History of Photographic Words and Slogans

A list of photographic words and their origin. The article is a work in progress and any historians out there with their finger on the facts should feel free to add to this list. Send us an email to add with your five cents.

A picture says more than 10,000 words

Used by a british printer in an advertising campaign.


The latin “camera” means “vaulted room”.
Came from Greek Kamárá (vault or arch). The meaning
became weakened to “rrom”, which reached English via Old
French “chambre”.

Camera Obscura

An optical instrument consisting of a small closed box
with a hole in one side, producing an image of external objects on
the inside of the box. The same effect as in a darkened room. Camera
obscura means “darkened chamber”.


Cyano- comes from Greek “kuaneos” and means “dark blue”. -Type comes from “tupos” meaning “strike” or “print”. So, that’s a “dark blue print”.


The earliest recorded use of “flash” is as
a verb, referring to the swift turbulent splashing movement of water
(a memory of which is robably preserved in modern English as “flash
flood”). The glints of light on the surface of such water seems
to have given rise in the 16th century to the meaning “burst
out with sudden light”.


Means “fireplace” in Latin. The first writer
known to have used the term in its modern sense “point of convergence”
was German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1604. It may have been a
metaphorical notion of “hearth” symbolizing “center
of home” but it has also been suggested that it may have been
preceded and inspired by the use of “focus” for “burning
point” of a mirror.

From today, painting is dead!

Exclaimed by the French artist, Paul Delaroche upon hearing the announcement of the invention of the Daguerrotype.


Latin for “lentil”. When 17th scientists wanted
a term for a round biconvex (lentil shaped) piece of glass, they needed
look no further than “lens”.


Writing in stone.

Natural camera

Joseph Petzval uses the term in 1859, referring to pinhole cameras.


Coined by Sir John Herschel.

Photo / Photograph

Greek “Phoõs” meaning light. Used by
astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1839 to coin the term Photograph,
inspired by the term Photographie which appeared earlier.


One theory is that he word photography is thought to have been coined by an Englishman, Sir John Herschel.

Another theory that Anonie Hercules Rovald Florence (1804-1879) was a french artist and cartographer who experimented a lot with the photographic process and the camera obscura. He was unable to fix his images but called the process “Photographie” in 1832.


Despite the new lenses invented, some people still continued using pinhole cameras. Sir David Brewster, an English scientist, used pinhole cameras in 1850 and is thought to have invented the word ‘pinhole’, or pin-hole which he used in his book The Stereoscope, published in 1856.


Coined by Sir John Herschel.

Snap shot

Early 1900 The ‘Box Brownie’ was introduced to the market for only one dollar. Phtoography was now available to everyone. The photographic floods on the market and the many informal photographs taken quickly inspires Sir John Herschel to coin another phrase ‘snap shot’.

Vandyke brown

Etymology: from its use by the painter Vandyke: a natural
brown-black pigment of organic matter obtained from bog earth or peat
or lignite deposits; also: any of various synthetic brown pigments.

You press the button – we do the rest

1889 George Eastman an ex-bank clerk experiments with roll film and introduces the Kodak camera to the market. It’s a small box, with a 57 mm f/ lens. The camera was sold loaded with film, 100 circular negatives at a price of 50 dollars. Both the film and the camera had to be sent back to the factory for processing. Over 13 000 cameras were sold in the first year with the slogan
You press the button – we do the rest.

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