What is Contemporary Photography – Comprehensive Answer

For about two centuries since the invention of photography, the art has continued to evolve with contemporary photography being the latest type. Perhaps, you want to know what contemporary photography is and the difference between normal and candid photography, then stick with us to find out!

What is Contemporary Photography
Image by Monica Volpin from Pixabay

Contemporary photography can be seen as an image of recent times, relative to an image that dates a while back.

Additionally, this form of photography helps to depict the values, ills, and morals of the world we live in today. Contemporary photographers see things differently and can add them to their arts.

What defines contemporary Art – Photographs or Paintings? 

Since you know what we mean by contemporary images, you may wonder if it is necessary to categorize photographs as contemporary or not. The thing is, at any given moment, an image is contemporary. A picture does not need to capture modern-day happenings or ignore past events before you can refer to it as contemporary art.

Also, a skilled photographer can combine historical images and give them a contemporary look. This is because the photography industry has moved past the era of relying on only cameras for developing photographic contents.

With the tons of image-processing tools available, photographers know that a good work has little or nothing to do with the quality of cameras. In fact, it would shock you to know that an artist can make images without using cameras.  The artist can use chemicals to create great pieces.

This is not entirely surprising because the term “photograph” literally means “light drawing” in Greek. In fact, when the word “photograph” was first used, it had nothing to do with cameras, yet nice images were developed.

People started seeing contemporary imagery as an art in the early 1980s, with book illustrations, and photojournalism being the primary expression of the art. However, after a few years, the industry became divided. While some persons saw themselves as photographers, others referred to themselves as painters.

Based on that division, terms like photographic art and pure photography differentiated between photographers and artists. Regardless of the name you choose to ascribe to, contemporary art remains the best medium to document history and capture the present.

The Evolution of Contemporary Photography 

Since the invention of cameras in the 1800s, photography has evolved over the years. The first generation of photography is known as “early photography,” which started in 1839 and ended in 1920.

The next generation of photography was from 1920 to 1980 was called “modern photography.” And from then to date, we continue to live in the era of contemporary photography.

Also, the primary reason why photographers picked 1980 as the birth of contemporary art is that in that year, photography took a new turn. People started seeing the art as a medium of self-expression rather than just exploration.

Bernd and Hilla Becher are the “parents” of contemporary photography because they were the first to see it as an art, even before the invention of digital cameras for photography.

In addition, they used traditional medium of photography to take great shots of industrial buildings. Some of their best works put up in galleries across the United States include the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Video: Discussion on Contemporary Photography

This video is a one-on-one discussion session on contemporary imagery with an art professor from the University of Washington. Check it out…

What is Contemporary Landscape Photography?

Another term closely related to the type of photography we have been discussing is contemporary landscape photography. If you want to get an idea of what it means, you have to know what “contemporary” means. Contemporary means “the current.” So contemporary landscape photography implies the current type of landscape photography.

You can also see contemporary landscape photography as modern landscape photography. But then, the question that comes to mind is whether all landscape photography is not modern?

 Well, in that case, you have to understand that a lot of landscape photographers have their different opinions of what contemporary means. In fact, if you go to most image sharing platforms, you will discover that they all show different styles of photographs when you search with a keyword like, “contemporary landscape photographs.”

Contemporary landscape photography is that non-aesthetic images can be considered as considered contemporary. Before now, this kind of work was discarded due to its vague and meaningless nature. But today, they are exhibited in high-profile galleries around the world as contemporary art.

Also, this form of art has changed how we view the world. A contemporary artist is not afraid of going against the unwritten rules that govern the art world.

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What is the Difference between Normal Photography and Candid Photography?

Both normal and candid photography are forms of wedding photography. Let’s dive deeper into each one of them:

Normal Photography 

To begin with, normal or traditional photography is the type of photography that you see at most weddings. , photographers have a tradition medium of directing the about-to-wed or wedded couples on how to stand, smile, sit, and look. Hence, they can get the best shot that will linger in memories of the couples.

Normal photography is more formal and organized because the photographer directs the order of photoshoot. But there is no natural flow in this type of photography because even when you laugh or smile, you are doing it deliberately in accordance with the instructions of your photographer.

Also, in normal photography, the attention is focused on the couple, so they are usually placed in the center for every photo session. Some people may see this style less creative because almost everyone already knows the way it goes.

Candid Photography 

Candid photography is also referred to as photojournalistic photography. It is quite different from the traditional form of wedding photography. Candid photography involves taking photos of couples in a spontaneous manner.

Most times, the couples are unaware that a photographer is somewhere capturing their priceless moments. Spontaneity is a rule of thumb for most candid photographers. He keeps moving from one position to another without the couple seeing him. It is only on rare occasions that the photographer gives posing directions to the people.

The beautiful thing about candid photography is that even in the unpreparedness of the couple, the photographer still manages to take breathtaking shots. In fact, these unawares photos are usually more captivating than the traditional ones where everyone has to smile, sit, or stand in a particular manner.

In photojournalistic photography, the natural reactions, emotions, and attitudes of everyone present at the wedding are captured. And so, you get to see everyone as they are.

In this form of wedding photography, the photographer does not take pictures in a formal approach, unlike normal photography. The photography gets to be creative and innovative in taking photos. He often positions himself in weird places just to get the best shot. So don’t think a photographer is crazy when you see him lying down or climbing a platform just to take pictures.

In photojournalistic photography, there are no rules to follow. Whatever the photographer deems beautiful is taken. His approach to taking photographs is informal.

Also, candid photographs are usually edited more compared to a traditional work. Some unwanted scenes are cut off or blurred using photographic tools. But because of the organized nature of normal photography, you don’t need to go through the stress of spending more time editing the photos.

What is Contemporary Photography
Photo by Asad Photo Maldives from Pexels

Tips to Getting Collections of Contemporary Photographs 

If you are a newbie in contemporary art, you may want to know how you can acquire contemporary work and build an art collection with it. Here are some ideas that will help you:

Buy Contemporary Photographs 

To begin with, the quickest medium you can use to create a contemporary art collection is by buying the work of an artist. Since most collections are quite expensive, you can still find some that are affordable. Furthermore, art auction houses and exhibitions usually put up tons of beautiful collections that will fit whatever budget you have.

 Also, a great thing about fairs and auction houses is that they offer you the opportunity of meeting new talents in the photography industry. Their works may even resonate in the hearts of people more than veterans.

Search the Internet 

Most times, we think photography only has to be from the work of a camera. However, that’s not always the way it is. Today, many photographers are discovering new ways to build their image collection. Also, one of such methods is by getting images from the internet, just like what Taryn Simon did.  Today, the world celebrates her for the innovative and mind-blowing art collection she put together using images she got from the internet with the help of Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer.

Add Only Intriguing Photographs 

When building a contemporary art collection, it is essential that you add only captivating photographs. When people see your photograph collection, they should have an irresistible urge to see it again.

Also, you will agree that a great image has a way of revealing a different aspect of itself every time you see it.

Seek Expert Opinions 

Even when you have seen a photograph that you will like, it is crucial that you seek advice from experts in the photography industry. They know the industry better than you, and so, they would have one or two pieces of information that will help you build a collection that is worth viewing over and over again.

Look out for the Edition Numbers of Photographs 

To begin with, photographers are in the habit of making several editions of a single piece of work. Hence, a vital aspect to consider before adding a photograph to your collection is the edition number of that particular photograph.

The edition number helps to authenticate a photograph. If a seller does not have the edition number for an image you are want, then it means it’s fake.


In conclusion, contemporary photography, as we have learned, means different things to different people. Nonetheless, a rule of thumb in the photography community is that any image developed from the 1980s to date can pass for contemporary art.

If you want to build a collection as a contemporary photographer, you can buy from auctioneers or search the internet. But do not forget to check the edition number and seek expert advice.

Please, feel free to share your thoughts and comments with us on modern art photography.

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