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What is Photography?

What is photography? Why is it important? Let me synthesize why I love photography, how I define photography– and why photography is essential for society:

Selfie Olympus pen

To start, let us break down the etymology of the word: ‘photography’:

  • Photo: Light
  • Graphy: Drawing/writing

Thus photography literally means:

Drawing with light.


Eric kim bath tub sapa memento mori

A photograph is literally a drawing made from light.

Thus, if the origin of a picture is from reality (real light), it is a photograph.



What is a camera?

A camera is basically a device which makes photographs.

Originally, the word ‘camera‘ comes from the notion of a ‘camera obscura’ (a dark chamber)– because the first camera was a pinhole and a dark room. Originally the word ‘camera’ (in Latin) meant: “private bedchamber” — which comes from the Ancient Greek, ‘kamara‘, which was a vaulted chamber.

Vitruvian Camera design: made after the ideal proportions of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

Anyways, I think the practical way to think is this:

A camera is a vault for light to enter– then the camera will produce a photograph.

What is the best camera?

Me and Contax III, my grandfather's camera. 2009
Me and Contax III, my grandfather’s camera. 2009

The general question we have is this:

“What is the best camera?”

When we say ‘best’– we mean to say “maximally good”. We also mean to think in terms of image quality– the sharpness, the dynamic range of light-dark in the picture, as well as the depth-of-field (3D factor) that is produced with a camera.

There are many different cameras out there. Generally speaking, the bigger the sensor is, the better the image quality. For example ‘digital medium format‘ cameras have the biggest sensor, and thus produces the most beautiful pictures.

However I think the best camera is a phone camera. Why? With computational photography (your phone uses the computer processor to improve the image quality of your pictures) — image quality is more than “good enough”. Also generally speaking, the smaller, more compact, more convenient, easier-to-use, simple your camera– the better.

At this point, I’ve pretty much shot with all the cameras out there. I suggest a practical idea:

Either shoot with a very expensive digital-medium-format camera, or just shoot with your phone camera.

And yes, your phone camera is a legitimate camera.

What is the duty of a photographer?

If photography is “drawing with your camera”, then your duty and role as a photographer is to make new pictures.

I personally don’t believe there is such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ photograph. If you like the picture, it is a good photograph.

Thus when you are starting off, just determine:

What kind of pictures do I like to look at? What kind of pictures do I aspire to create?

Determine your personal aesthetic taste and vision– and pursue that vision, to seek to make pictures that you like looking at!

Honest feedback and constructive critique

If you’re not sure how to improve your photos, upload them to Here you can join a community of like-minded individuals, who will give you honest and constructive feedback on your photos.

Never stop shooting

Endurance is essential for a photographer. Never stop shooting, never stop experimenting, and never stop making new photographs!


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