What is photography?

Photography is the art of capturing light with a camera, usually via a digital sensor or film, to create an image. With the right camera equipment, you can even photograph wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye, including UV, infrared, and radio.

The first permanent photograph was captured in 1826 (some sources say 1827) by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in France.  If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

A Brief History of Photography and the People Who Made It Succeed

Colour photography started to become popular and accessible with the release of Eastman Kodak’s “Kodachrome” film in the 1930s. Before that, almost all photos were monochromatic – although a handful of photographers, toeing the line between chemists and alchemists, had been using specialized techniques to capture colour images for decades before. You’ll find some fascinating galleries of photos from the 1800s or early 1900s captured in full colour, worth exploring if you have not seen them already.

These scientist-magicians, the first colour photographers, are hardly alone in pushing the boundaries of one of the world’s newest art forms. The history of photography has always been a history of people – artists and inventors who steered the field into the modern era.

So, below, you’ll find a brief introduction to some of photography’s most important names. Their discoveries, creations, ideas, and photographs shape our own pictures to this day, subtly or not. Although this is just a brief bird’s-eye view, these nonetheless are people you should know before you step into the technical side of photography:

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

  • Invention: The first permanent photograph (“View from the Window at Le Gras,” shown earlier)
  • Where: France, 1826
  • Impact: Cameras had already existed for centuries before this, but they had one major flaw: You couldn’t record a photo with them! They simply projected light onto a separate surface – one which artists used to create realistic paintings, but not strictly photographs. Niépce solved this problem by coating a pewter plate with, essentially, asphalt, which grew harder when exposed to light. By washing the plate with lavender oil, he could permanently fix the hardened substance to the plate.
  • Quote: “The discovery I have made, and which I call Heliography, consists in reproducing spontaneously, by the action of light, with gradations of tints from black to white, the images received in the camera obscura.” Mic drop.

Louis Daguerre

  • Invention: The Daguerreotype (first commercial photographic material)
  • Where: France, 1839
  • Impact: Daguerreotypes are images fixed directly to a heavily polished sheet of silver-plated copper. This invention is what really made photography a practical reality – although it was still just an expensive curiosity to many people at this point. If you’ve never seen daguerreotypes in person, you might be surprised to know just how sharp they are.
  • Quote: “I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.”

 

Alfred Stieglitz

  • Genre: Portraiture and documentary
  • Where: United States, late 1800s through mid 1900s
  • Impact: Alfred Stieglitz was a photographer, but, more importantly, he was one of the first influential members of the art community to take photography seriously as a creative medium. He believed that photographs could express the artist’s vision just as well as paintings or music – in other words, photographers could be artists. Today’s perception of photography as an art form owes a lot to Stieglitz.
  • Quote: “In photography, there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”

Dorothea Lange

  • Genre: Portrait photography
  • Where: United States, 1930s
  • Impact: One of the most prominent documentary photographers of all time, and the photographer behind one of the most influential images of all time (shown below), is Dorothea Lange. If you’ve ever seen photos from the Great Depression, you most likely have seen some of her work. Her photos shaped the field of documentary photography and showed the camera’s potential for power more than almost anyone else in history.
  • Quote: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

Ansel Adams

  • Genre: Landscape photography
  • Where: United States
  • When: 1920s to 1960s (for most of his work)
  • Impact: Ansel Adams is perhaps the most famous photographer in history, which is remarkable because he mainly took pictures of landscapes and natural scenes. (Typically, famous photographers have tended to photograph people instead.) Ansel Adams helped usher in an era of realism in landscape photography, and he was an early champion of the environmentalism and preservation movements in the United States.
  • Quote: “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

Three Basic Elements of Photography

What is photography?

Exposure

Exposure is the basic element of any photograph taken and recorded. Essentially, it is exactly how it sounds, exposure is how much light your shot was exposed to, and this reflects on what is produced in your final image, be it on film, or more likely, nowadays, digitally. Without light, there is no picture. Think of exposure as your eye. If you are in a pitch-black room with no light, you obviously can’t see anything. When we are looking at something, we do not actually see it directly; we are looking at the light reflecting and bouncing off the objects in front of us. The same can be said if there is too much light, think of when you wake up in the middle of the night and turn a bright light on, your eyes have not adjusted yet, so to you it seems too bright, and you can’t focus. This is the same in photography, and why the most common critique of images is that they are either underexposed (not enough light meaning an image is too dark) or overexposed (too much light leading to an overly bright image)

Exposure is determined by three essential elements, which we will look at individually here. Create lasting memories through your Yarra Valley wedding photography that will be cherished forever. 

Aperture

Aperture is the setting that controls the size of the opening of light that comes through to the lens. Normally this is done by controlling the aperture blades, which can be changed to allow the aperture to become smaller, in which less light is let through, or obviously larger where more light is allowed to pass through.

Aperture is measured in f-stops, for example, f/2.0, f/2.8. f/4.0 etc. The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the lens opening, and therefore the more light a lens can let in. This is why the sharper lenses with lower f-stops are normally more expensive than a similar lens which cannot match the same aperture, as the more expensive lenses can cope with low light situations better. For this reason, when someone is talking about the maximum aperture, this normally means the lowest f-stop available.

The important thing to remember is that the aperture is stepped down, double the amount of light that will enter the sensor for every one-stop. This is, of course, provided you and the camera/lens follows the original aperture stops as shown below, as a lot of modern cameras’ now have half stops, f/4.5, f/7.1 etc., for a more precise aperture.

The aperture is also one of the most critical aspects of focusing. A large depth of field, which is necessary when photographers want as much of the photograph in focus as possible, such as landscape photography, needs a minimum aperture as possible (high number). This allows objects in the foreground and background to be in focus. The opposite is obviously true, of course, in that to achieve a shallow depth of field, where a particular point is in focus whereas the other parts of the image are blurred, a low f-stop should be used (low number). This creates the beautiful bokeh we love, which adds dramatic effects to images where you want to highlight an object or subject, such as macro photography and portraiture shoots. The fact you can post-process this effect using Photoshop or a likewise software nowadays is unfortunate but shows the popularity it has gained.

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is simply put; the amount of time the camera lets the light coming in stay exposed and become recorded. This can be changed quite easily and is measured in fractions, i.e. 1/60, 1/125. This number relates to the timing that the shutter is left open; for example, 1/60 shutter speed will mean the shutter stays open for 1 sixtieth of a second.

Most camera’s will have a larger range of varying shutter speeds for the user to work with, from Sonic the Hedgehog like speeds of 1/4000, which is great for capturing moving action such as wildlife or freezing sports events, to long exposures of sometimes over a minute long, perfect for landscape photography or low light photography with a tripod.

Motion blur can also be achieved by panning the camera to follow a subject, and the idea is that the camera will keep the focus relatively in focus because you are following it. Still, the background which will move relative to your camera will naturally blur. This is a common technique if you want to convey a sense of movement. We have an exclusive range of wedding photography Mornington Peninsula services. Check them out here. 

ISO

ISO is slightly less obvious than the above two as to its role and its role but has just as much importance in determining the correct exposure. ISO is normally measured from 100, 200, 400 etc., with a low a number as possible preferred.

This is because the higher ISO that is used, typically the more ‘noise’ you get on an image, where an image is not as sharp as in the lower ISO’s. “So why don’t we shoot all shots with a low ISO?” I hear you say. Well, simply put, it’s sometimes not possible, especially in difficult conditions such as low light. Increasing the ISO can allow you to get images you would not normally get, but at a cost, noise; if you want to just capture the scene and pin-sharp focus is a secondary thought, increasing the ISO is an option. When you use a higher ISO, you are increasing the image sensor’s sensitivity, so now the sensor captures not just more light incoming but also more surrounding noise, which reduces clarity in your image.

Whether your image is usable or not at high ISO’s depends on your equipment, obviously the more modern cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark 3 produces some excellent results even at high ISO’s such as ISO 12,800. Compare that to my old point and shoot Sony N-1, where the shots taken even at ISO 800 were noisier than a Korean crowd watching a Gangnam Style concert.

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Principles of Photography

Sometimes what we feel are the smaller elements in our pictures are actually what makes the picture interesting. Photographers have a conscious or sometimes subconscious impulse to adhere to or break the rules that create visual harmony in their photographs.

Pattern

Similarity is a concept that creates a calming effect on its viewers. Our eyes are drawn to patterns to make sense of our surroundings, and this doesn’t change when looking at photographs. Using patterns in photography can create a sense of visual harmony and familiarity.

For example, in pictures containing patterns, the small elements that break the pattern could be something that’s a contrasting colour. It’s part of our survival instinct to look at something that doesn’t fit correctly with its surroundings.

Negative Space

The space behind a subject with no elements that draw the eye. Minimizing dead space can be important, but in some instances, it can create a powerful image. If the subject has nothing else distracting it, the viewer is limited to focusing on the only available thing in the photograph. The less options there are to look at, the more powerful the subject becomes.

We all have preconceptions about any particular object. We project the way these objects will affect the appearance of our photos before we even take a photograph, which ends up looking better in our minds than they do in reality.

The tendency to focus only on the main subject and consider the space surrounding it as something that can be fixed later diminishes the quality of a photograph. In order to achieve a harmonious picture, it’s important to consider all elements at once.

Continuity

This is the logical element in photography that allows us to at least understand where the direction of the photograph. When something is too far off on the horizon to see or too far out of our range of perspective, we use lines and paths that direct our attention to what we can assimilate based on our own logical reasoning capabilities.

Balance

What is photography?

Using all of the above knowledge about composition and psychological aesthetic, you can make people feel uncomfortable by creating something unbalanced or even disturb them by blurring things into the background that are not represented that way in reality. For example, you can make viewers feel at ease by incorporating symmetry, an element that expresses minimal conflict and even fairness. Our exclusive range of Melbourne wedding photography will help you not miss a thing on your wedding day.

Grouping

Our brains also like to group things together to make sense of an image. You can also use this principle to group people or objects together to create common themes or meanings. Watch out for this one, though, as proximity can also lead to issues. Your image has the potential to become abstract if its background has too many conflicting elements. If there is something behind the subject of the photograph, it can skew the viewer’s perception.

Closure

Our brains have a tendency to fill in gaps of missing information as a way of finishing the story behind a photograph. This is important for abstract images or images that feel incomplete. A photographer who leaves an image open to interpretation has created a large number of stories for the viewers to come up with. This creates a feeling of chaos within an image, whereas an image with a good set up for closure creates a sense of finality and where circular thinking can be resolved.

Colour

Colour is more than just a visually pleasing element; it contributes to so many things within a photograph. It creates the mood, sets the time, and frames the subject. Contrasting colours are eye-catching because they don’t blend into one another; they create indiscriminate lines between two subjects that force the viewer to stare longer. Cool-toned images can create a darker or mysterious image, where warm colours create a lighter and soothing image.

Light/Shadow

We focus a great deal of our attention on the light in photographs. The absence of light is often overlooked. Shadows can help to direct the eye to a specific point and helps to create the composition. They can also be used to add a hint of drama or interest to a photo. And, of course, they can emphasize the light, drawing attention to highlights in an image. Having both presents in a photo creates balance.

Deciding how to use these elements is ultimately up to the photographer. Understanding elements of design and how they complement each other can help the photographer set intentions for a photo and create stunning work.

Most people could identify what a photograph is; not everyone really understands the art of photography, where it came from and what is involved with this detailed art form. Many times, we take all of the photos around us for granted because we are so accustomed to seeing these images in our everyday lives. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

Photography is often called “the Universal Language” because it can speak to all people from all over the world, no matter what actual language they may speak. It can appeal to all people and often say far more than words alone can.