Photography is a technique of producing permanent images on sensitized surfaces by means of the photochemical action of light or other forms of radiant energy.
In today’s society, photography plays important roles as an information medium, as a tool in science and technology, and as an art form, and it is also a popular hobby. It is essential at every level of business and industry, being used in advertising, documentation, photojournalism, and many other ways. Scientific research, ranging from the study of outer space to the study of the world of subatomic particles, relies heavily on photography as a tool. In the 19th century, photography was the domain of a few professionals because it required large cameras and glass photographic plates. During the first decades of the 20th century, however, with the introduction of roll film and the box camera, it came within the reach of the public as a whole. Today the industry offers amateur and professional photographers a large variety of cameras and accessories. See also Motion Picture.
The Camera and Its Accessories
Modern cameras operate on the basic principle of the camera obscura (see Historical Development, below). Light passing through a tiny hole, or aperture, into an otherwise lightproof box casts an image on the surface opposite the aperture. The addition of a lens sharpens the image, and film makes possible a fixed, reproducible image. The camera is the mechanism by which film can be exposed in a controlled manner. Although they differ in structural details, modern cameras consist of four basic components: body, shutter, diaphragm, and lens. Located in the body is a lightproof chamber in which film is held and exposed. Also in the body, located opposite the film and behind the lens, are the diaphragm and shutter. The lens, which is affixed to the front of the body, is actually a grouping of optical glass lenses. Housed in a metal ring or cylinder, it allows the photographer to focus an image on the film. The lens may be fixed in place or set in a movable mount. Objects located at various distances from the camera can be brought into sharp focus by adjusting the distance between the lens and the film.
The diaphragm, a circular aperture behind the lens, operates in conjunction with the shutter to admit light into the lighttight chamber. This opening may be fixed, as in many amateur cameras, or it may be adjustable. Adjustable diaphragms are composed of overlapping strips of metal or plastic that, when spread apart, form an opening of the same diameter as the lens; when meshed together, they form a small opening behind the center of the lens. The aperture openings correspond to numerical settings, called f-stops, on the camera or the lens.
The shutter, a spring-activated mechanical device, keeps light from entering the camera except during the interval of exposure. Most modern cameras have focal-plane or leaf shutters. Some older amateur cameras use a drop-blade shutter, consisting of a hinged piece that, when released, pulls across the diaphragm opening and exposes the film for about 1/30th of a second.
In the leaf shutter, at the moment of exposure, a cluster of meshed blades springs apart to uncover the full lens aperture and then springs shut. The focal-plane shutter consists of a black shade with a variable-size slit across its width. When released, the shade moves quickly across the film, exposing it progressively as the slit moves.
Most modern cameras also have some sort of viewing system or viewfinder to enable the photographer to see, through the lens of the camera, the scene being photographed. Single-lens reflex cameras all incorporate this design feature, and almost all general-use cameras have some form of focusing system as well as a film-advance mechanism.
Cameras come in a variety of configurations and sizes. The first cameras, “pinhole” cameras, had no lens. The flow of light was controlled simply by blocking the pinhole. The first camera in general use, the box camera, consists of a wooden or plastic box with a simple lens and a drop-blade shutter at one end and a holder for roll film at the other. The box camera is equipped with a simple viewfinder that shows the extent of the picture area. Some models have, in addition, one or two diaphragm apertures and a simple focusing device.
The view camera, used primarily by professionals, is the camera closest in design to early cameras that is still in widespread use. Despite the unique capability of the view camera, however, other camera types, because of their greater versatility, are more commonly used by both amateurs and professionals. Chief among these are the single- lens reflex (SLR), twin-lens reflex (TLR), and rangefinder. Most SLR and rangefinder cameras use the 35-millimeter film format, while most TLR as well as some SLR and rangefinder cameras use medium-format film—that is, size 120 or 220.
View cameras are generally larger and heavier than medium- and small-format cameras and are most often used for studio, landscape, and architectural photography. These cameras use large-format films that produce either negatives or transparencies with far greater detail and sharpness than smaller format film. View cameras have a metal or wood base with a geared track on which two metal standards ride, one in front and one in back, connected by a bellows. The front standard contains the lens and shutter; the rear holds a framed ground-glass panel, in front of which the film holder is inserted. The body configuration of the view camera, unlike that of most general-purpose cameras, is adjustable. The front and rear standards can be shifted, tilted, raised, or swung, allowing the photographer excellent control of perspective and focus.
Rangefinder cameras have a viewfinder through which the photographer sees and frames the subject or scene. The viewfinder does not, however, show the scene through the lens but instead closely approximates what the lens would record. This situation, in which the point of view of the lens does not match that of the viewfinder, results in what is known as parallax. At longer distances, the effects of parallax are negligible. At short distances, however, they become more pronounced, making it difficult for the photographer to frame a scene or subject with certainty.