Standard dictionaries click here   |   A message from the Smithsonian Institution

This will cause you to distinguish photographic qualities.
Use it, share it and discuss it.

In 2014 and prior, the words photography, photographs, images, photos, and snapshots have been used interchangeably in one blur.

But those words have different meanings.

This will quickly and easily increase your knowledge of photographic images.

Photographic means in connection with a photographic image.


Photo means visible light.

In photographic language today:
Photo does not mean photograph.
Photo does mean photographic image and photographic.
Both words images and photos refer to photographic images.

"Photo" used to mean "photograph" in the 20th century, but today it takes a new meaning because we have new technology.

The photographic image is only the image from a camera that we see. It is a stabilized interpretation of visible light by a camera. It results from both photography and digital photographic imaging. It appears within a variety of physical and electronic forms.

We cannot touch photographic images, but we can touch objects that contain them.


A photograph is only a physical object that suspends a
photographic image using single-use light sensitive metallic chemistry.


Your digital camera makes computer files which show
electronic photographic images.


Film negatives (with negative images) are photographs.
They are used to make (positive image) photographs.

When we refer to photographs, we use
the full word, photographs.


Language Diagram

With your digital camera:
I imaged myself.
I took a picture of myself.
I took an image of myself.
I took a photo of myself.
I made a photo of myself.
I made an image of myself.
I snapped a photo of myself.
I snapped an image of myself.
And you imaged yourself by a snapshot with photographic imaging.

You did not photograph yourself.
You did not take a photograph of yourself.

you used a camera with film.



There is no "digital photography."
There are no "digital photographs."

Digital cameras make and edit photographic images
using computer files. A digital camera is a computer.




In the 20th century, KODAK and some folks in the art world helped to condition people to think that "snapshots" were photographs for economic purposes, obscuring the history of photography.1 That myth confused even the professionals., a timeline of company history:
1888 - The name "Kodak" was born and the Kodak camera was placed on the market, with the slogan, "You press the button - we do the rest." This was the birth of snapshot photography, as millions of amateur picture-takers know it today.2
It was in no way the birth of snapshot photography. Kodak would never have claimed that in 1888. Snapshot photography started in the 1850s.3 A "snapshot" is just a fast exposure that stops motion in a picture. Almost all photography is snapshot photography. Photography became popular by the efforts of many people and companies over two decades (early 1880s to 1905), with Kodak one dominant entity.

SNAPSHOTS are only fast exposures and the action that creates them.
(They stop at least relatively slower motion from blurring widely.)

Pictures made by snapshots are sequenced to create MOTION PICTURES. That is why the term was applied to photography in 1860--a pursuit to make stereoscopic animated pictures (3D movies today).4

The words instantaneous exposure must be able to replace the word snapshot or it is not used correctly.

There are only two types of exposures.
The exposure is the light impressing in chemistry (photography)
or light detecting by a sensor (imaging)
within a window of time.

Snapshot (instantaneous) exposures are a tiny fraction of a second.
Time exposures are longer and often counted for more light.

There are only two types of photography:
Snapshot (instantaneous) photography and timed photography.

There are only two types of photographic imaging:
Snapshot (instantaneous) imaging and timed imaging.

These sentences do not work:
"Look at my snapshots."  "These are my snapshots."

"Look at my images (or photos)" or, if they are, "photographs."

Photographs made by double exposures have
two snapshots in the photography (the action).
The result is only one total photographic image.


Photography does not mean photographs.

You cannot hold photography or collect photography.

Photography is only the actions and decisions of making photographs.
Photographs are the result of photography.

Q: So how did it get confused?

A: Go back to the word snapshot.

A snapshot is not a photograph.
A snapshot is photography.
Photography and photographs are not synonyms.

A snapshot began to flicker into language confusion
around 1900 when it became confused with a photograph.5
That confused the understanding of photography.

Photographic prints
(photographs and other prints with photographic images)
are photographic art.

The images are achieved by photography (with single-use chemistry)
and photographic imaging (with a computer file).


"Digital" and "analog" are terms used in music recording, and analog in that context refers to magnetic tape. In music, the recording of the sound is not the art of the music itself. In photography, the recording of the light is the art itself as the light physically changes (impresses) a tangible light sensitive metallic chemistry. It is together both the photographic image and the metallic chemistry. That is not comparable to how the terms "digital" and "analog" have been used from music recording to photography. The closer analogy to analog music recording is video tape. Photography is not "analog;" it is only photography.

Photographic imaging replaces the term "digital photography," as the image file is the product. Files are not light impressed into chemistry--which is the "drawing" by the light itself. Instead, the light is detected and computed into a file. The original photograph is the point of photography (the negative on film is a photograph). Photographs are not digital--those words are opposites of each other. You cannot send a photograph invisibly through the air.

Photographic imaging creates computer files (digital product) that connect to electronic photographic images.

Director of Photography >> Chemical development (Film) >> Photographs suspending photographic images

Director of Photographic Imaging >> Computer software >> Computer files connecting to photographic images

The words film and filming continue to describe moviemaking. They have always been used to describe the totality of movie concepts, from acting to the various actions of the set, not exclusive to photography or imaging, with photographic practices only one part of the activity.



That's a great shot! (It is slang for image.)
We are doing a shoot. (Slang for doing imaging or photography.)

Photographic language involves
only visible light & photographic images.

When you send computer files between wireless devices,
they do not use visible light.

The electronic photographic images on your devices are seen by emitting light through electricity and electronic technology.

It is truly not a "digital image" because the photographic image is not an assembly of numbers, but it connects to a coded file that corresponds to the pixels of the image you see with your electronic device--an electronic photographic image.

PARADIGMS (rhymes with "pair of dimes") are organizational arrangements which support the way we speak about and understand subjects. New discoveries, social changes, and scientific realizations affect paradigms.

When paradigms change, our language must align.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, people spoke coherently with "snapshot (or instantaneous) work" and "timed work," which means "snapshot (instantaneous) photography" and "timed photography."
That is the foundation of photographic language.


Snapshot and Timed Photography

Suggested examples

Schools: "photography" to photographic arts.

News organizations: "photography" sections change to photos, images, photographic images, or photographic art.

Bookstores and libraries: "photography" to photographic art.

Speech: "I do wedding imaging."  "I am a portrait imager."
"I imaged it with an iPhone." Unless, you use cameras with film--then it is photography, photographer, photographed.

Curators: curate photographic art; not only photographs. For example, Curator of Photographic Art.

Director of Photography at a news outlet: changes to Director of Photographic Images. For movies, it becomes Director of Photographic Imaging or Cinema-Imaging with computer files.

Auctions: "Photographs" catalogs are Photographic Art catalogs.

The Annenberg Space for Photography is an exhibition space for photographic art resulting from photography and photographic imaging--for example, The Annenberg Space for Photographic Art.

The International Center of Photography: (museum and a school) The International Center of Photographic Arts (the practices) or Art (the resulting work).

For photographic art investments

Figures in the 20th century installed myths based on emotion and economic wants. Those myths are exposed and the market has changed.

No economic value is lost by using updated language.

Obsolete terms:
Fine art photography / Fine art photographs

Those terms are incoherent in language,
and for that reason they are not definable.


There are fine photographs and other fine photographic prints,
and they are created from snapshot and timed photography or snapshot and timed imaging.
The quality of "fine" is only in the material object, and it is subjective.
Images have various qualities, but images are not material.
Fine art is the finished result (the material containment of the image).
Fine art is not the practice and it does not precede the practice.
That does not undermine talented achievement;
it just fixes the language.

Photographs or photographic prints by name of artist.

All photographs are art.
Some art is fine.
Some photographs are fine.

Fine Art


Economic value is improved by using updated language.

Obsolete terms:
Vernacular photography / Vernacular photographs

No coherent definition exists.

Coherent: Photographic art by anonymous and undocumented photographers
(anonymous photographs or vintage photographs)
photographic art

"Vernacular" was used to mean "not made with art in mind."
That is a myth.

Photography popularized exclusively as a recreational art.

All photographs are made with artistic intention for various uses (even mugshots), but not all for a sales market,
and most only for artistic purposes exclusively.

Like its counterpart, "snapshot photograph" myth,
"vernacular photograph" myth is incoherent.

(They are economically suppressive terms.)

What is a [singular] vernacular photograph?
It is not definable and neither is its plural.
There are also no vernacular images.

There are not monolithic A and B type classes of photographs.

Photographs are of tremendous artistic variety.

  • Photographers especially self-identified as "artists"
    in the 19th and early 20th centuries, even long after hand-cameras became popular.

  • Photographs of all sizes were frequently handmade into the mid-20th century.

  • Photography popularized to produce photographs as photographic art, even hand-held formats.

  • Camera and paper manufactures sold their products to everyone, not just a small group, and they were marketed for the purpose of achieving artistic beauty and fidelity.

  • The market indicates art investment (fine art) by a pricing tier.
    Select anonymous vintage photographs have already
    reached the higher tiers and repeatedly
    matched or exceeded works by celebrated photographers.

    Photographic Art

    might contain both anonymous and signed works.

    This term is only descriptive (positive value).
    It already is photographic art.

    Photographs are unique to the individual cameras, periods, finishing places, photographers who printed their own photographs (even hand-held sizes), papers and chemical processes, social circumstances, and individual cirucmstances of each individual print throughout history.

    They are all different sizes, large and small. They are of massive and tremendous artistic variety that no person will see in a lifetime.

    They are only photographs.

    Photograms are not photographs.
    They do not incorporate a photographic image.
    (Photographic images originate from cameras.)
    Photograms result from photogrammy.


    Amateur photographer /
    Amateur photographs /
    Amateur photography
    are archaic and obsolete

    In the 19th and early 20th centuries, amateur photographers were distinguised from portraitists and "view" photographers, who were the professional photographers. Amateur is exclusively an economic term. It is not an artistic term.

    Amateur photographers considered themselves artists, finished their own photographs, and progressed the art of photography with expressive freedom.6 Celebrated photographers are amateur photographers when not employed to make portraits or commercial work for a second party. Alfred Stieglitz was an amateur photographer in that early period and an acclaimed snapshot photographer.7

    Amateur changed to mean "amateurish" near the mid-20th century and it was also applied to people who did not print their own work, which is the opposite of its original meaning in photography, but all photographers were still freely expressive. The art of photography was never exclusive. Today, "amateur" is meaningless in photography. It only had meaning in the 19th and early 20th century periods before further progress in media and technology confused the usage.

    There are no amateur photographs. In lanugage alone, that term is incoherent. There are personal photographs, whether anonymous or signed, which are not made by employment.

    Economic activity: Personal photography / personal imaging
    Physical practice: Snapshot or timed photography / imaging
    Result: Personal photographs, personal images, or personal prints, which might be anonymous, might be signed, might be by a celebrated photographer, and might or might not be something markets consider to be fine.

    In 2012, Aperture Foundation produced a book titled Photography Changes Everything. Those expressions have meaning, and that is an important book in which the authors were addressing a social shift. We understand what this means; however, that book was not written in 1975 or 1995 because photography had already changed everything when it was new and when it became popular. What had changed things by 2012 was digital photographic imaging, computers, and the Internet.

    That identifies a photographic revolution which changed the way we make, use, monitize, and understand photographs and photographic images.


    "I am worried because I published something that uses prior language."

    No worries.
    The paradigm has changed.

    Writings are interpreted through the times they were written.
    Progress starts fresh here.

    Technology is moving faster than language.
    We make decisions by staying ahead of technology.

    Two easy examples

    Walker Evans
    Farm Security Administration, 1936

    The photograph from which this electronic image was made is not a "fine art photograph," but it is a fine photograph by Walker Evans made using flash (snapshot) photography.

    New York, Grand Central Station, 1937

    This was "snapshot photograph" and "vernacular photograph" in the prior language. Most black and white photographs are gelatin silver prints, whether they were made by a celebrated photographer or by a community finisher. Gelatin silver prints contain the same basic ingredients, though the characteristics of the paper and emulsion often differ between photographs. This photographer had no concept of "fine art photographs," but he did have a concept that he was creating art. It was not made by "fine art photography [false language];" it was made using a brief time exposure (timed photography), and it is a fine photograph. Coherent language aids a basic understanding of photographic history and knowledgably informs investment. Even for photographs made by a box camera and finished by a second party, the same concepts apply, and they might also be considered fine photographs (market concept), though not the same as those photographs by celebrated photographers--photographs are unique to their individual circumstances.


    © 2014 AMERICAN PHOTOWORK.         Terms    |    Privacy    |    Contact