The word photography comes from the Greek language and means "writing with light". In photography, you make pictures by capturing light with a device. The device is called a camera or a camera, the images are called photos. When you take a photo, you take a picture. Photographer is also a profession. Most photos today are taken with the tiny cameras built into smartphones.
When you take a photo, two things happen: the light is captured, and it is stored. When captured, a camera works much like our eye: light hits the lens of our eye, the lens narrows the light rays, and the bundle of light then falls on the retina at the back of our eye.
In the camera, the focused light falls through a lens onto a film or onto a light-sensitive disk, the sensor. The stores the light and then makes a photo from it. A lens consists of one or – mostly – several lenses.
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How photos were taken in the beginning?
Photography was invented around 1840. In those days, a liquid substance that was sensitive to light was smeared onto paper or a glass plate. When light fell on a spot, the spot got darker. In the beginning, it took several hours to take a picture. Slowly, however, the photographic material became better and better, but people still had to stand still for minutes to make a photo become something. By about 1900, there were cameras small enough to carry around and photographic material sensitive enough to take snapshots. These are photos taken without much preparation, just like that on the street.
First they smeared the light-sensitive material on a glass pane. The glass pane was put in a box, the camera. "Camera" is Italian and means "space". Then the photographer briefly opened a hole on the other side of the camera, and light fell onto the glass plate. So you took good, big photos, but the glass plate was also big, heavy and fragile. In the beginning, you couldn’t duplicate a photograph: The one picture the photographer had in the "box" was the only one.
How a camera with film works?
In the years after 1900, film was invented. At first this was light-sensitive cardboard, later a plastic strip. "Film" was actually the thin, light-sensitive material on the surface. The film, the plastic strip, was rolled up and put into a small box, a cassette. You put them in the camera. When you had taken a photo, you turned a lever on the camera. You would pull the film to get to a new spot. Then you took a new photo, exposing this new spot. The longer a film was, the more photos it could hold, for example 36.
With the film cassette one went then to a photo studio. The photographic studio "developed" the film into a negative: it immersed it in a liquid that ensured that it would not be altered by new light. The customer got not only the negative, but also prints from it. This is what the actual photos are called. If he wanted to have more prints later, of photos that he liked, then he went back to the photo studio with the negative.
But there were always people who developed their own films. To do this, they had a room in their home where it was completely dark, the darkroom. There was only a weak, special light in it: normal light would have changed the still light-sensitive film as soon as it was taken out of the camera or film cassette. A darkroom was set up by people who took a lot of photographs. Do-it-yourself was cheaper than the photo studio. In addition, they could change something themselves: make the photo brighter or darker, select a section and so on.
In the course of time the cameras became better and better. This is how autofocus came in, for example. To focus means to bring into focus, so a camera with autofocus can make a picture sharp even at the push of a button. Since about 1930 color film was available. But even around 1970, most photos were only black and white because color film cost more.
What can a digital camera do?
In the years after 1990, the first digital cameras were built. With such a camera, the light no longer falls on film, but on a sensor. This is a device that turns light into computer signals. The photo is then digital: it consists of data that a computer can handle. A photo file can be processed and distributed in the same way as other computer files.
The big advantage of digital cameras is that you no longer have to buy and develop film. This means that a single photo costs next to nothing. However, the first digital cameras were still very expensive and the photos not very good. If you enlarged them, you could quickly see the dots that made them up. It wasn’t until around 2004 that digital photos became better than film photos. Since then, almost no one buys a camera with film anymore.
Digital photos are much easier to change than the photos of the past. With an image editing program in the computer, you make photos lighter or darker, change colors, cut something out or merge images together. Some people no longer believe what they see in a photo because it could have been altered. However, it was already possible to falsify something on a negative in the past. But of course it is now easier than before to fake a photo and show something that does not exist.
What do you need photos for?
If you wanted a picture of something or someone, it had to be painted or drawn. That changed with photography. After some time people learned to duplicate photos, even in a newspaper. Until then, people didn’t know what their king or a popular writer looked like. But people also liked to have photos taken of themselves and their relatives. Before, most people didn’t know what their grandparents looked like when they were kids, because paintings were much more expensive to have painted.
All kinds of scientists and explorers also took photos for their work. Photographer William Henry Jackson traveled through the Yellowstone area of North America around 1870. His photos made people excited about nature there. This has contributed to the Yellowstone area being declared a national park. In a national park, plants and animals are protected, you are not allowed to hunt there.
There were and still are journalists and politicians who want to show how badly the poor live. Reporters took pictures from wars. So the newspaper readers could see what it really looks like there.
Since about 1930 there have been magazines with extra photos, the so-called illustrated magazines. Especially since the advent of digital cameras, many, many photos are taken every day. There is even talk of a flood of pictures.
In a painting from 1865: This is what a photo studio looked like back then.
A famous photographer was Ansel Adams from the USA.
An early instant camera. It was something special back then that the finished photo came out of the camera immediately.
Photographer with a modern digital camera
The vast majority of people today take photos with their smartphones: here’s a selfie with actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
There is also an article about "photography" for reading beginners on MiniKlexikon.en and other search results from Blinde Kuh and Frag Finn.
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