What is Photography? Why is it Important and Its History


The question asking, “What is photography?” is like trying to answer the question,”What is life’s meaning?”

Photography is unbelievably complex. It has many different facets and forms. There are both technical and creative facets of photography. The way photography is used is often different, often from person to person.

In addition, the quality of the images is limitless. In this way, it is very difficult to explain the difference between an ordinary snapshot and an art piece. You can tell by looking at two photos which one, but it is not easy to learn how to be an amateur to a pro.

But somewhere you need to start, so I have a couple of basic ideas in this guide which will help you answer the question, “What is photography?”

What is photography?

It is important to start with a concept of photography first in trying to quantify what photography is.

According to laymen, photography is simply the process of capturing light with a camera to create an image.

This was done in 1826 when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took a photograph from his bedroom window. The photo above was entitled View from the Window at Le Gras.

View from the Window at Le Gras Joseph Nicéphore Niépce image

The photo is not all that spectacular in terms of the subject. Nevertheless, it is still an important part of photography as the oldest surviving photograph.

As basic as this picture is, it perfectly demonstrates the photography technical process.

Niépce used a method of his invention, called heliography, to process the image taken by his camera.

Bitumen had to be dissolved in lavender oil. The resulting material was lithographed. When dry, the lithograph was etched and then the exposure of the sun.

Lavender oil and any unhardened bitumen were washed off. The other areas on the lithograph surface were acid-washed to create the final image.

Yet Joseph Nicéphore Niépce is only one player in photography history. There were many other milestones in photography along the way.

Before we get into the history of photography, it might be nice to know why you should get into photography.

What is the purpose of a photograph?

A photograph is an artifact that can be seen by the human eye. The principal object of a photo is to capture moments of life. Moments of happiness, pleasure, friendship, etc. We want those moments to last, remember and share with others.

This is why are images so important. Much of the brain relies on visual processing that enables people to process information at incredible rates. In just 100 milliseconds, the human brain can identify a recognizable picture, which makes photographs the perfect way to interact in the world of today’s short attention.

Why Photography is important in human life?

Throughout our lives, we protect significant events and people. The ceremonies of our birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, holidays and new homes are all recorded in some form or another because they are significant. Photographs are our personal stories.

What makes a powerful photograph?

A powerful picture looks true. You seek to elicit an emotion— a true feeling in the spectator that connects them to the picture. You want to place the viewers in the picture emotionally, or at least feel like they are in the same room as they see it. What are some things photography has to offer?
  • Immortality is given by photography.
  • Photography records your life journey.
  • Photography is a wonderful relief of pain.
  • Your creativity is influenced by photography.
  • For anyone with a true passion for it, photography as a profession is possible.
  • Photography is a beautiful, healthy and normal boost to self-esteem.
  • Photography brings you closer to nature and the spiritual.
  • You can always capture your old memories

Light is the lifeblood of the image and photography. Photography helps you to catch the perfect smile in perfect harmony with the position of your subject’s lips.

Photography plays an important part in our lives, by capturing special events, people or locations and allowing us to learn and grow as individuals. Photography is a hobby that provides so many creative opportunities, technical expertise and a variety of ways to capture an image. Anyone can do it, but if you want to do it well, well, it does take practice.

Let’s talk about the first camera


It is only in the eleventh century B.C.E. that the basic concept of photography existed. It wasn’t until a Iraqi scientist invented something called the camera obscura that the craft came into being.

Even then, the camera actually did not capture images, it just shot them onto another floor. The pictures were also upside down, while precise sketches of real objects such as buildings could be traced.

The first camera obscura was using a pinhole in a tent to project an image into a darkened field from outside the tent. Only in the 17th century was the camera dark enough to be waterproof. Around this time, simple lenses were also introduced to concentrate the light.

What is the history of photography?

After Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had successfully taken the first permanent photo, there were many other photographic turning points which brought us to where we are today.

timeline of photography image Louis Daguerre [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The Daguerreotype

The Daguerreotype method was invented by Louis Daguerre, a French painter, in 1829 and was based on the collaboration of Daguerre with Niépce. Daguerre’s photography process shortened the very long exposure needed by a heliograph and led to much clearer images. Above, you can see his 1837 photo of the L’Atelier de l’artiste.

Light-Sensitive Paper

photography definition image

Scottish National Gallery [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Just a few weeks after Daguerre unveiled the process, as shocking as the image quality was of the Daguerreotype, Fox Talbot, a scientist from Britain, revealed that he had invented an entirely new way to make images.

Talbot used light-sensitive paper instead of relying on metal plates as Daguerre and Niépce had done. His system, called the cycle of calotype, was introduced in 1841.

Above is a portrait of Thomas Duncan of about 1844, one of the oldest known calotypes.

Roll Film is Invented

photography achievements image

George Eastman and his business partner, Henry A. Strong, made their first roll film in 1888.

The film from Eastman Kodak was translucent 70 mm cellulose. The rolls were then cut down to the center (no less by Thomas Edison) to create the typical film size of 35 mm.

Such lightweight, easy to use film rolls revolutionized photography and made it something everybody could follow.

The above advertisements are from 1900 and demonstrate how small roll film cameras fit into a pocket.

From there, several additional technological inventions were made including 35 mm cameras development, instant film production, digital photography and mobile photo development.

First color photograph

first color photograph

The first color photograph was taken by James Clerk Maxwell, the mathematical physicist. The above piece is known to be the first robust color picture and was introduced at a lecture by Maxwell in 1861. Thomas Sutton, the inventor of the SLR, was the man who pressed the shutter button, but Maxwell was certified for the scientific process which made it possible. It is a three-color bow to those with difficulties identifying the picture.

Famous Pphotographers that popularized photography

 image Ansel Adams

The photographers who have been involved in making photography a global pursuit of millions would be impossible to list.

In reality, a list of the most famous photographers could hardly be reduced to less than a dozen.

We figured out more than two dozen photographers in our study of the most successful photographers of all time, whose influence on photography was unmeasurable. The list includes: Ansel Adams, whom, besides Louis Daguerre and Joseph Nicéphore Niépce?

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams, whose most famous work includes his pictures of black and white American West scenery (such as the Snake River and the Tetons). He is probably the most famous photographer in history and has contributed to the popularization of landscape photography and conservation. One of the most famous quotes for Ansel Adams is, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson,

Examples of Cartier-Bresson's Work

Henri Cartier-Bresson, a father of photojournalism, the most famous French photographer, used the new compact 35 mm format (which we still use) to create “street photography” photojournalism. At the age of 23, he was very interested in photography and left art to do so. “”I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant,” he would explain later. Oddly enough, he took his first photographs all over the world but ignored his native France. His first exhibition was at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1932. At the coronation in London of George VI, Cartier-Bresson took his first photographic pictures but none of them represented the King himself.

Examples of Cartier-Bresson's Work

The works of the Frenchman inspired generations of photographers and journalists worldwide. While narrative in style, his works can be regarded as iconic artworks as well. Notwithstanding the fame and effect, the man has very few pictures. He avoided being photographed because he was embarrassed by his name. The imagination of millions was captured by his frank portraits and street scenes. He has captured some of the most significant events in history such as the China Revolution and the social and economic changes in the United States after the Second World War. “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.” is one of Henri cartier-Bresson’s best quote.

Dorothea Lange,

migrant mother

Who, through her documentary-style photos of the Great Depression, Dorothea Lange was one of the best-known woman photographers in history (his most famous picture, Migrant Mother is shown above). Yes, if you’ve ever seen pictures from that age, you certainly saw some of her photos. Lange’s research showed the world how powerful a camera can be besides capturing a significant period in American history. One of the best-known quotes from Dorothea Lange is: “While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.”

Alfred Stieglitz,

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Alfred Stieglitz popularized photography as an art form. He is best known for portraits that made them feel and sound more emotional than an image of a moment in time, but a slice of the same person’s story in that moment. Stieglitz primarily owes today’s understanding of photography as art as well as paintings and sculptures. One of the best-known quotes by Alfred Stieglitz is “I am not a painter, nor an artist. Therefore I can see straight, and that may be my undoing.”

The Basics of Photography 

For all of you beginning photographers there, you have to learn how to control photography by manipulating, maneuvering, light.

Three camera settings consist of the very bases of photography and each influences the light in a different manner independently. Nevertheless, these three configurations are used to build an image together.

You can definitely fire the camera in full auto mode and assess the exposure. In many instances, it’s all right. These three are considered the exposure triangle– aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Types of Photography

Just as there are all kinds of things to discover when you study photography, you can explore all kinds of photography.

You can read more about the most popular types of photography in our in-depth guides, but here is a quick overview of certain possibilities for photography:

  • Abstract Photography
  • Adventure Photography
  • Advertising Photography
  • Architecture Photography
  • Astrophotography
  • Black and White Photography
  • Boudoir Photography
  • Candid Photography
  • Cityscape Photography
  • Commercial Photography
  • Composite Photography
  • Creative Photography
  • Crystal Ball Photography
  • Documentary Photography
  • Drone Photography
  • Editorial Photography
  • Event Photography
  • Family Photography
  • Fashion Photography
  • Fine Art Photography
  • Firework Photography
  • Fish-Eye Photography
  • Food Photography
  • Forced Perspective
  • Glamour Photography
  • Golden Hour Photography
  • Head Shot Photography
  • High Dynamic Range Photography
  • Indoor Photography
  • Infrared Photography
  • Kinetic Photography
  • Landscape Photography
  • Lifestyle Photography
  • Long Exposure Photography
  • Macro Photography
  • Milky Way Photography
  • Minimalist Photography
  • Mobile Photography
  • Newborn Photography
  • Night Photography
  • Nude Photography
  • Panorama Photography
  • Pet Photography
  • Photo Manipulation Photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Portrait Photography
  • Prism Photography
  • Product Photography
  • Real Estate Photography
  • Scientific Photography
  • Seascape Photography
  • Social Media Photography
  • Sports Photography
  • Still-Life Photography
  • Stock Photography
  • Street Photography
  • Tilt-Shift Photography
  • Time-Lapse Photography
  • Travel Photography
  • Urban Exploration Photography
  • War Photography
  • Wedding Photography
  • Wildlife Photography

Again, this isn’t a full list of photography types, there might be new phones like mobile photography, maybe selfies photography is a thing? And when you study photography and know more, you will probably find the answer to our original question–What is photography? It’s much deeper and wider than we mentioned here.

In addition to the technical and artistic aspects, photography deals with feelings, emotions and interactions with people and places.

What is photography, then? It’s an incredibly personal experience.

What I see as photography is probably very much the same as for you, but at the end of the day, our own perceptions, views, preconceptions, values and so on affect how photography means. This is part of what makes photography so great; through the power of the lens, it can bring us together, but at the same time, we can appreciate it in a highly personal way.