Photography (From Greek Photos Graphos, meaning Painting with Light) is the science and art of capturing an enduring replication of a scene. In this day and age this is usually done digitally. There are still a few photographers working with film and various other types processes for capturing an image. For the most part digital photography is the current standard in the art today.

This article will concentrate on the technical aspects of photography as a whole and touch on some of the alternate processes in the art. If you would like to read a more philosophical view of photography you can read Photography - Basic Concepts


The history of photography is very long if you look past the first box camera back to when concepts were first invented (or thought of and discussed). With the amount of pieces and different sciences that go into photography as well as the number of ideas that contributed to the advancement of photography, it took quite a bit of time to come together and get photography to where it is today in the digital age.

Pre Film

Greek mathematicians Aristotle and Euclid were among the first to describe a pinhole camera back in the 5th and the 4th century BCE. The pinhole camera would be the first camera to resemble anything that we would associate with photography in general. Today people are using pinhole cameras to do some really neat artistic works. The first mention of something similar to the pinhole camera was by a Persian scientist Ibn al-Haytham in the 10th century BCE who wrote about how light would pass through small holes into dark areas like light through the tree leaves in the forest canopy leaving small pinholes of light on the forest floor, and how they would have slices taken out of them during a solar eclipse. Though this didn't talk about latent imagery like Aristotle or Euclid, it was most likely the first mention of something working as a pinhole camera.

The discovery of the camera obscura dates back to the ancient Chinese. The camera obscura is a more general description of the pinhole camera. That is the pinhole camera is a type of camera obscura. Most of the time if you are talking about a camera obscura you are talking about a room that is dark with a hole at one end to let in light. This hole is very small compared to the size of the room and the light projects an inverted and backwards image of the scene outside the room onto a wall opposite of the hole. The whole history of photography as we know it today started with people trying to make the image stay and be able to view it whenever they wanted. Painters would use the camera obscura to project an image onto a canvas in a dark room and would paint what they saw, in essence creating the first photographs through painting.

View From The Windows at Le Gras Joseph by Nicephore Niepce 1826 Thomas Wedgewood was the first to create an image without a camera. He was a potter and had was able to capture an image using silver salts. He had no way of making the image permanent, as the images would go completely black in bright light, so they had to be stored and viewed in dark rooms. In the 1820's the first permanent image was created by Nicephore Niepce, but was destroyed when they tried to duplicate it. Niepce also created another image in 1826 using a camera obscura. The process used to make the photograph stay was called Photoetching. It is a form of Photolithography in which a chemical agent removes anything that was not “burned in” by the light applied to the surface which is covered by a photo reactive agent such as Silver Oxide or Silver Nitrate.

Film Era

With the first image created that stayed in 1826 (that wasn't destroyed) the film era was started. With the first images the exposure time was extremely long (hours). New processes would soon be invented that would drastically reduce the exposure time required to capture an image and would introduce the use of photography for portraits. In 1837 the daguerrotype was developed by Lous Daguerre who worked with Niepce until he died in 1833. The first ever picture of a person was created using this process in 1838 by accident. The exposure time for this process was reduced to minutes, making it much easier for people to stand still long enough to be captured in the image.

Another process that produces image much more quickly was the Cyanotype. John Herschel was the first to use the terms we use today including photography, negative, and positive. Hershel also contributed many other processes and discoveries to the photographic world including the glass negative, and also the fact that sodium thiosulphate could be a solvent for silver halides. This was the way that photographs were “fixed” to make them permanent.

Black and White photography was the only way to fix a photo up until 1861 when James Clark Maxwell was the first to create a fixed color photograph using three black and white photographs through red, green and blue filters. This process is pretty much how we capture photos to this day, though it is all done at once instead of through three separate images. Many people still use black and white photography today to produce images for art and to explore photography at its basic level.

Color photography moved slowly at first from the first image created in 1861 until Kodak introduced the first commercially availble color film in 1935. Autochrome was created in 1907 by the Lumiere brothers, but it required plates covered in potato starch to allow light to be recorded in red, green and blue at various angles to create a color image. Agfa created the first easily processed film in 1936 and the first instant color film was created by Polaroid in 1963.

Digital Era

Sony was the first to create a consumer digital camera, the Sony Mavica in 1981. The Mavica would save images to a floppy disk and the images were shown on a television screen. Kodak introduced the first fully digital camera, the DCS 100 in 1991. It was the first fully digital SLR and came with a hefty price tag of $20,000 or more. A grand total of 987 of these cameras were sold between 1991 and 1994 and with the price tag and the size of the Digital Storage Unit, it was relegated to mostly photo-journalistic uses.

Digital photography uses an image sensor to record electronic data about the light coming through the lens rather then recording it on photographic film. These image sensors have increased in quality and sensitivity drastically since the first digital camera in 1981. With computers gaining in popularity and processing power, digital manipulation of images was quickly becoming the trend for photography. At first the images were scanned into a computer after they were taken on film or even produced into a photograph, then they could be edited on the computer. With the Kodak DCS 100, that quickly began to change.

With the invention of the camera phone, everyone could carry a camera around with them wherever they were and share them with anyone instantly across the internet. This trend started in 1997 when Philippe Kahn shared images of his new born baby daughter directly from the maternity ward to over 2000 people. Today billions of photographs are shared dialy on various sites across the internet incluing facebook, flickr, reddit etc.

Technical Aspects

The technical aspects of photography can be used across most types of cameras from the pinhole camera to today's newest digital cameras. Though they all apply to the various camera types, they are not all exactly the same. Some of the different aspects act differently on the different types of cameras, films or photographic papers.


Exposure is the amount of light that is recorded on whatever medium is being used, film, paper, or digital sensor. Exposure is effected by the ISO sensitivity of the film, sensor or paper being used to record the image, the Aperture and the Shutter Speed. All of these come together to create the Exposure.


Metering can be either in camera in the case of film or digital cameras. There are some older cameras that need an external light meter to figure out the three settings to create the exposure. Most external meters can bet set to a certain ISO, then the user can choose to set the shutter speed or the aperture and the light meter will give the other setting for you. The newer cameras (anything since the 80's) that have meters built into them can be set to full auto. The camera will set the shutter speed and aperture. Digital cameras will also allow you to set the ISO between each image instead of having to use a different ISO film or paper. These cameras will also set the ISO for you automatically just like the shutter speed and aperture to make sure you get the best exposure. They use extremely sensitive meters to make the calculations to figure out how to automatically set all three settings.


The aperture is the size of the hole that lets the light into the camera to the film. The smaller the aperture the less light will come in and the longer it will take to make a good exposure. Aperture also has a secondary effect on the image. The smaller the aperture the more is in focus and the larger the aperture the less is in focus.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is how long the aperture is open. In the older cameras with older film the shutter speed was much longer then it needs to be today. With digital sensors having very high iso ratings the shutter speeds can be extremely fast. Having fast shutter speeds help to stop motion in the image, such as a bullet fired from a gun being visible in the image. If the shutter speed is longer, it will allow blurring of moving objects such as a water fall or river. Having too long of a shutter speed will pick up vibrations from the ground (people walking around the camera) or from your hands as you hold the camera. With faster shutter speeds, this vibration doesn't show up in the image.


ISO is the sensitivity of the medium that is recording the image. Film and Paper have a set ISO rating, ranging from 25 to 3200 in most cases. There are films with faster and slower ISO ratings though. With film and paper, the higher the sensitivity or ISO rating the more grain there is in the final image. With digital cameras the higher the ISO setting on the sensor at the time the image is captured the more noise there is in the final image. Noise is the digital equivalent of grain. Most noise can be handled by photo editing software after the fact, but if the image is too noisy to get any detail then it may be unusable.


Focus is dependent on the camera and the lens (if the camera has one). A pinhole camera has such as small aperture that so much is in focus that the focus distance doesn't need to be changed. In the final image it seems that everything in the image is in focus. Film cameras and Digital cameras can change the focus the distance through the lens. The distance between the closest object in focus and the furthest object in focus is called Depth of Field.

Focal Length

Focal length is the size of the lens, or the distance the light travels through the lens to the focal plane (the film or digital sensor). Some lenses are fixed length, and others are adjustable. Fixed lenses are usually sharper and better with other aspects of image capture than the adjustable ones, but with the technology today, the adjustable lenses are very good. The better a lens the more is going to cost as well, some upwards of $25,000.

Sensor / Film Size

The Sensor or Film Size also effects the outcome of the final image. The larger the film size, the less the image has to be enlarged when printed to paper. With digital photography this isn't exactly the same. The larger the sensor the more pixels there can be and the larger the pixels can be. The larger the pixel, the less it is prone to noise. This is why a full frame sensor (35mm) with 8 megapixels is going to have a better image than a 1/2 size (16mm sensor) with 8 megapixels. The pixels will be smaller on the smaller sensor with the same number of pixels which make the noise higher for each of the pixels. Medium Format and Large Format sensors are even better allowing for 100 megapixel photos or more.

Hyperfocal Distance

The Hyperfocal distance is the distance you should set your lens focus at to get the most depth of field possible for that lens, and sensor combination. If you set the lens at the most distant setting it will get a lot in focus, but if you back off a little to the hyperfocal distance the furthest objects will be in focus as well as more options closer to the camera than if you set the focal distance all the way out.

Alternate Processes

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