What Is Photography? 15 Fundamental Questions Answered

What is photography?

I have written about a variety of subjects recently on my photography blog.

But now it is time to get right down to the basics. What is photography? Photography is a word made from two Greek words, photos which means light, and graphé which is drawing. Photography is drawing with light. And in this post I will answer 15 fundamental questions about what photography is.

I know. I started off writing about the origins of the word photography and found my head bursting with things I just needed to write about, so join me on this random, irreverent and light-hearted journey through a wide-ranging variety of photographic subjects!

1 – Where does the word photography come from?

As I wrote earlier, photography is drawing with light. Or writing with light. Depends how you interpret the translation.

The principle is the same either way.

Who put these two words together then to form the single word to describe the wonderful thing that we call photography?

It was Sir John Herschel who came up with this word in 1839.

Yes, 1839. 180 years ago. Just think how much the world has changed since then! Quite scary really.

2 – Who was Sir John Herschel?

Sir John Herschel was an all-round genius of his time. This incredible Englishmen was born in 1792 and left our planet in 1871.

He was, amongst other things, a photographer, mathematician, astronomer and inventor. He was also the first person to use the term negative in photographic terms.

The Royal Society read his ground-breaking work on photography in 1839 and 1840.

3 – Who are the Royal Society?

The Royal Society, founded in 1662, are to this day “the independent scientific academy of the UK and Commonwealth, dedicated to promoting excellence in science” – quote from their website.

4 – What do the Royal Society do?

Well I don’t want to digress too much from the point of this post – they are dedicated to promoting excellence in science.

Let’s leave it there.

5 – When was the first photograph taken?

The first photograph taken with a camera (or the oldest surviving photograph taken with a camera) was created by a French chap called Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826.

Check out this PetaPixel post all about the first 20 photos taken. I am not sure who owns the copyright to the first photo ever taken with a camera so you will have to view it using this link!!

6 – How was the first photo taken?

The picture was taken using a process called heliography.

Check out the link above to Peta Pixel – this is beyond my comprehension and intelligence clearly! I am neither a scientist, chemist nor come to that that intelligent.

The oldest photo on our planet was taken using heliography – let’s move on!

7 – Moving to current times, how are photos taken these days?

Photographs are taken these days using an amazing array of kit, principally mobile phones and digital cameras.

Thankfully things have moved on somewhat since 1839. I dread to think what gear Sir John needed to capture this photo! And what he would think of photography these days!

Now it is much easier. Phones take photos digitally, with a camera sensor built-into these ever so clever devices.

Cameras are predominantly digital these days, although there are still film cameras in use. I stopped using film cameras over a decade ago.

I am not sure why in this digital age people choose to take photos with film cameras, but that is up to them. I did it back in the day and do not miss this at all.

8 – How do digital cameras take photos?

Digital cameras have what is called an image sensor built into them. If you are old enough to remember camera film the sensor is the digital version of the camera film.

The camera has a lens through which the image is transmitted onto the camera sensor.

Images are typically saved to a removable memory card.

And how do film cameras take photos? I don’t really care. Like I said I am not a scientist. Nor am I a chemist. Nor a film photographer!

If you think I sound bad check out Sharkey James on the Peta Pixel Photography Podcast – listen to that to find out what CFG means!!

I know how to turn my TV on and watch stuff, and even how to change channels, but I do not have a clue how my TV actually works. And that will never change.

9 – How do I do something with my digital photos?

Photos aren’t much use if they are stuck in your camera. You need to get them out of there and do something with them.

So images are generally imported into a computer where they can be edited using a variety of software programmes. Or Apps as they are called these days.

Lightroom and Photoshop are popular image editing software programmes. I use Lightroom. Photoshop baffles me and I only use it to remove stuff.

Once photos have been edited they can be saved as JPEG files and shared via the internet or email.

10 – Why is mobile phone photography so popular?

Mobile phones are so clever these days you can take photos, edit them and share them all using your handheld device. No PC required.

Hence the immediacy and huge popularity of mobile phone photography.

And this is one of the contributing factors to the current generation who it would appear cannot survive for more than a nano-second without checking their phones.

We are growing a generation of people who do not have the ability to walk looking forwards, just down at their devices.

And the popularity of mobile photography has close links to the explosion of social media and constant online sharing of stuff that no-one has the time to look at.

11 – Is photography still relevant today?

Yes of course it is. Millions and millions of photographs are taken and shared each and every day.

And is that a good thing?

Yes and no.

I think it is great that so many people are into photography these days. And I do not like the photography world snobbery which says that real photos have to be taken with a real camera.


Photos taken with a phone are to me just as valid as those taken with a “proper camera”.

But there is a downside.

It might just be my age, but what is the point of all these photos being constantly shared on these ever-growing social media channels?

Who has time to look at all this stuff?

And while I am on this subject let me tell you something that bothers me. Where does all this stuff go? The number of photos being published on a daily basis is massive.

Check out this excellent post on Mylio.

Where they write

“How many digital photos will be taken in 2017? It’s predicted there will be 7.5 billion people in the world in 2017, and about 5 billion of them will have a mobile phone. Let’s say roughly 80% of those phones have a built-in camera: around 4 billion people. And let’s say they take 10 photos per day – that’s 3,650 photos per year, per person. That adds up to more than 14 trillion photos annually (14,600,000,000,000).”

And that is in 2017!

No-one is deleting this stuff as they go are they?

Imagine how much hard drive space is filled with endless photos that no one has looked at for years.

12 – What are the most important things in photography?

  • Boring but important.

  • Composition

  • Light

  • Interesting subjects

  • Technically correct image capture

  • High quality processing

  • Less rather than more

Now this is a post all in itself (I will add this to my post schedule – a great subject for me to write about in a free style off the top of my head kind of way).

These things stand now and in my opinion will always stand.

13 – How important is gear in photography?

Well we need stuff to be able to take photos.

A phone is one such thing.

But in my opinion gear is not as important as gear manufacturers would have you believe. I am using an Olympus OM-D EM5 Mk 2 (snappy name I know) – a micro four thirds camera that I bought on eBay. I used this on one commercial shoot. This was in addition to doing the shoot with my Canon 6D I hasten to add!

And I issued the photos taken with the Olympus to my client and they did not notice that they were taken with a different camera than on the last shoot I did for them.

There is lots of talk about gear, and I am guilty of contributing in this arena myself.

But let me tell you a secret.

The gear is not what makes a great photo? It is what you point your camera at and how you take the photo.

  • You can take a rubbish photo with a great camera.

  • And you can take a great photo with a rubbish camera.

Gear is of course important but is not the be all and end all. Buying great gear will not guarantee you great photos.

But you should get the best gear that you need/ can afford. And use it.

I only ever buy gear when it will help me to take better photos. Or to replace something that has died.

OK I have made the odd unnecessary shiny new gear purchase, but I am human after all!

At least I do this knowing that this will not improve my photos. It will just make me happy.

Only practise will do that – make my photography better that is.

14 – What is important for me in photography?

Likes, shares follows, re-pins, tweets, thumbs-up, inanely brief comments like “great shot” – this is what photography is all about.


There are a few things that are important to me as I write this.

  1. Taking less photos, but better photos

  2. Going out taking photos more frequently

  3. Increasing the quality of my video production

  4. Refining my website

  5. Learning Aurora HDR and Luminar

  6. My web traffic

  7. Finishing my website Paxos Travel Guide

  8. Deciding on my next website

  9. Using my Olympus OM-D EM5 Mk 2 more

  10. Doing more photography for me

I think that this little lot is going to get wrapped up into a future blog post. These are the things that are important to me right now, and the only reference to gear is my recently purchased micro four thirds camera, which I have bought for my travel photography.

15 – What is the future of photography?

On the consumer side of things it is going to get easier to create better photos. Artificial intelligence is coming into not only camera technology but also image processing – this will have a massive impact on the future of photography.

On the commercial side, high quality imagery will always be required, but for photographers to survive in the future I fear that still images on their own will not be enough.

Unless you are a genius with a camera that is.

So I need to work on other things then!

Video is becoming more and more prominent. My video capabilities are quite frankly rubbish, which is why I am working on this right now. Check out my YouTube channel for my weekly video posts. Multimedia capabilities are going to be expected more and more in the future, and with the technology available this is becoming easier.

High quality content will always be in demand – I am working on that as well.

And I believe that the future is the internet – that is why I am working so hard on my websites.

These are my websites at the time of writing

Photos of Santorini

Paxos Travel Guide

How to keep up to date with me

Subscribe to my blog – there is a box where you can do this on my home page

Subscribe to my YouTube channel

Follow me on Pinterest

This is where all the good stuff is

You can also follow me on Instagram, but that is very hit and miss content creation


I hope that you have enjoyed this rather random post, starting off defining photography and ending up with me describing what is important to me photography wise.

This was quite a therapeutic process which I certainly enjoyed. Check out this video on my YouTube channel that accompanies this post which will add to my words here.

Rick McEvoy ABIPP – Photographer, writer, website creator

Rick McEvoy

I am Rick McEvoy, an architectural and construction photographer living and working in the South of England. I create high quality architectural photography and construction photography imagery of the built environment for architects and commercial clients. I do not photograph weddings, families, small people or pets - anything that is alive, moves or might not do as I ask!! I am also the creator of the Photography Explained Podcast, available on all major podcast providers. I have a blog on my website where I write about my work and photography stuff. Rick McEvoy ABIPP, MCIOB

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