why photography is more than a photo

Visual language personified through a snapshot in time

By caoimhe clements: Arts Columnist

Photography is a visual language, which allows oneself to construct a source of communication between themselves and the viewer. This is achieved by the use visual elements to portray a subject matter to impact and make the audiences feel a certain way.

As an artistic form Photography, has the ability to exploit vulnerabilities of the artist, as they express personal emotional experiences to their viewers. The viewer can be compelled by the artistic work as they may respond by thinking of an experience and ask themselves questions which the viewer didn’t intent to think of.

The modern society is extremely fast paced, where doing everyday activities has become much easier for individuals, this has impacted how people view the world. This society has continued to question the importance of photography, with some people branding the art form as ‘easy’.

Living in a digital era, where everyone has access to a camera, mostly the use of the phone camera and further impacts Social Media in particular Instagram with over 90 million photos shared daily on the platform. A phone can take a photo in seconds, uploading it to social media in minutes, this speed of pace has taken away the thinking method and the ability to fully understand how the camera works as a tool.

This idea of photography is just clicking a button, insults both professional photographers and student photographers who have studied this field of study for many years. Time spent building concepts, expressing their vulnerabilities to ensure a high level of communication between the artist and the viewer.

Anyone has the ability to take a photo, but not everyone has a constructed vision, emotions entail when they make the photo, as Photographer Ansel Adams famously said ‘You don’t take a photograph, you make it’

The camera is a tool, and an optical instrument used to capture an image. Light travels though the camera lens, light reflects on the sensor which revels what you witness in the viewfinder.


During the 1800s photography became a new art form, the impressionists in the 1860s created an artistic response to the medium of photography. Photography having the ability to capture a moment in time, influenced the impressionists to focus on ‘snapshots’ of people doing everyday things, which entailed to concentrate on light, colour and movement. This new way of thinking provided artists with a new point of view and encouraged them to translate photographic techniques in their work, enabling them to capture everyday life with a greater sense of vitality and intimacy.

Caravaggio an Italian painter known for his use of light and shadows in the 16th century. As research and studies carried out a few decades ago it was discovered that he used photographic techniques, which was two centuries before the invention of the camera.

How did he do it?

Caravaggio, known as a master of art, had the forward thinking of turning his studio into a giant camera obscura, which consistent of creating a hole in the studio ceiling to help project the image onto his canvas. Caravaggio also used chemicals to turn his canvases into photographic film ‘burning’ images he then sketched onto for works such as St. Matthew and the angel.

What you see is a photograph, your body feels a wave of emotions and your brain triggers memories of your own experiences. Photography is about experience. If Photography was ‘easy’ the artist’s use of visual elements would not have the ability to make you feel certain things. Photography is power.

MACKAYAN: why photography is more than a photo