Essay: The Profession of Photography

Class: Art History 300
Digital Arts Essay
Oct. 12, 2012

The world of photography was forever changed with the introduction of digital photography in 1990. Though digital photography was created in 1975, it didn’t become a commercially available art form until 1990 when the Dycam Model 1 hit the market. “There was only one button on the camera; the shutter button. To turn the flash on, it was necessary to connect the camera to a computer and use the program that came with the camera. To turn the flash off, it was necessary to reconnect the camera to a computer,” (History). The camera originally retailed for $995, (History). Since then, the photography profession has come a long way in terms of digital photography. Today, film cameras are nearly a thing of the past and aside from the hardcore photographers out there, many people have fully converted over to digital. Though several studies I came across online suggest that a lot of photographers still use film, I will focus on digital photography since professionally, that is what is used most.

So what exactly is photography? Photography is an art form in which pictures are created using a device called a camera. “A camera sees an object because of the light which is reflected off it and into the camera’s lens. The lens of the camera is used to channel this light onto a plane, where it can be recorded and a photo created by one way or the other. This is the basic principle of photography,” (Kashyap). Digital photography on the other hand is a bit different. “In digital photography, the photographic film is replaced by a silicon chip which is often called a sensor. While the film is limited in the sense that every exposure results in a photograph and each barrel of film can only produce 36 images; the silicon chip sensor can be used again and again — thereby giving you the ability to experiment with your photos in a way which was never possible with the film camera,” (Kashyap).

There are many reasons why photographers choose to do what they do. Some of the photographers I spoke with explained to me reasons which included doing it for fun, because they want to capture the beauty they see, because they enjoy using the technology, and because it’s something they’ve just always loved. I think the person who summed it up best though was fellow journalism major and print Features Editor on the Sac City Express, Angelo Mabalot, when he said, “In art you have a finite canvas to capture a piece of work, but with photography you can capture whatever you see from your own perspective and put it on a piece of paper.” Basically he was saying that when you paint or sculpt an artistic piece of work, there’s only so much space on the canvas or object to get a message across. This means, an artist must work particularly hard to capture a message and make it understandable to the viewer where as with photography, the artist can more easily capture their exact perspective and show it to the viewer. For Mabalot, this is what he said he enjoys most about photography as an art form.

The process from taking a photo to having a finished product varies depending on what type of photography the artist is engaging in. For example, a wedding photographer would probably set up a lot of lighting fixtures, use reflective surfaces to get certain color and light, and do a lot of editing in photo editing programs to make the photos look as smooth and beautiful as possible. On the other hand, a photo journalist is supposed to capture the truth in photos. In other words, a photo journalist is not allowed to alter the scene, pose the people in the picture or edit the photos beyond simple cropping[1] or lighting and color changes. In fact, if photo journalists alter pictures too much, they get fired because it’s the same as a journalist making up a quote.

As for what is needed, well of course, you will need to start with a camera. There are many types of cameras including film cameras, digital “point and shoot” cameras, and DSLR cameras. Most professional photographers use DSLR, or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras. “A Digital SLR operates on the same principle as a film SLR camera: light comes through the lens and is reflected into the viewfinder, allowing the user to adjust the camera and the lens before pressing the shutter button to raise the mirror and take the shot. But instead of projecting the light onto a strip of film, it’s captured by a digital sensor and saved to a memory card as an image file. There are many advantages to Digital SLR photography beyond the files: batteries last longer, settings are easier to adjust with an LCD screen, and the cameras can be physically smaller,” (Crider). The difference between a DSLR and a standard digital “point and shoot”[2] is that with a DLSR, photographers can use lenses and other accessories, like tripods for instance, to aid them in being able to take a wide variety of shots. One such example is the fish-eye lens. “This [fish-eye] lens adapter’s extremely wide angle and super short focal length twists, distorts, and warps your photos into perfect circles turning all that’s rectilinear, curvilinear. It’s made out of multi-coated high definition optical glass that’s got a big thing for color. Because it’s an adapter and not just a lens it picks up and bounces off the dandiest little pieces of lens flare,” (Photojojo). In other words, this lens distorts what you are taking a picture of to look similar to the way a fish sees the world, or in their case the sea, which creates a unique look for photos because it makes the viewer focus on a central point while distorting the border of the photo and making the viewer pay more attention to the focal point[3] of the picture.

Perhaps the hardest part of photography is coming up with an image to take. This is where the art comes in, in my opinion. Some may argue that the art element is in the editing of photos but as a journalist, being around many photo journalists, I feel that viewpoint takes away from their craft because they too are artists, despite not being able to edit the photos nearly as heavily as other photographers. For this, I tried to do research, but it really comes down to the personal opinions, styles and most of all, talents of each individual photographer. Some prefer nature; some prefer to shoot anything and everything they find. Others base their shots on composition[4] and light[5], (Vassell, et al, and others).

Of course for professionals, many times they are shooting what they are assigned to shoot. For instance, a photo journalist may be asked to shoot a football game while a nature photographer for National Geographic[6] may be asked to shoot photos of lions or a certain river. The art factor comes in with the way the photographer takes the photo, including the time of day, the light, the angle, the composition and anything else that the photographer takes into account. Most photographers take multiple shots of their subjects as well. This way they can edit, pick and choose the photo they like best when it comes time to review their shots later.

The next steps are to upload the photos to a computer from the camera’s memory card or internal memory, look through the photos and decide which ones to use, and then to crop and edit photos as needed. Photographers do this using a multitude of programs but the most common is probably Adobe Photoshop. “Adobe Photoshop software delivers state-of-the-art imaging magic, exciting new creative options, and blazingly fast performance,” (Adobe). The software suite offers plenty of tools to adjust color, lighting, size, resolution, contrast, and can even do things like cutting and adding objects to images, changing a color image to black and white or applying filters that make photos look like animations or other such creative variations.

The finished product is then used in a variety of ways. For photo journalists, the photos are placed next to written copy[7] and used to tell a story, whether it’s news, sports, or anything else within the confines of a journalistic publication. For books, photo magazines and other such areas, the photos are used to display information or tell about objects in the copy. Photography is also used in professions like wedding photos to document special memories, or for things like graduations. There are also photographers employed in fields such as construction to take pictures of sites in order to plan ahead for what work needs to be done or in police work to photograph crime scenes. Lastly, there are professional photographers who use their photos as stock photos and sell them to all sorts of companies or people to be used in advertising, campaigns, or in other such ways.

In conclusion, there are a lot of elements to photography, there are a lot of reasons for people engaging in photography—both professionally and personally—and there are many items, settings and skills needed to be a photographer, but most importantly, photography requires talent and an eye for artistic, beautiful shots. There are many things in photography that can be taught but some things—like an eye for a good shot—either come from natural talent or from lots and lots of practice. Regardless, photography is an art form that has evolved and become more and more widespread, especially in the professional world. Everyone sees and uses pictures in their everyday life whether we think about it or not, which makes photographers some of the most important artists in the world.

Essay Works Cited

  1. Adobe, ed. “Adobe Photo Shop CS6.” Adobe, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2012. <|22182|cs4 photoshop||S|b|14623314858&ef_id=UHEVfwAAXgYzCH5p:20121007053911:s >.
  2. Crider, James. “What Does SLR Mean for a Digital Camera?.” Salon – Tech Tips. Salon, Demand Media, 2012. Web. 12 Oct 2012. <;.
  3. History, Digi Cam. “1990.” Digi Cam History. Digi Cam History, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2012. <;.
  4. Kashyap, Varun. “What is Digital Photography? [Technology Explained].” – Technology. Make Use Of, 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Oct 2012.
  5. Photojojo, . “The Fisheye Lens.” Photo JoJo. PhotoJoJo Store, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2012. <;.
  6. Vassell , Aleina, , et al and others. “Deciding of what kind of photos I should take.” Beginner Photography Questions., 10 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Oct 2012. < >.

Footnotes Work Cited

  1. Farlax 1, “Focal Point Definition .” The Free Dictionary by Farlax. Farlax, 2012. Web. 12 Oct 2012. < point>.

Scantips, , ed. “Image Resize – Cropping, Resampling, Scaling.” . Scan Tips, 2012. Web. 12 Oct 2012. <;.

[1] Crop: To simply cut away some at the edges, to include less area in the final image. A little like zooming in a little tighter, but done afterwards, (Scantips).

[2] Point and Shoot Camera: A standard digital camera; one that does not use lenses or have many advanced features.

[3] Focal Point: A central point of attention or interest, (Farlax).

[4] Composition: Arrangement of artistic parts so as to form a unified whole, (Farlax).  

[5] Light: A source of light, especially a lamp, a lantern, or an electric lighting fixture; The particular quantity or quality of such illumination, (Farlax).

[6] National Geographic: A popular nature magazine that features pictures and articles.

[7] Copy: Matter to be reproduced to print; written matter or text as distinct from graphic material in books, newspapers, etc., (Farlax 4).

About Daniel Wilson

Daniel has been a writer for over 25 years and recently earned his Bachelor's degree in journalism. Portfolio:
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