Photography is the process by which chemically sensitized surfaces are exposed to light and retain an image through this exposure.

Photography's usefulness as visual evidence was valued from its beginnings, but the possibility for physical manipulation of photographic images undermined its reliability as a truly objective medium. For much of its history, photography has been thought of in terms of its scientific, documentary uses, but since the middle of the 19th century, the idea of photography as an art form comparable to painting has been hotly debated. In the second half of the 19th century, photographers attempted to produce pictures that resembled paintings by means of manipulation of the development process. This resulted in soft-focus images with painterly effects.

The idea of pictorial effects in photography eventually gave way to straight photography, in which the photographic image is an automatic recording of reality, with clearly defined details. This debate of photography as art or scientific instrument lasted throughout the 20th century but has more recently given way to the idea of photography as an art form in its own right.

Photography comprises the largest collection of objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum, with more than one hundred thousand images from the beginnings of the medium to the present.


A method of recording the image of an event, person, place, or thing by the action of light on a light-sensitive material. The photographer chooses the subject, vantage point, framing, moment of exposure, and lighting and makes the photograph for documentary or artistic reasons.

method—a way of doing something



light-sensitive—responsive to light

vantage point—the place where the photographer positions the camera

framing—using the viewfinder of the camera to select what part of the subject to photograph

exposure—the amount of time that light-sensitive material is exposed to light

documentary—serving to record (or document) something