Photography: Definition, History, and Basics

By Matic Broz, editor-in-chief of Photutorial covering stock media, Adobe, and design. He founded Photutorial while finishing his PhD in computational biosciences.
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Let’s talk about photography. Just follow the post, and it will guide you through photography.

Photography definition: photography is the art or practice of creating photographs by recording light by an image sensor or a chemical reaction.

How Photography Works

The setup for photography usually consists of two parts: a camera body and lens. The lens focuses the light onto the light-sensitive area in camera – the sensor – that can be either electronic or a photographic film.

Digital (electronic) sensors convert the light that hits the pixels of the sensor into an electrical charge, which is then processed and stored in the form of a digital image. On the other hand, when the light hits the film, it creates a latent image, that is later “developed” into either a positive or a negative – the latter, is usually used to create a positive image on a paper, known as a print.

Photography Etymology

According to Oxford Reference (link:, the word photography consists of words photos that means light and graphos that means writing or painting. Together, photography means painting with light.

The term photography is believed to have been coined by the British scientist Sir John Herschel in 1839; however, when the photography was born, several people all over the world could have independently come up with the word photography.

Photography History

Let’s look at a photography history with the help of a timeline. (Sources: Wikipedia, Mymodernmet)

  • 470-390 BCE: the earliest written record of the camera obscura (“dark chamber”) theory by the Chinese philosopher Mozi.
  • 5th and 4th century BCE: Aristotle and Euclid independently describe a camera obscura.
  • 6th century CE: Byzantine mathematician Anthemius of Tralles uses a camera obscura in his experiments.
  • 965-1040 CE: the Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham creates the foundations for the invention of photography in the 19th century. He gives the first analysis of camera obscura, describes the relationship between the focal point and the pinhole, and performs early experiments with afterimages.
  • 13th century: Albertus Magnus discovers silver nitrate, later used for primitive photographs.
  • 16th century: Georg Fabricius discovers silver chloride, later used for primitive photographs.
  • 1502: Leonardo da Vinci describes natural camera obscura formed by dark caves on the edge of a sunlit valley in his Codex Atlanticus. Over the years, he drew up to 270 diagrams of camera obscura devices in his sketchbooks.
  • 1566: Daniele Barbaro describes a diaphragm.
  • 17th century: Joseph Pennel hypothesized that Johannes Vermeer used camera obscura for his painting, based on the Officer and Laughing Girl (1657) painting, in which the man in the foreground is painted nearly twice as large as the girl – a consequence of camera obscura.
  • 1694: Wilhelm Homberg describes how light darkens some chemicals (discovery of photochemical effect).
  • 1760: French author Tphaigne de la Roche describes something that can be interpreted as photography in his fiction book Giphantie.
  • 1800: British inventor Thomas Wedgwood makes the first known attempt to capture the image on a light-sensitive paper by camera obscura, but the images darkened over time.
  • 1822: French inventor Nicéphore Niépce produced the first permanent photoetching image, which was later destroyed.
  • 1826 and 1827: Niépce successfully made the earliest surviving photograph. These photographs needed extremely long exposure time – at least 8 hours or even several days.
  • 1837: Daguerre, Niépce’s former coworker, created a silver-plated surface sensitized by iodine vapour, developed by mercury vapour, and “fixed” with hot, saturated saltwater, that produced photograph in only a couple of minutes.
  • 1838: Daguerre takes the earliest confirmed photograph of a person.
  • 1839: Daguerre’s work becomes an international success, and American photographer Robert Cornelius takes the earliest photographic self-portrait.
  • 1840: Talbot establishes a process that produces a translucent negative which used to print multiple positives; this is the basis of most modern chemical photography up to the present day.
  • 1851: Frederick Scott Archer publishes the wet plate collodion process, that became the most widely uses medium until the 1870s.
  • 1861: The first colour photograph is taken.
  • 1876: Hurter and Driffield began work on the light sensitivity of emulsions.
  • 1885: George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, markets the first flexible photographic roll film.
  • 1891: Gabriel Lippmann introduces a process for reproduction of natural-colour photographs based on an optical phenomenon of the interference of light waves, that won him the Nobel Prize in 1908.
  • 1935: Kodak introduces the first colour film that captured three colour components, Kodachrome.
  • 1963: Polaroid introduces an instant colour film that yields a colour print only a minute or two after the exposure.
  • 1981: Sony unveils a charge-coupled device (CCD) for digital imaging – the first digital sensor.
  • 1988: Fujifilm creates the first digital camera that both records and saves images (Fujix DS-1P).
  • 1991: Kodak unveils the first commercially available DSLR camera, marking the birth of commercial photography.
  • 2008: Panasonic creates the first commercial mirrorless camera, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1.

It took over two and a half millennia for humanity to develop photography and bring it to today’s standards.

Types of Photography

There are countless types of photography; virtually, there’s a type of photography for every motive, technique and intent of taking photos, and the photographer.

In the simplest terms, photography can be divided into 4 categories:


Amateur photography is the process of taking photos for no special intent other than personal needs, such as for social media or a personal album.

Amateur photographs usually don’t have any commercial value and have with the rise of smartphone cameras become the most abundant type of photographs.


Commercial photography covers a wide spectrum of photography types, such as fashion, real estate, stock photography, and photojournalism. Commercial photos are taken with the sole purpose of being sold or being used to boost sales.


While art photography overlaps with amateur and commercial photography, it’s purpose is to express the photographer’s emotions or a message. Art photography is often abstract, black and white, or nude, but in the end, it all comes down to what the artist wanted to convey.

Science and forensics

Science and forensics photography is used to provide visual evidence of either animals, plants, and astronomical effects as science photography, or crime scenes, suspicious personnel, and accidents as forensic photography.

Photography – How to Continue? is dedicated to writing helpful articles for photographers that are eager to improve their photography.

Here is the list of posts that will help you improve photography. I listed them in special order, so a beginner photographers can follow along, but if you already have some knowledge, feel free so skip as many as you want.

Starting out

Photography basics

Learn different types of photography

Photo editing

Ready to start earning money

Having all the knowledge, but just need inspiration

– Matic


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