Even though the advent of smartphone technology has turned almost everyone into a photographer, it is still actually an art form. In fact, the history of photography is a fascinating subject and something that should be included in every photography for beginners course.

If you are looking at an introduction to photography, be sure to embrace the rich history of photography that goes with it, because there is no doubt that the full context of the subject will add depth to your photography education and experience.

So if you are looking to explore photography 101, keep reading and remember that much of photography jargon for beginners today, has its roots in the wonderful history of photography.

The History of Photography

Dating back to the 1830s, photography was actually invented long before it became of interest to the public. In an introduction to photography, one of the first most astounding facts that you will learn is that the first photographers were able to take photographs without being able to print them.

Subsequently, photographers then began to develop film using chemicals in a dark room. This of course was analogue photography whereas most photographers these days take photographs digitally. It’s important to note that even though the post-production process of analogue versus digital photography differs, the principles of both are still shared.

The fundamental basics of photography, whether digital or film (analogue) are still the same!

Interestingly, like most advancements in life, there is usually a level of resistance! The history of photography actually dates all the way back to the 14th century, however, artists of that period were less than embracing and thought that photography would destroy the sacred art of painting!

When it comes to camera bodies, the devices used in that time were far from those resembling today’s SLR camera! In fact, the gear needed to take an image was so outlandish-looking – imagine the photographer being completely cloaked by black material – that inventor, Giovanni Battista was arrested for witchcraft!

In short, before the 19th century, the photography for beginner’s course would have been unheard of!

The Invention of the First Commercial Camera

The next photography inventor worth mentioning in any history of photography study was Frenchman Joseph Niepce who took the first famous photograph in 1825. To obtain the image, Niepce had to use an eight-hour exposure. After his death, Niepce’s work was refined by a long list of names who made further enormous contributions to the history of photography.

Finally, one of the most significant inventions was by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer who introduced the wet collodion principle which at first, fixed the emulsion to glass and was later refined into what became the film negative.

person holding spool of camera film
In the early days of photography, photos could not be printed. - Source: Unsplash

Photography Progress in the 20th Century

Mainstream artists remained sceptical about the introduction to photography, and it was not until the 1859 Universal Exhibition of Paris that photos entered the realm of other accepted art forms (paintings, sculpture, engravings etc).

After that, the introduction of the first Kodak camera of 1888 made photography accessible to the ordinary person, yet it still took a few more years for the art of photography to truly explode in the 20th century!

Once society realised the importance of photography in documenting, with great precision, the important political, scientific and cultural events of the day, it became a wonder for modern civilisation. In fact, it is not surprising that it was the events of the First World War that truly awakened the world to how technology could change, influence and progress society!

Photographers not only documented the challenges and tragedies of frontline events, but also the daily life of ordinary people who lived between two world wars. This unusual period of history, was certainly when photojournalism came into its own and turned the art of photography into an important profession.

The first half of the 20th century birthed incredible industrial progress like the first trains, factories, vehicles and urbanisation. All of this innovation in contemporary society was recorded as an important history in black and white for future generations by photographers of the day.

From the 1930s, the colour photography exploded onto the scene.

Digital Photography of Today

Today, any photography for beginners course will most likely include needing to know your way around a digital camera. A lesser-known fact is that digital photography actually dates back to the 1950s and 1960s when the research was begun on the topic by William Boyle and George Smith. Of course, their discoveries that resulted in images of only 100 pixels were nowhere compared to the quality of 14, 20 and more megapixels that are available to us through digital photography today.

Thanks to the Bell research laboratories, photographers began to create their own styles making photography the creative art form that we see today.

If you are keen to research the work of some of the greatest 20th-century photographers and the styles that made them famous, why not Google these famous names and save the photographs that resonate with you the most?

  • Ansel Adams
  • Robert Capa
  • Phillippe Halsman
  • Eugene Smith
  • Dorothea Lange
  • Robert Frank
  • George Hurrell
  • Steve McCurry
  • Gary Winogrand
  • Richard Avedon

Eventually, photography was taught in United States universities, and yet countries like China still imposed censorship. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that photographers enjoyed the freedom that they have today. This was also the time when urban landscape photography developed into the popular art that it is today.

girl using smartphone camera
Photography equipment has changed dramatically since the camera was first invented. - Source: Unsplash

The 21st century has seen digital photo retouching with programmes such as Photoshop replace the darkroom. Of course, many fine art photographers continue to use their own darkrooms, but when it comes to commercial photography, the fast pace of digital photography is leading the way.

For today’s digital photographer, post-production of images is almost as important as basic photography skills. Being able to edit, select, archive and correct images after taking them is part and parcel of being a photographer today.

An Introduction to Photography Today

Apart from the academic value that the history of photography can add to the student, photography 101 is unchanged. A student’s first introduction to photography will always include a thorough discussion about light and exposure, which at the very core are still photography 101.

Understanding the principles of how light and exposure work together to take different types of images is fundamental to any photography for beginners course, but without a knowledge of this photography jargon for beginners, it is very difficult to explain.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important terms for any new student to try and grasp in an introduction to a photography course.

Photography Jargon for Beginners 

Sadly, many photography students are put off by the language that is associated with understanding photography 101, but having a basic glossary of fundamental photography jargon for beginners on hand, could make all the difference when it comes to grasping concepts that will eventually be actions that hardly require any thinking!

35mm camera on table
The fundamentals of photography, whether using an analogue or digital camera, are the same. - Source: Unsplash

Whether you have begun a photography course for beginners, or if you intend to embark on your own introduction to photography through internet resources like those found on YouTube for instance, here are a few terms that you could look up for further explanation and keep on hand as you study:

  • SLR (single-lens reflex)
  • DSLR (digital single-lens reflex)
  • Shutter speed
  • Aperture
  • Stop
  • Exposure
  • ISO
  • White Balance
  • Focal length
  • Low depth of field
  • High depth of field

It’s really important to remember that the thing about photography jargon for beginners, is that these are not simply words or terms, they are the very tools you will use to create different types of images whether those are portraits, landscapes,

Find a Private Photography Tutor

Whether you have already begun your photography journey or have never picked up a camera before, there are several ways to learn photography.

You could self-teach by watching YouTube videos and other free internet resources, or you could enrol in a photography school or with a private tutor like those on Superprof. Lessons average at around R257 per hour with almost all the tutors offering their first lesson for free. On Superprof, you could actually search for a photography for beginners course with a tutor near you, or opt for online lessons with someone from anywhere in the world. All you would need is a webcam and a meeting platform like Zoom or Skype.

The most important thing is that you connect with your tutor and take the opportunity to explain your reasons for wanting to learn photography. If you are interested in sports photography, for instance, you could possibly find a tutor who has specialised in that field and has many neat tips and tricks up their sleeve that a more general photographer does not have.

Photography has come a long way, and with technology evolving at the pace that it is, it will no doubt advance even further thank it has already!

Need a Photography teacher?

Enjoyed this article?

5.00/5 - 1 vote(s)


Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.