers.
The Lumière Brothers were not the only ones to claim the title of the first cinematographers. The scientific chronophotography devices developed by Eadweard Muybridge, Étienne-Jules Marey and Ottomar Anschütz in the 1880s were able to produce moving photographs, as was william Friese-Greene's 'chronophotographic' system, demonstrated in 1890. Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope (developed by W K-L Dickson), premiered in 1891.
The brothers stated that "the cinema is an invention without any future" and declined to sell their camera to other filmmakers such as Georges Méliès. This made many film makers upset. Consequently, their role in the history of film was exceedingly brief. In parallel with their cinema work they experimented with colour photography. They worked on a number of colour photographic processes in the 1890s including the Lippmann process (interference heliochromy) and their own 'bichromated glue' process, a subtractive colour process, examples of which were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. This last process was commercialised by the Lumieres but commercial success had to wait for their next colour process. In 1903 they patented a colour photographic process, the Autochrome Lumière, which was launched on the market in 1907. Throughout much of the 20th century, the Lumière company was a major Producer of photographic products in Europe, but the brand name, Lumière, disappeared from the marketplace following merger with Ilford. They also invented the colour plate, which really got photography on the road.
When their Father retired in 1892 the brothers began to create moving pictures. They patented several significant processes leading up to their film camera, most notably film perforations (originally implemented by Emile Reynaud) as a means of advancing the film through the camera and projector. The original cinématographe had been patented by Léon Guillaume Bouly on 12 February 1892. The brothers patented their own version on 13 February 1895. The first footage ever to be recorded using it was recorded on 19 March 1895. This first film shows workers leaving the Lumière factory.
Since 1892, the projected drawings of Émile Reynaud's Théâtre Optique were attracting Paris crowds to the Musée Grévin. Louis Le Prince and Claude Mechant had been shooting moving picture sequences on paper film as soon as 1888, but had never performed a public demonstration. Polish Inventor, Kazimierz Prószyński had built his camera and projecting device, called Pleograph, in 1894. Max and Emil Skladanowsky, inventors of the Bioscop, had offered projected moving images to a paying public one month earlier (1 November 1895, in Berlin). Nevertheless, film historians consider the Grand Café screening to be the true birth of the cinema as a commercial medium, because the Skladanowsky brothers' screening used an extremely impractical dual system motion picture projector that was immediately supplanted by the Lumiere cinematographe.
In 1896, only a few months after the initial screenings in Europe, films by the Lumiere Brothers were shown in Egypt, first in the Tousson stock exchange in Alexandria on 5 November 1896 and then in the Hamam Schneider (Schneider Bath) in Cairo.
The Lumières brothers saw film as a novelty and had withdrawn from the film Business in 1905. They went on to develop the first practical photographic colour process, the Lumière Autochrome.
Louis died on 6 June 1948 and Auguste on 10 April 1954. They are buried in a family tomb in the New Guillotiere Cemetery in Lyon.