Art Term


Photography refers to the process or practice of creating a photograph – an image produced by the action of light on a light-sensitive material

A photograph can be either a positive or negative image. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus an object’s visible wavelengths (the light reflected or emitted from it) into a reproduction on a light-sensitive surface of what the human eye would see.

The word photograph was coined in 1839 by Sir John Herschel and is based on the Greek word ‘phos’, meaning ‘light’, and ‘graphê’, meaning ‘drawing’ – so ‘drawing with light.

Types of photography: Non-digital vs. digital

Non-digital photographs are produced using a two-step chemical process: light-sensitive film captures a negative image (colors and lights/darks are inverted) from which a positive image can be made by transferring the negative onto photographic paper (printing).

The advent of digital photography has led to the rise of digital prints. These prints are created from stored graphic formats such as JPEG, TIFF, and RAW. These can then be printed out using printers including inkjet printers, dye-sublimation printer, laser printers, and thermal printers. Inkjet prints are sometimes called ‘giclée’ prints.

Photography through time

Eadweard Muybridge Jumping over boy's back (leap-frog). Plate 169 1887

Eadweard Muybridge
Jumping over boy's back (leap-frog). Plate 169 1887
© Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Nineteenth century: Eadweard Muybridge
Born in 1830 – around the same time that photography was invented – Muybridge was one of the early pioneers of photography. Tate’s 2010 Muybridge exhibition explored his important contribution to the development of photography.

Mid twentieth century: William Eggleston

Often described as the godfather of colour photography, and known for his rich and complex images of the American South, William Eggleston is largely credited with establishing the acceptance of colour in fine art photography.

Adam Broomberg, Oliver Chanarin
Political 1 sheet 19 (2010)

Selected artists working with photography

Explore this term

Photography at Tate