What is a Photograph

Parndon Mill

Parndon Mill taken with a Shen Hao camera on 5x4 inch, Ilford FP4+ film, Scanned on an Epson PERFECTION 4990 PHOTO  into a computer and digitally manipulated with Photoshop CS4 to give the impression of an old photograph taken with a pinhole camera
Parndon Mill taken with a Shen Hao camera on 5x4 inch, Ilford FP4+ film, Scanned on an Epson PERFECTION 4990 PHOTO into a computer and digitally manipulated with Photoshop CS4 to give the impression of an old photograph taken with a pinhole camera

What is a Photograph?

So, what is a photograph, do digital cameras take photographs, do film cameras take photographs? I suppose the answer has to be sometimes.

All right, that needs clarification and is rooted in the definition and concept of what is a photograph; photos – light, graphein – to write, by extension, to draw with light.

If I set up my Shen Hao, and expose a sheet of film in it, then develop the film; I have a negative image drawn with light. If I then set up my Olympus E-420, focus it, there on the rear-viewing screen is an image drawn with light, click the shutter and the image is captured. That looks convincing, both images drawn with light, photographs. If only it were that easy; the real problem comes when we want a tangible, positive image that we can stick in an album, or on the wall, or take to work and show our mates, in other words, a photograph.

I work, mainly, with film, I develop it myself and use a photographic enlarger to produce positives; the whole process is photography from start to finish. Light forms the latent image on the negative and the development process reveals it. The negative is put in an enlarger, light is shone through it and a latent image is produced on a piece of light sensitive paper, the development process reveals the positive image, light is totally involved with the creation of the image.

However, what if you don't process your own, you may use one of the many high street developing and printing outlets, some use inkjet, some actually print with chemicals, in a mechanised way, your pictures, will they be photographs? I would say the ones produced chemically are, just. You may not have an enlarger and you scan your negatives into a personal computer, edit them and then print out on an inkjet printer. Is that photography, sorry, except for the negative, the answer has to be no, it is printing, squirting inks on to a piece of paper, not producing an image from a direct action of light.

So what about an image from a digital camera, the images on that little card that pops out of the camera are drawn with light, it makes no difference whether we use film or a sensor plate, the light sensitive receptor causes the formation of an image from light striking it: drawn with light.

How do we display these images on the card? If we feel flush, I suppose we could have one of those fancy, electronic frames, is that photography, probably, the image even looks as if it's drawn with light. We could just view the images on the monitor screen, photography, yes; light plays its part in drawing the image. It’s not very convenient to drag your mates into that cubbyhole under the stairs, where you keep your computer and monitor, when they want to see your holiday snaps.

We may be on the way to a legal definition. During the early part of 2009, the British police, in one of their many guideline leaflets for police officers when dealing with photographers, used the words, '…it is not illegal to take photographs or digital images in a public place…' Clearly, a distinction is made there.

There is one way (there are probably more but I’m too thick to think of them) where digitally produced images, whether from film or electronic card can be considered true photography, but it will require dragging yourself, your computer and digital images back to the early part of the 19th century.

Use a photo editor to make a negative image of, say, 7x5 inches and print it on to ordinary, A4 writing paper or overhead projection film. Look at my cyanotype or Salt Print Hubs, telling how to do it and what chemicals to get, follow the instructions, and safety rules, it’s dead easy, and fun.

That's an interesting blend of technologies, and a real photograph ala Herschel or Talbot.

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Comments 53 comments

World-Traveler profile image

World-Traveler 6 years ago from USA

I read about the policy above regarding taking photographs in a public place. I find that almost where ever I travel, in countries other than the US, people, both natives of the country, as well as tourists find I am worthy of a photo capture. I do not think I am all that photo worthy but others seem to think so.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Interesting Mick


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comments.


M.s Fowler profile image

M.s Fowler 6 years ago from United states

Neat hub!


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit M.s


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

I loved a comment one of my fellow graduate students made about a famous photograph containing a bird. She said photos capture a moment in time that will never come again, represented by the bird. Soon it would spread its wings and fly away and the scene would be forever changed. Capture the bird, she said.


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

that's right Story


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Interesting read - It's amazing how you can edit photograph's these days.


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit Lady_E


Eric 6 years ago

interesting insight into a definition of photography, what it really is. I love that picture at the top, I haven't been to Parndon for years.


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks Eric


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for publishing this insightful article. I am glad to have read it.


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment, James.


Mick 6 years ago

Excellent hub Mick


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit Mick:-)


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

I love this hub. I had to read it again. I also like your coffee choices!


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thank you Story


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

I have been taking photographs for over 60 years and seen many advances in that time :-) However I have never seen it discussed like you have in your Hub. Well done, you have given me new ways of thinking about this wonderful 'art form', which in my opinion it has now become :-)


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment, ag...

best

Mick


Elijah Returns profile image

Elijah Returns 6 years ago from United Kingdom

big heap of shite i have ever read


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment, Elijah Returns.

You're entitled to your opinion on the matter, as am I. However, couldn't you have used better language to express your disagreement with the article, you've only shown the world your poor use of language and means of expressing yourself.

best

Mick


Robertbloggert profile image

Robertbloggert 5 years ago from Oklahoma

I can't see the, purpose (note correct spelling) of this question as you have given your answer, and even if you didn't know, it is just as easy to try it yourself. Is this just a bit of over promotional rubbish to point people to your page?

Maybe you will see the rudeness of this comment, when it's applied in reverse.

Good hub by the way, keep up the good writing!


MickS profile image

MickS 5 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Robert, it's good to see that you used better language that Elijah Returns. The comment to the question isn't rude, how can it be, when you enter a question, or, for that matter, answer one, you put yourself open to criticism. The bit about promotional rubbish is a question and is written as a question; I didn't say it was over promotional rubbish, I asked if it was.

This hub can't be over promotional because it isn't pointing people towards it. Is it rubbish? Well, it may be, you don't think so, thank you. Likewise, most of the people who have commented don't think it is rubbish.

best

Mick


Be-Inspired 5 years ago

Interesting hub and I love the photograph at the top.


MickS profile image

MickS 5 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment, Mark.

best

Mick


sord87 5 years ago

This looks very detail about photograph and digital camera.It capture my interest to explore and digg more about digital lifestyle and what digital can turns your life in such a way.Somehow your profile pics almost explain it all!TQ


MickS profile image

MickS 5 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and coment Sord

best

Mick


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Great hub...you hear people say "photograph" all of the times, but very few know the history behind it.... Thanks for this insightful hub -voted up

John


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment John.

best

Mick


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment John.

best

Mick


Gareth Pritchard profile image

Gareth Pritchard 4 years ago from North Wales

I would say that in any kind of photography there is no painting involved in anyway what so ever and it is an exposure to light not a painting or painted. I would say that an ink jet printer is much closer to a painting, mechanical or not, than any photographic exposure.

I might consider drawn from light but not draw with light, to draw something is to move it, like drawing water, like moving a pencil is to move the pencil so as to draw, draw means to pull. Light is moving anyway so it is being focused not drawn.

I like the distinction you make but find it to be the other way round. Printed images are more like paintings of light and photographs are exposures of light.

Gareth.


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Gareth.

Best

Mick


Just_Rodney profile image

Just_Rodney 4 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

I too have been taking photographs, since an early age, a Brownie box to be exact. I later used a Pentax, A Nikon, and did my own black and white printing.

All those proccess involved light, and light manipulation to get the desired effects, on the negative and onto the prints.

What digital has not done, it has not changed light or altered it the capturing on sensors is exactly the same as if it was onto film, each megapixle, is a created by Cyan Yellow Magenta K black pixelettes. Which is exactly what a 35mm Kodakchrome slide was.

Printing of any sort onto any fabric takes the intensenty readings of each of those pixels and deposits it in layers which recreate the selfsame captured image.

The process has not changed, it has moved along with all the technological changes since the seventies.

Sorry Photography then and photography now is still and will always be light drawings. Photomanipulation has only been stretched to match ones mind and or imagination.

Interesting hub though.


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Jusp_R.

As, I think I said in the original piece, film and photosensors collect and record light in the same way. I believe that the transfering that image to, in the one case, light sensitive paper and the other, inkjet paper are very different. The image produced on light sensitive paper is there from a direct action of light through a negative image, that isn't the case with inkjet prints from a computer image. The whole point of my argument is rooted in the meaning of the word photograph, drawing with light, light shining through a negative on to light sensitive paper is drawing with light, a computer instructing an inkjet printer to squirt a series of inks is not. It is good to see well thought out ideas, it wouldn't do for us all to see things the same.

best

mick


Just_Rodney profile image

Just_Rodney 4 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

Fair comment.


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 4 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Hi Mick, I hear all you are saying here, and it is very interesting to me! I love photography, and when in highschool had the privelege of working with chemicals in a darkroom. I recall wishing I only had more and more money to spend on the supplies but I was a high school student and didn't make much.

Now, I take photos all the time still, and I wonder how these differences between digital and actual photography play out in the long run for my photos. I don't like that some are just ink on paper, and sometimes the quality changes as your ink runs out, etc!

When these different images are left to the "elements" so to speak, say a damp basement, or bright light on the wall for years with sun shining on it, how do the images fare? Do you recommend a person like me having and using a film camera as well, even if I don't print my own? I still have some 35 mm film, for a 35 mm camera. I could get a much better one now, and take a roll here and there. I am thinking very long term, after I am long gone and great grandchildren may want to see photos, etc.

I love your photo at the top, wonderful.


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Ocean. I would always recomend having a film camera, quality and longevity of the results have already been proven. Digital is a useful tool and is essential for any form of commercial photography when they want stuff yesterday.

I use a Shen Hao 5x4 field camera for most of my work, mostly in B&W, at that size grain is virtually non-existant. For the few digital prints I produce from my Olympus E420, I use Epson Ultrachrome K3 pigment ink. Pigment ink, supposedly, has greater longevity than dye inks.

best

Mick


katyzzz profile image

katyzzz 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Amazing hub and you've certainly attracted a lot of attention with it, and that first image of yours is sensational, a true artiste


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Katyzzz

best

Mick


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

So true your definition of photography vs, digital photography. Even I can get a decent image with digital, but I am no photographer and the difference is stunning.


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment , timelesst.

best

Mick


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

I started taking photos with a Brownie camera but never did any film developing of my own. Now I love my digital camera.

I found it interesting to read your definition of a real photograph. I have a few old tintype photographs going back to my grandparent's time.

Voted up and interesting.


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Peggy.

best

Mick


snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

Hello MickS, I'm enjoying your page and comments on what is a photograph. I worked as a newspaper photographer for several years a long time back, used a Pentax 35mm, and got to watch my photos being developed onto contact sheet, then marked up by the editor and made into prints, then watched the pages pasted together by hand, and then each page photographed again with a giant camera (don't remember what it was called) to make the "dummies" to go to the printer for that week's edition. What an amazing process week after week. The dark room technician worked in a tiny cubbyhole no bigger than a broom closet right beside my desk in the newsroom. I remember listening to her crashing around in there for hours developing and printing on production days. She died really young (in her forties), I'm guessing the exposure to chemicals had something to do with it. What do you think? Is that a hazard?


MickS profile image

MickS 4 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment snakeslane, interesting job and life, I doubt that the exposure to the chemicals, which probably were all B&W, would cause an early death, unless of course, she and disregarded sensible safety precautions - not smoking, eating, or drinking whilst using them, and not thouroughly washing her hands before partaking of those activities. I worked for a while in an electroplating shop, using acids and cyanide, so I went through my working life with a healthy respect for the danger chemicals.

best

Mick


snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

Mick, Thanks. I have a feeling that she may have done all of the above at one time or other while working in the dark room.


Lizam1 profile image

Lizam1 3 years ago from Victoria BC

I really like the photograph you have exampled here. I have been working with art and photography recently combining images and making acrylic transfers from picture, over exposing digital shots and painting on the image to put back some form and line. I love how the two worlds can stand alone and emerge.


MickS profile image

MickS 3 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Lizami.

best

Mick


Davidwork 3 years ago

Interesting and thought provoking hub.

Generally, photography is not my strongest interest, though I have always been fascinated by early photographs, particularly those of the American Civil War. Check these websites:

http://listverse.com/2008/11/18/top-20-great-us-ci...

and:

http://www.civil-war.net/cw_images/

I have always felt that some of the Civil War photographs have an eerie quality to them. Some of the people in them almost look as if they could still be alive somewhere, although the photos were taken nearly 150 years ago.

The Civil War was not the first war to be photographed, a large collection of photos survive from the Crimean War and a few from the Mexican-American war of 1848, but the Civil War was the first one to be extensively recorded by photographers.

There was a documentary on TV a while back about the Turin Shroud. It was found by scientific investigation to actually date from the Middle Ages, (it was previously believed to be of Christ) but what was really interesting was the theory that the image of the man on it may actually have been unintentionally formed by a very primitive photographic process of light acting on chemical solutions.

http://shroudofturingroupseven.blogspot.co.uk/

Scroll down to: "Alternative Hypothesis"


MickS profile image

MickS 3 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment David. Yes I also find old Photos quite eerie, a moment in time catching the likeness of people that we know now are quite dead. I find it eerie seeing photos from the 70s, where I took the children I taught on a school trip. Photos that are about 40years old of 11 year olds, who now are about 50.

best

Mick


starstream profile image

starstream 3 years ago from Northern California

I just wish I had photos of my great grandparents and their travels. I guess videos would be the ultimate. Can you invent a time traveling camera?


MickS profile image

MickS 3 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England Author

Thanks for the visit and comment Starstream. Yep, a time travelling camara would be useful, if only:-)

best

Mick


Lloyd Deguzman profile image

Lloyd Deguzman 20 months ago from Puerto Princesa City, Puerto Princesa, Philippines

Very interesting!

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