The word photography was first used by the scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839.

It comes from the French photographie which is based on the Greek φώς (phos) light + γραφίς (graphis) stylus / paintbrush or γραφή (graphê) representation by means of lines / drawing, together = drawing with light.


Photography is the science and art of recording images by means of capturing light on a light-sensitive medium, such as a film or electronic sensor. Light patterns reflected or emitted from objects expose a sensitive silver halide based chemical or electronic medium during a timed exposure, usually through a photographic lens in a device known as a camera that also stores the resulting information chemically or electronically.

The Pinhole

The Chinese were the first people that we know of to write about the basic idea of the pinhole camera. About 2,500 years ago (5th Century BC) they wrote about how an image was formed upside down from a "pinhole" on the opposite wall.

pinhole camera

About 2,400 years ago (4th Century BC) the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle talked about a pinhole image formation in his work.

He wondered why "when light shines through a rectangular peep-hole, it appears circular in the form of a cone?"

He did not find an answer to his question and the problem was not answered until about 1600 years later in the early 1000s AD.

Camera Obscura

The invention of the camera obscura is attributed to the Iraqi scientist Alhazen and described in his Book of Optics (1011-1021). English scientists Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke later invented a portable camera obscura in 1665-1666. In the 1500s many artists, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, used the camera obscura to help them draw pictures.

This drawing below, made in 1652, shows an outer shell with lenses in the center of each wall and an inner shell with transparent paper for drawing. The artist entered by a trap door in the bottom.

camera obscura

Click HERE to learn more about contemporary photographer Abelardo Morell's camera obscura photographs.

Learn more about the camera obscura