What is Photography?

Answering the question, “What is photography?” is kind of like trying to answer the question, “What’s the meaning of life?”

That’s because photography is incredibly complex. It has many facets and types. There are technical aspects to photography as well as creative ones. The manner in which photography is used is even different, often from one person to the next.

Moreover, there is an unlimited variety in the quality of photos. In that regard, trying to explain the difference between an ordinary snapshot and a work of art is a very difficult job. You can tell by looking at two photographs which one is which, but conveying how to get from being an amateur to a pro is not an easy task.

But, you have to start somewhere, so in this guide, I offer a few foundational ideas that will help you answer the question, “What is photography?”

Photography Defined

When trying to quantify what is photography, it’s important to first start with a photography definition.

In layman’s terms, photography is quite simply the process of capturing light with a camera to create an image.

This was done for the first time in 1826, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took a photo out of his window. The image, shown above, was entitled View from the Window at Le Gras.

In terms of subject matter, the photo isn’t all that impressive. However, as the oldest surviving photograph, it is nonetheless an important part of photography.

As simple as this image is, it demonstrates the technical process of photography perfectly.

To process the image captured by his camera, Niépce used a process of his invention called heliography.

A Brief Timeline of Photography

After Joseph Nicéphore Niépce successfully created the first permanent photograph, there were many other turning points in photography that got us to where we are today.

The Basics of Photography

For all you beginner photographers out there, photography is built on light, and as such, you have to learn how to control it.

There are three camera settings that comprise the very basics of photography, and that each independently control light in a different way. Yet, these three settings are used together to create an exposure.

Sure, you can shoot in full auto mode and let the camera determine the exposure. In many cases, it works okay. But we’re here to learn, right? So, here’s a quick overview of the exposure triangle – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Types of Photography

Just like there are all sorts of things to learn when you’re studying photography, there are all sorts of types of photography you can explore.

You can learn about the most popular types of photography in our detailed guide, but for our purposes in this article, here’s a quick run-down of some of the possibilities you can try:

* Landscape photography
* Portrait photography
* Wildlife photography
* Travel photography
* Street photography
* Newborn photography
* Macro photography

Again, this isn’t a complete list of the types of photography, but it’ll get you started. And as you explore and learn more about photography, you’ll likely find that the answer to our original question – What is photography? – is much deeper and broader than we’ve covered here.

More than the technical and artistic elements that comprise it, photography is about feelings, emotions, and making connections with people and places.

So, what is photography? It’s an incredibly personal experience, that’s what!

What photography is to me is probably very similar to what it is for you, but at the end of the day, our own experiences, opinions, biases, beliefs, and so forth influence what photography means. That’s part of what makes photography so great; it can bring us together thanks to the power of the lens, yet at the same time, we can enjoy it as a highly personal experience.