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Photography: Equipment, Artists and Techniques

Photography: the word photo meaning light and graph being drawings or images made with lines. Photography is the art of taking a picture or photo and as simple as it sounds there is really so much more to it. Photography has grown and evolved over the years since its invention and now anyone, regardless of age or ability, can take a photograph. The art of photography is in the lighting, composition and skill of the artist taking the photograph.

The digital age has advanced the art of photography by leaps and bounds. Cameras today are the size of a postage stamp or smaller and utilize a relatively complex process to create an image. Cameras have also come a long way since the early days of glass plates, large delicate lenses, wooden boxes, and chemical development processes. Cameras now can fit in your pocket and people have access to them almost anywhere.

Photography as an art form has also undergone a revolution with digital means of editing images and the ease and availability of taking photographs, has vastly increased the things that can be captured through an artist’s lense.

Pinholes—The Cameras That Started It All

Photography in its simplest and earliest concepts has been around for a very long time. As early as the 5th century in China there is a record of “pinhole” images being recorded. The sun shining through a pinhole in a wall of a building can produce an image of whatever is outside that room. The image created by a pinhole is upside down and backward. Once these images, created by reflected sunlight shining through a pinhole, were discovered it was up to artists, scientists, and dreamers to discover a use for this astonishing phenomenon.

In 1717 Johann Heinrich discovered that silver nitrate was photosensitive and became discolored when exposed to light. This observation soon helped the curious minds who are credited with the invention of photography to create the first photographs.

Photography was a bit of a novelty in its early stages and photographers traveled around with cumbersome equipment, harsh chemicals, and glass or tin plates to create their images. The lenses were largely the most important and costly part of the early cameras, which were very simple in design.


There are many photographers famous for a wide variety of styles and artistic sensibilities. There are some names that just pop into your mind when you think of photography and there are some artists that you know their photographs so well but you haven’t a clue who they are. In the last category, you have artists who mix the mediums of photography with painting or silkscreen and create a whole new world with their work.

Through the efforts of early photographers, the world became at once a smaller and at the same time a larger place. Bringing images of animals and people from all around the world into the living rooms and classrooms, the mysteries of the world were brought to the masses one photo at a time.

Ansel Adams: The photographs he captured of the wilds of the west and the wild parts of the united states brought the borders of our country just a little closer together and had a great influence on national attitudes toward national parks and wilderness areas. These timeless masterworks capture breathtaking vistas, and all done in black and white.

Dorothea Lange: Wandered the United states shedding light on the troubling circumstances of the great depression. The haunting images of Hoovervilles and the sad state of the country at the time are still just as moving now as they were when they were taken.

Annie Leibovitz: Her most recognizable works being from her time working at rolling stone capturing that rock star lifestyle.

Leibovitz’s style makes her work perfect for film posters, magazines and fantasy works of art that she created for Disney. Using famous faces and creating scenes inspired by favorite family films she created a series of portraits that look as if they came from a dream.

Richard Avedon: Avedon created a new standard for portraiture with a white sheet and natural lighting. He used a common background for the subjects of his photographs and created an even ground for them. His work favored subjects from all walks of life and the things that made them most interesting like a beekeeper covered in bees.

Steve McCurry: The photographers of National Geographic also serve the purpose of bringing images of the world unknown into the lives of their readers. Photographs of hidden temples or a pair of eyes that are so unforgettable that urge viewers to feel a connection to that primal part of ourselves that craves art.

Andy Warhol: The artist known for creating pop art photographs with silkscreen of famous faces and actresses like Marylin Monroe. Warhol also made ready use of a polaroid camera to capture the famous men and women that crossed paths with him.

Photography Basics

With a camera in nearly every pocket, there are thousands of photos taken at any time of the day or night. The problem is that most people don’t follow any sort of rules and there are way too many photos out there in the universe that are just terrible. Here are some quick simple rules to help you up your photo-taking game.

Composition: Frame your shot; the composition of a photograph is what truly makes an image great. Simply taking a picture won’t be enough. The photographer must pay attention to the subject matter in their image and try to balance the objects against the background.

Using the rule of thirds you can frame your subjects and come up with a better composition. The rule of thirds is simply using your mind to divide your image into three sections from right to left and keep the main subject of your photo in either the right, left or center third of the space available. The same rule applies to vertical space as well as horizontal space. If your subject matter is properly framed your image will truly pop.

Two photographs, left is two boys watching a sunset, right is a random fence and field
On the left we have a well balanced photo and on the right, a quickly snapped shot that has no thought for composition.

Lighting: The way an image is lit can have a big impact on the composition of a photograph. The subject of an image can really pop if the lighting is just right. During the noon hour until early evening it’s hard to get decent outdoor lighting unless it’s overcast or you are in the shade.

Low Light/Night shots: photos that are taken in low lighting situations require a longer shutter speed and a faster film. A slower film speed like 200 or lower is useful for high light situations like outdoors during the sunniest parts of the day. A photo that comes out too dark can be adjusted in development to lighten up the image. This, however, can cause your image to turn out grainy.

Two identical picture of a girl on a pool slide. Left is too dark. Right is lightened buy grainy.
This image was taken at an indoor pool and there wasn’t enough light. The photo was then lightened after the fact but the image is grainy.

Too much light: light can be a tricky thing when taking photos. Too much light can “blow out” an image and it’s difficult to adjust the image during development and a lot of the details in the photo are lost and cannot be recovered. If you have to choose a poor lighting situation and have no other option darker is more forgiving than too much light.

Two identical pictures of a gingerbread house. Left is over-exposed. Right is darkened with loss of detail
The image on the left has too much light and a portion of the background is lost. On the right we have an attempt at darkening the image to bring out any lost details which is a total failure.

You lose all the details in the subject of the photo because it is now too dark. Windows in pictures are a major cause of this kind of lighting problem. Too much backlight will cause the subject of your photo to be too dark to see. The solution is to move your subject or adjust the lighting accordingly with options on your camera or using a flash to compensate for the excess light.

Depth of field: If you are trying to take a photo of just one small flower the use of depth of field blurring can help the photographer create an unforgettable image where the flower is the center of attention.

The leaf in the foreground is in focus and the background is blurred. This technique can be captured naturally or enhanced afterward in editing.

Subject: the subject matter of a photograph can be almost anything, but if your main goal is to sell your work or create a following for your artistic vision it’s important that you stick to taking pictures of things that matter. The subject of your photograph should be moving like the image of a small girl on the shoulders of her father during a solemn event.

Two photographs. Left is a path seen from under an umbrella. Right is a small boy with a surprised expression  at a train yard.
While the portrait of a child on the train tracks is adorable and can be of worth to a select few the picture of the umbrella on a foggy path has far more commercial value because it appeals to a wider audience.

Go Forth and Shoot

With modern technological advancements, the art of photography is in the hands of nearly everyone. It’s inexpensive now to fill a camera roll with thousands of pictures and there is little risk, you can just delete those less desirable shots. The digital age has brought photography into a new era of artistic expression. It’s as simple as 123 to capture a moment and express your artistic vision.

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