As I was doing some research for a long-term project, I realized that as we look and take  photographs everyday, multiple times a day, we never really define what it is.  A dictionary definition of the word Photograph goes like this : ” A picture made using a camera, in which an image is focused onto film or other light-sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by chemical treatment, or stored digitally.” While very practical, this definition leaves out the quintessential value of a photograph. After all, Aristotle believed that you only know what you can explain. So I ventured for a better definition.

After a while, I fell on this publication, Philosophy of Photography . After reading many of its articles in a non specific order, I fell on a definition of a photograph by Ariela Azoulay which I quite liked, mostly because it includes the viewer as an integral part of the answer: “A photograph is the product of an encounter of several protagonists, mainly photographer and photographed, camera and spectator” .  But I was still left wishing for something better, so I reach out to people from various background in the photo world for some help. The task : answer  the question, “What is a photograph ?” in one phrase .

Here are their answers,  in no particular order [Thank you all for your generous answers]:


• “Any image recorded with some type of image capture device.”Jim Pickerell, Founder, Editor at Selling Stock

• “A moment in time captured with the intention of being shared either for profit or creative expression.” Simon Moss,CEO at ImageBrief

• “A photograph is a visual point of view on a specific aspect of the physical world.” Martin Roldan, Co-Founder and CEO at CrowdMedia

• “A photograph is so hopelessly unlike being there, but for a time it was the best we could do.” Serge Belongie, Computer Vision Professor at Cornell NYC Tech

• “The entrance door of eternity.” Bruno Thiery, Director of Photography,

• “Captured time.” Ellen Boughn, Photography Expert Witness and Licensing Expert

“A photograph is news.” Will Carleton, Editor,

• “A means of human expression, communication, and time machine.” Robert Henson, Business Development / Media Management

• “A photograph is an extract from, and of, the world.” Laurence Cornet, Writer, L’Oeil de la Photographie

• “Regardless of the subject matter, a photograph is always a self-portrait of the photographer.” Geoffrey Hiller, Photographer/ Multimedia/Video Producer

• “A visual chronicling of an event.” Mark Milstein, Founder/ Managing Director at Microstocksolutions and Northfoto Picture Agency

• “Magic.”  Paul Harris, Owner,

• “An instant of time that CAN be controlled by Man.” Gareth Thomas, Owner, Mavrix Photos

• “An expression of light, revealing form, space, and intention captured through mechanical or electronic means and fixed in a tangible form.” Eugene Mopsik, ASMP Executive Director

• “A photograph is a representation of reality taken with a device that records the image through a lens.” Jose Azel, President/Principal, Aurora Photos & Novus Select

• “It’s the best method we have to capture a feeling, a scene, an expression, a mood or a moment, without using words.” Jan Ole Kjellesvig, Founder  and COO,  YAY Images

• “A photograph is an object, either tangible or virtual, that has been or is being affected by light, so that the differential between the object in its original state and its affected state is discernible, or in the case there is no original state, the object’s manifestation is a function of light affecting a system.” Kevin Abosch, Photographer and Entrepreneur

• “A captured moment in time.” Mish Whalen, Senior Multimedia Producer,

• “Using a controlled amount of light and time, capturing a moment on a light-sensitive medium, ideally communicating a concept, expression or gesture of the creator.” Richard Kelly, Photographer & Educator

• “A photograph is an artistic medium for visually communicating.” Evan Nisselson, LDV Capital

• “A photograph is a choice or a chance encounter, a wish,a dream an illusion in one’s mind that returns in an indelible and eternal fulfillment of that moment in time.” Jerry Tavin, Founder and President of YPA

• “A good photograph creates a sense of involvement within the viewer.” Richard Rabinovitz, President

• “It is a scene captured by a camera.” Paul Khayat, Tech journalist and iPad editor, Paris Match. Photographer

 • “A photograph is a poem without words.”Jessica Marie Neste, Model agency owner

• “the photographer’s view of what is really there.” Marilyn Rader , Membership Coordinator at NAPW, ex-Associated Press

• “A moment captured that would otherwise be lost in time.” Chris Blumenshine, Founder//Wedding Photographer at Bellissimo Foto

 • “A carefully crafted illusion which sometimes reaches pure magic.” Gilles Decamps, Photographer – Creative Director

• “A photograph is all that remains of an experience.” Lee Corkran, Sr Director of Omnichannel at Academy Sports + Outdoors

• “Life in a parsec.” Jeffrey D. Smith, Executive Director at Contact Press Images

• “best way to see outside of oneself through someone else.” Michele Neri, publisher


I’ll let you pick your favorite and feel free to  add your own in the comments below. As for me, I will continue my quest…



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24 Thoughts on “What is a photograph ?

  1. “What is a photograph?” @KapturMag

  2. What is a photograph ?

    “Memory bank.” Michal Daniel, stupid photog.
    Selfie in the darkroom:

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  6. “A priceless moment in time” is my definition of what is a photograph – here are what others in the industry said

  7. What is a photograph ? via @melchp

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