Light has been employed in the treatment of disease since antiquity. Many ancient civilizations utilized phototherapy, but it was not until early last century that this form of therapy reappeared. Following the scientific discoveries by early pioneers such as Finsen, Raab and Von Tappeiner, the combination of light and drug administration led to the emergence of photochemotherapy as a therapeutic tool. The isolation of porphyrins and the subsequent discovery of their tumor-localizing properties and phototoxic effects on tumor tissue led to the development of modern photodetection (PD) and photodynamic therapy (PDT). This review traces the origins and development of PD and PDT from antiquity to the present day.