99 Best Words to Describe Photography (Adjectives, Styles, etc)

Photographer taking pictures of hot air balloons

Photography was first invented in the 1800s, inspired by the “camera obscura.”

A camera obscura is a dark room with a small hole on one side, projecting an image onto the opposite wall. It doesn’t create a permanent image; someone would trace the image onto the wall to capture the image.

Photography as we know it came into being when French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce took the first permanent photograph.

Using a camera obscura, he projected an image onto a pewter plate coated with a light-sensitive material instead of a wall.

Niepce’s partner in experimentation, Louis Daguerre, continued to refine the photographic process after Niepce’s death, creating the silver-plate Daguerreotype process.

Today, you don’t need silver plates and heavy equipment to take photographs — anyone can become a photographer using their smartphone, a film camera, or a single-lens digital camera (also known as a DSLR).

Below, we list 90+ words and phrases to describe photography.

Our list includes photographic styles and techniques, characteristics of photography, and adjectives that describe photography.

  1. Street photography:
    photographs taken in common areas (such as sidewalks) and capturing ordinary moments of life
  2. Macro:
    close-up photographs of tiny creatures or objects, such as bugs, water droplets, snowflakes, and flowers
  3. Portrait:
    photographs where the main subject is one or more people
  4. Abstract:
    uses color, shadow, texture, shape, or light as the subject rather than representing reality
  5. Editorial photography:
    photographs taken to illustrate an article for a magazine or newspaper
  6. Altered:
    can describe heavily edited photos, such as composites
  7. Landscape:
    pictures of natural or artificial scenery, such as a valley or a city skyline
  8. Fine art photography:
    photographs taken for the sole purpose of portraying a message or concept
  9. Candid:
    pictures of people in motion, taken spontaneously rather than posed by the photographer
  10. Artistic:
    referencing the creativity required to take good photographs
  11. Black and white:
    photographs shot on colorless film or processed digitally to appear in a monochromatic color scheme
  12. Conceptual:
    can describe photos that portray a photographer’s vision rather than strict reality
  13. Focused:
    can describe photos that make their subject a strict focal point
  14. Travel photography:
    photographs that capture the unique aspects of life in different parts of the world; can include candid shots, street photographs, or posed portraits
  15. Composite:
    prints created by combining multiple images into one during post-processing
  16. Studio photography:
    photos taken in a dedicated studio space rather than a natural environment
  17. Monochromatic:
    photos that use only one color
  18. Technical:
    referencing the skills needed to take good photographs
  19. Business photography:
    photos taken for marketing purposes, such as a portrait of a company’s CEO or images of waitstaff serving customers at a restaurant
  20. Daring:
    can describe photos taken in extreme conditions or with unusual compositions
  21. Balanced:
    can describe a photo with a good composition
  22. Contemplated:
    can describe images with a somber or thoughtful mood
  23. Intense:
    can describe images that convey strong emotion
  24. Adventure photography:
    photographs that capture activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, and camping
  25. Colorful:
    can describe photos that make use of bold shades, either naturally in the subject matter or through editing
  26. Ironic:
    can describe photos with a sense of irony or amusement
  27. Delicate:
    can describe a photo’s subject (like flowers) or the overall mood of the image
  28. Aerial photography:
    photographs taken from a high altitude, such as those taken with drones
  29. Satirical:
    describes photos that parody real life
  30. Pet photography:
    photographs of domesticated animals, such as cats and dogs
  31. Inspired:
    can describe photos that are creative and forward-thinking
  32. Lifeless:
    can describe a photo with little energy or interest
  33. Wildlife photography:
    photographs of animals in their natural habitats
  34. Astrophotography:
    pictures of space, usually taken through a telescope
  35. Long exposure:
    photographs made by using a slow shutter speed, which blurs moving objects
  36. Documentary photography:
    photographs that document a specific aspect of life; differs from photojournalism (number 99 on our list) in that the subjects aren’t always newsworthy
  37. Mysterious:
    describes photos that have unclear or curious subjects
  38. Night photography:
    photos taken at night, in low light; includes long exposures, time-lapses, and flash photography
  39. Surreal:
    photographs depicting unusual scenes and unique perspectives; can consist of photos with eerie or supernatural effects added in post-processing
  40. Formal:
    can describe pictures taken in a formal setting or dressed-up portraits
  41. Offbeat:
    unconventional
  42. Compelling:
    can describe photos that are thought-provoking and emotionally gripping
  43. Neutral:
    can describe photos without any bold colors or compositions
  44. Film photography:
    photographs taken on physical film rather than digitally
  45. Classic:
    can describe photos with a traditional composition
  46. Commercial photography:
    photographs taken to sell a product
  47. Time-lapse:
    a series of frames showing the movement of a subject; for example, a series of photos showing the stages of a building’s construction
  48. Detailed:
    can describe photos with complex compositions or close-up images that show details
  49. Digital:
    photos taken with a digital camera or smartphone
  50. Panorama:
    several stitched-together photographs providing a wide view of the subject; often used in landscape photography
  51. Energetic:
    describes photos with a lot of movement or intensity
  52. Tacky:
    can describe photos that aren’t tasteful in subject matter or composition
  53. Urban exploration photography:
    sometimes shortened to “urbex”; photos of the urban habitat, including abandoned buildings and ruins
  54. Amateur:
    photos taken by an inexperienced or hobby photographer
  55. Iconographic:
    describes photos with traditional and conventional subject matter, such as representations of religion
  56. Minimalist:
    photographic compositions with limited elements; for example, a picture of a lake where only one boat is visible
  57. Event photography:
    photographs taken at weddings, concerts, parades, and other events
  58. Opulent:
    photos that look luxurious and rich
  59. Casual:
    can describe photos taken without much posing or as a hobby
  60. Historical:
    can describe significant photos or those taken in the past
  61. Imaginative:
    describes photos that are creative and clever in composition and subject matter
  62. Newborn photography:
    a type of family photography that focuses specifically on posed images of newborn babies; may or may not include the baby’s parents
  63. Framed:
    describes a photo that has been printed and prepared for display
  64. Double exposure:
    a style of photography that merges two images into one, either through editing software or through film development techniques
  65. Expressive:
    can describe photos that evoke strong emotion
  66. Product photography:
    a subset of commercial photography which captures specific products for sale; for example, the individual product images on an e-commerce website
  67. Architectural:
    photographs of buildings and other structures like bridges
  68. Still life:
    pictures of everyday inanimate objects
  69. Pinhole:
    a photographic technique that uses a tiny hole to capture the image rather than a lens
  70. Tasteful:
    photos with a good aesthetic and appropriate subject matter
  71. Painterly:
    can describe photos that are particularly artistic or look like paintings
  72. Intelligent:
    can describe photos that are technically sound and have good composition
  73. Futuristic:
    describes photos that portray innovation and modernity
  74. Professional:
    photos taken by an experienced or career photographer
  75. Family photography:
    posed or candid images of families, typically commissioned by the family to display in their home
  76. Infrared:
    photographs that capture infrared light
  77. Golden hour photography:
    photographs taken during the hour before sunset or after sunrise; makes use of the natural golden light
  78. Graceful:
    can describe the subject of a photo
  79. Indoor:
    photos of interior scenes, such as a home or workplace
  80. Underwater:
    photos taken with a submerged, waterproof camera
  81. Polished:
    can describe photos that look sophisticated and elegant
  82. Ultraviolet:
    captures images of light from the ultraviolet spectrum
  83. Fashion photography:
    photography that focuses on clothing, shoes, and accessories
  84. Flash photography:
    photos taken with a quick burst of artificial light from the camera or an external flash device
  85. Satin:
    can describe the texture of a printed photograph
  86. Holiday photography:
    captures holiday celebrations or themes, such as Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah
  87. Real estate photography:
    interior and exterior photos of properties that are available for sale or rent
  88. Timeless:
    photos with a classic aesthetic that could suit any time period
  89. Quirky:
    can describe photos with unusual subject matter or style
  90. Semi-gloss:
    can describe the texture of a printed photograph
  91. War photography:
    a type of journalistic photography focused on capturing front-line images of armed conflicts
  92. Lifestyle photography:
    captures images of people in real-life scenes, such as eating a meal or playing a game with friends
  93. Matte:
    can describe the texture of a printed photograph
  94. Primitive:
    can describe early photographic technologies or photos that have a classic, simplistic aesthetic
  95. Generic:
    can describe photos that aren’t particularly unique or creative
  96. Sports photography:
    photographs of athletes, coaches, and fans taken during sporting events
  97. Blue hour photography:
    photographs taken during the hour after sunset or before sunrise; makes use of the natural cool-toned light
  98. Glossy:
    can describe the texture of a printed photograph
  99. Photojournalism:
    storytelling of newsworthy events through photographs

Activity: Understanding the Growth of Photography

The photographic process has evolved a lot over time. To better understand it, look up the following terms:

  • Camera obscura
  • Daguerreotype
  • Calotype
  • Collodion process
  • Dry plates
  • Kodak
  • 35 mm
  • Color film
  • DSLR
  • J-SH04

You can even find examples of each of these eras of photography using your favorite search engine’s image search.

What differences do you notice in these processes? How has the photographic process become simpler over time?

Notice, as well, how photographic styles have changed over time. Portraits were once the most common type of photography. Is that still true today?

For an added challenge, use some words from our list above to describe the images you find!