What is Photography?

The word photography comes from two ancient Greek words: photo, for "light," and graph, for "drawing." "Drawing with light" is a way of describing photography. When a photograph is made, light or some other form of radiant energy, such as X rays, is used to record a picture of an object or scene on a light-sensitive surface. Early photographs were called sun pictures, because sunlight itself was used to create the image. Mankind has been a maker of images at least since the cave paintings of some 20,000 years ago. With the invention of photography, a realistic image that would have taken a skilled artist hours or even days to draw could be recorded in exact detail within a fraction of a second.

Today, photography has become a powerful means of communication and a mode of visual expression that touches human life in many ways. For example, photography has become popular as a means of crystallizing memories. Most of the billions of photographs taken today are snapshots--casual records to document personal events such as vacations, birthdays, and weddings.

Photographs are used extensively by newspapers, magazines, books, and television to convey information and advertise products and services.
Practical applications of photography are found in nearly every human endeavor from astronomy to medical diagnosis to industrial quality control. Photography extends human vision into the realm of objects that are invisible because they are too small or too distant, or events that occur too rapidly for the naked eye to detect. A camera can be used in locations too dangerous for humans. Photographs can also be objects of art that explore the human condition and provide aesthetic pleasure. For millions of people, photography is a satisfying hobby or a rewarding career.[1]

What is a Camera?
An assortment of cameras.
An assortment of cameras.

A camera is a device that records and stores images. These images may be still photographs or moving images such as videos or movies. The term camera comes from the camera obscura (Latin for "dark chamber"), an early mechanism for projecting images. The modern camera evolved from the camera obscura.

Cameras may work with the light of the visible spectrum or with other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. A camera generally consists of an enclosed hollow with an opening (aperture) at one end for light to enter, and a recording or viewing surface for capturing the light at the other end. A majority of cameras have a lens positioned in front of the camera's opening to gather the incoming light and focus all or part of the image on the recording surface. The diameter of the aperture is often controlled by a diaphragm mechanism, but some cameras have a fixed-size aperture. Most 20th century cameras used photographic film as a recording surface, while the majority of new ones now use an electronic image sensor.

The still camera takes one photo each time the user presses the shutter button. A typical movie camera continuously takes 24 film frames per second as long as the user holds down the shutter button, or until the shutter button is pressed a second time.

From its inception, the camera has been instrumental in the recording of still images from then-present surroundings, and further modifications led to the development of motion picture sequences in the late 19th century. Cameras and the exhibition of camera-captured images are widely used in both professional and consumer settings in the 21st century for both mass and interpersonal communication purposes.[2]


Centuries of advances in chemistry and optics, including the invention of the cameraobscura, set the stage for the world’s first photograph. In 1826, French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, took that photograph, titled View from the Window at Le Gras, at his family’s country home. Niépce produced his photo—a view of a courtyard and outbuildings seen from the house’s upstairs window—by exposing a bitumen-coated plate in a camera obscura for several hours on his windowsill.[3]
First Photograph Ever Taken | View from the Window at Le Gras/Credit: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1825, France
First Photograph Ever Taken | View from the Window at Le Gras/Credit: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1825, France


Digital or Analog
Many arguments still persist today and both analog and digital have their drawbacks. The user must decide for themselves whether or not to use real film or the digitized.

Making the Image Permanent

Scientists had known for some time that certain silver compounds, then called silver salts and now named silver halides, would turn black when exposed to light. In England, Thomas Wedgwood, son of the famous potter, experimented with one of these silver halides, silver nitrate, to produce silhouettes. The pictures, however, were not permanent and turned black unless stored in the dark.

In the early 19th century Joseph-Nicephore Niepce of France began to experiment with a then novel graphic arts printing method called lithography. His work led him to further experiments using bitumen, a resinous substance, and oil of lavender. Niepce developed a process whereby he could permanently capture the image of a camera obscura. In 1827 he made the world's first surviving photograph from the window of a country home in France. It required an exposure, in bright sunlight, of eight hours.

Meanwhile, Daguerre was experimenting with silver-iodide images. Hearing of Niepce's work, he contacted him, and in 1829 they became partners. During the next few years Daguerre, with Niepce's help, worked out the process that came to be known as daguerreotypy. It was a complicated procedure that demanded considerable skill. A silver-coated sheet of copper was sensitized by treatment with iodine vapor, forming a coating of light-sensitive silver iodide. The daguerreotype plate was exposed in the camera and then developed in mercury fumes at temperatures of about 120 degrees F (50 degrees C). The exposed areas absorbed mercury atoms and highlighted the image. Finally, the image was fixed by washing it in hypo. The daguerreotype's silver image was capable of rendering exquisitely fine detail. It was a single-image process, however--each exposure produced only one picture, incapable of reproduction. Furthermore, the process required exposures of up to several minutes even in bright sunlight, thus constraining its subjects to absolute motionlessness. In spite of this, the process immediately became popular, particularly for portraiture. Daguerreotypy rapidly developed into a thriving business in England and the United States. Superb portraits were made by such daguerreotypists as Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes in Boston. The French excelled in landscapes and cityscapes. In 1840 a much faster lens was designed by the Hungarian Jozsef Petzval and manufactured by Peter Voigtlander in Austria. At about the same time a method was discovered that increased considerably the light sensitivity of the daguerreotype plate. This method involved a second fuming with chlorine or bromine before exposure.

In England William Henry Fox Talbot had developed his own method of photography at about the same time that Daguerre was inventing the daguerreotype. Talbot impregnated paper with silver nitrate or silver chloride. When exposed in a camera, the sensitized paper turned black where light struck it, creating a negative image of the subject. This was made permanent by fixing with hypo. To achieve a positive image, a contact print could be made by placing the negative over a second piece of sensitized paper and exposing the combination to bright light. Talbot's "photogenic drawings," as he called them, lacked the daguerreotype's sharp detail and brilliance but offered the great advantage that from one negative a large number of positive prints could be made. His process, known as the calotype, and later talbotype, process, was at first less popular than the daguerreotype. Most later methods of photography, however, have evolved from Talbot's work. His was the first negative-positive process.

In 1851 F. Scott Archer of England made public his wet-collodion process, in which he used a glass plate coated with collodion as a base for light-sensitive silver halides. His procedure, requiring seven steps, was only slightly less complicated than the daguerreotype process, but it was considerably less expensive. It also produced a negative that was much sharper than that of the calotype method. Soon the wet-collodion process had supplanted both the older techniques as the most widely used process of photography. A major inconvenience of the wet-collodion method was the fact that the plate was light-sensitive only as long as it remained wet; after it dried it lost its sensitivity. Thus plates had to be used almost immediately after preparation. Since these plates could not be prepared and stockpiled in advance, a portable darkroom, in the form of a tent, wagon, or railway car, for instance, had to accompany the camera wherever it went.[5]

Photography and Science

A Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) produces a 3D image of a sample by 'bouncing' electons off and dectecting them at multiple detectors.

Due to advances in photography and science, humans can view amazing phenomena to entertain and enlighten. For example Electron Microscopes are scientific instruments that use a beam of highly energetic electrons to examine objects on a very fine scale. While in space the Hubble is a telescope that orbits Earth. Its position above the atmosphere, which distorts and blocks the light that reaches our planet, gives it a view of the universe that typically far surpasses that of ground-based telescopes. Orbiting the Earth for over two decades, Hubble has helped to answer some of the most compelling astronomical questions of our time – and uncovered mysteries we never knew existed.[6]
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Types of Photography

Photography is an expansive art form that includes more than just portraiture, landscape or glamour photography. Both professional and amateur photographers may favor specific types of photography over others. While a professional photographer may work in photojournalism, an amateur may be particularly interested in macrophotography. Read on to learn more about the various types of photography.[7]

external image imgLXG30204-0CO-01.jpgAlthough amateurs may break into this field without formal training, photojournalism is often limited to professionals. One reason photojournalism is generally practiced by professionals is that serious photojournalists must be sure that their shots maintain the integrity of the original scene.
Photojournalism requires the photographer to shoot only the facts: no alteration or embellishment of the photo is permitted. Photojournalism pictures are often powerful images that engage the viewer with the news story. Knowing how to take such shots to capture the original emotion is often learned only through years of practice and experience.

Documentary Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-02.jpgDocumentary photographs tell stories with images. The main difference between photojournalism and documentary photography is that documentary photography is meant to serve as a historical document of a political or social era while photojournalism documents a particular scene or instance.
A documentary photographer may shoot a series of images of the inner city homeless or chronicle the events of international combat. Any topic may be the subject of documentary photography. As with photojournalism, documentary photography seeks to show the truth without manipulating the image.
Action Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-03.jpgWhile professionals who take action shots may specialize in a variety of different subjects, sports photography is one of the fastest and most exciting types of photography. As with any action shot, a good sports photographer has to know his or her subject well enough to anticipate when to take pictures. The same rule goes for photographers taking action shots of animals in nature or of a plane taking off.

external image imgLXG30204-0CO-04.jpgMacrophotography describes the field of photography in which pictures are taken at close range. Once restricted to photographers with advanced and expensive equipment, macrophotography is now easier for amateurs to practice with digital cameras with macro settings. Macrophotography subjects may include insects, flowers, the texture of a woven sweater or any object where close-up photography reveals interesting details.

external image imgLXG30204-0CO-05.jpgMicrophotography uses specialized cameras and microscopes to capture images of extremely small subjects. Most applications of microphotography are best suited for the scientific world. For example, microphotography is used in disciplines as diverse as astronomy, biology and medicine.

Glamour Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-06.jpgGlamour photography, sometimes confused with pornography, may be sexy and erotic but it is not pornographic. Instead of focusing on nudity or lurid poses, glamour photography seeks to capture its subject in suggestive poses that emphasize curves and shadows. As the name implies, the goal of glamour photography is to depict the model in a glamorous light. Consequently, many glamour shots carry flirtatious, mysterious and playful tones.

Aerial Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-07.jpgAn aerial photographer specializes in taking photos from the air. Photos may be used for surveying or construction, to capture birds or weather on film or for military purposes. Aerial photographers have used planes, ultralights, parachutes, balloons and remote controlled aircraft to take pictures from the air.

Underwater Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-08.jpgUnderwater photography is usually employed by scuba divers or snorkelers. However, the cost of scuba diving, coupled with often expensive and unwieldy underwater photography equipment, makes this one of the less common types of photography. Similarly, if an amateur has the equipment and the scuba know-how, taking shots underwater can be complicated, as scuba goggles are magnified and distort the photographer’s vision.

Art Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-09.jpgArtistic photography can embrace a wide variety of subjects. While a nature photographer may use underwater photography to create an art show based on sea life, a portrait photographer’s show may feature black and white artistic portraitures. In all cases, the photographs must have aesthetic value to be considered art.

external image imgLXG30204-0CO-10.jpgPortraiture is one of the oldest types of photography. Whether the subject is your family or your pet, the goal of portraiture is to capture the personality of the subject or group of subjects on film.

Wedding Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-11.jpgWedding photography is a blend of different types of photography. Although the wedding album is a documentary of the wedding day, wedding photos can be retouched and edited to produce a variety of effects. For example, a photographer may treat some of the pictures with sepia toning to give them a more classic, timeless look.
In addition, a wedding photographer must have portrait photography skills. He may also have to employ glamour photography techniques to capture the bride and groom at their best.
Advertising Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-12.jpgBecause photography plays a vital role in advertising, many professional photographers devote their careers to advertising photography. The need for unique and eye-catching advertising copy means the photographer may work with multiple types of photography, including macrophotography and glamour photography.

Travel Photography
external image imgLXG30204-0CO-13.jpgTravel photography may span several categories of photography, including advertising, documentary or vernacular photography that depicts a particularly local or historical flavor. A travel photographer can capture the feel of a location with both landscapes and portraiture.

Photography Through the Ages...

It is hard to imagine life before photography. The ways in which it is integrated is beyond compare. Picture ID's, vacation souvenirs, X-rays, epic views of space, scenes of disaster, war, sport. Every human mind has been altered by images and thus also changing our social awareness.

The Kodak Era

Take a Kodak with you!

In the 1880s the American George Eastman put flexible roll film on the market, and in 1889 he introduced the first Kodak camera with the slogan, "You push the button and we do the rest." Thus was launched the era of mass-market photography. Meanwhile, gifted photographers we
re exploring the new medium from a creative standpoint, attempting to discover its potential and limitations and define photography as an art form. At first it was only natural that photographers should take their inspiration from painting. Oscar G. Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson, for example, working in England, used various darkroom techniques, tricks, and manipulations to produce staged photographs that frankly imitated the sentimental, moralistic paintings of the era. The English amateur Julia Margaret Cameron did not take up photography until she was almost 50. Nevertheless, she imposed her own personal style on the medium and produced a collection of extraordinary portraits that were soft focused but impassioned. Another English amateur, Peter Henry Emerson, developed a strong pictorial style of his own and advanced detailed theories of photographic aesthetics that had a considerable influence on late 19th-century art photographers. The American Alfred Stieglitz, a distinguished photographer in his own right, began to promote photography as a fine art in the pages of his illustrated quarterly Camera Work, in his Photo-Secession group, and later in his 291 gallery.[8]

The Polaroid Era

Polaroid Land Camera Model 95
In 1927 a young Edwin Land journeyed to Harvard College from his home in southern Connecticut, intending to study chemistry. He dropped out after his freshman year and moved to New York City, where he would spend days in the public library and nights sneaking into Columbia University labs to use their equipment. The result was seminal: in 1929, Land invented polarizing filmcapable of cutting glare, returning to Harvard triumphantly the next year. He still never finished a degree.In 1947, Land invented the first of what would be come a historic line of cameras. Called the "Polaroid Land Camera Model 95," this leather-bound beauty produced instant prints inside the camera in about one minute. This would become the technology that would distinguish Polaroid cameras from 1947 to 1983. Early versions required two rolls of film be spooled inside the camera -- positive and negative. [9]

The Digital Revolution

The Future of Photography

The Future of the Camera
The history of cameras and photography is ongoing with new innovations appearing regularly. With the digital camera, amateur and photographer can now take multiple pictures and view them almost instantly. Even underwater cameras are now affordable options for the general public. Innovation and necessity have driven the history of photography and cameras. With the vast knowledge of photographic techniques available today, further innovations can be expected in the future.[10]

Photography As A Career

Photographers produce and preserve images that paint a picture, tell a story, or record an event. To create commercial-quality photographs, photographers need technical expertise, creativity, and the appropriate professional equipment. Producing a successful picture requires choosing and presenting a subject to achieve a particular effect, and selecting the right cameras and other photographic enhancing tools. For example, photographers may enhance the subject's appearance with natural or artificial light, shoot the subject from an interesting angle, draw attention to a particular aspect of the subject by blurring the background, or use various lenses to produce desired levels of detail at various distances from the subject.

Today, most photographers use digital cameras instead of traditional silver-halide film cameras, although some photographers use both types, depending on their own preference and the nature of the assignment. Regardless of the camera they use, photographers also employ an array of other equipment—from lenses, filters, and tripods to flash attachments and specially constructed lighting equipment—to improve the quality of their work.

Digital cameras capture images electronically, allowing them to be edited on a computer. Images can be stored on portable memory devices such as compact disks, memory cards, and flash drives. Once the raw image has been transferred to a computer, photographers can use processing software to crop or modify the image and enhance it through color correction and other specialized effects. As soon as a photographer has finished editing the image, it can be sent anywhere in the world over the Internet.

Photographers also can create electronic portfolios of their work and display them on their own webpage, allowing them to reach prospective customers directly. Digital technology also allows the production of larger, more colorful, and more accurate prints or images for use in advertising, photographic art, and scientific research. Photographers who process their own digital images need to be proficient in the use of computers, high-quality printers, and editing software.

Photographers who use cameras with silver-halide film often send their film to laboratories for processing. Color film requires expensive equipment and exacting conditions for correct processing and printing. (See the statement on photographic process workers and processing machine operators elsewhere in the Handbook.) Other photographers, especially those using black and white film or creating special effects, develop and print their own photographs using their own fully equipped darkrooms,. Photographers who develop their own film must invest in additional developing and printing equipment and acquire the technical skills to operate it.

Some photographers specialize in areas such as portrait, commercial and industrial, scientific, news, or fine arts photography. Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and usually work in their own studios. Some specialize in weddings, religious ceremonies, or school photographs and they may work on location. Portrait photographers who own and operate their own business have many responsibilities in addition to taking pictures. They must arrange for advertising, schedule appointments, set and adjust equipment, purchase supplies, keep records, bill customers, pay bills, and—if they have employees—hire, train, and direct their workers. Many also process their own images, design albums, and mount and frame the finished photographs.

Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of various subjects, such as buildings, models, merchandise, artifacts, and landscapes. These photographs are used in a variety of media, including books, reports, advertisements, and catalogs. Industrial photographers often take pictures of equipment, machinery, products, workers, and company officials. The pictures are used for various purposes—for example, analysis of engineering projects, publicity, or records of equipment development or deployment. This photography frequently is done on location.

Scientific photographers take images of a variety of subjects to record scientific or medical data or phenomena, using knowledge of scientific procedures. They typically possess additional knowledge in areas such as engineering, medicine, biology, or chemistry.

News photographers, also called photojournalists, photograph newsworthy people, places, and sporting, political, and community events for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television.

Fine arts photographers sell their photographs as fine artwork. In addition to technical proficiency, fine arts photographers need artistic talent and creativity.

Self-employed, or freelance, photographers usually specialize in one of the above fields. In addition to carrying out assignments under direct contract with clients, they may license the use of their photographs through stock-photo agencies or market their work directly to the public. Stock-photo agencies sell magazines and other customers the right to use photographs, and pay the photographer a commission. These agencies require an application from the photographer and a sizable portfolio of pictures. Once accepted, photographers usually are required to submit a large number of new photographs each year. Self-employed photographers must also have a thorough understanding of copyright laws in order to protect their work.

Most photographers spend only a small portion of their work schedule actually taking photographs. Their most common activities are editing images on a computer—if they use a digital camera—and looking for new business—if they are self-employed.

Work environment. Working conditions for photographers vary considerably. Some photographers may work a 5-day, 40-hour week. News photographers, however, often work long, irregular hours and must be available to work on short notice. Many photographers work part time or on variable schedules.

Portrait photographers usually work in their own studios but also may travel to take photographs at the client's location, such as a school, a company office, or a private home. News and commercial photographers frequently travel locally, stay overnight on assignments, or travel to distant places for long periods.

Some photographers work in uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings, especially news photographers covering accidents, natural disasters, civil unrest, or military conflicts. Many photographers must wait long hours in all kinds of weather for an event to take place and stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment. News photographers often work under strict deadlines.

Self-employment allows for greater autonomy, freedom of expression, and flexible scheduling. However, income can be uncertain and the continuous, time-consuming search for new clients can be stressful. Some self-employed photographers hire assistants who help seek out new business.

A Day in the Life of a Photographer

Below is a pie chart that was illustrates the results of a study by The International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers (ISPWP) outlining the various tasks in percentages that this single profession requires daily. [11]

A study by the ISPWP


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    National Geographic
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    'Polaroid Innovation, Past and Present' By: Chris Dannen
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