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A photograph or photo is an image created by light falling on a light -sensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic medium such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are created using a camera , which uses a lens to focus the scene's visible wavelengths of light into a reproduction of what the human eye would see. The process and practice of creating photographs is called photography . The word "photograph" was coined in 1839 by Sir John Herschel and is based on the Greek φῶς (phos), meaning " light ", and γραφή (graphê), meaning " drawing , writing ", together meaning " drawing with light ". Many jurisdictions have laws prohibiting certain types of photographs which may include photos of government buildings , copyrighted content, private property , and the depiction of an uninformed or child 's genitalia or other erogenous zones.