Photography Terms

Photography Terms Glossary

Whether you’re new to photography or just looking to find the meaning of a particular photography term you’re unclear on, this glossary covers some of the most popular and commonly used terms used by photographers, providing an in-depth definition and resources you can follow to learn more about that specific topic.

To quickly find the term you’re looking for, use the links below to “jump” to the following letter:

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Aperture

You can simply refer to aperture as the size of the lens opening. Think about it, much like a window; the larger the window, the more light it will let in. The same goes for a camera lens, the wider the opening, the more light it will let in, resulting in a brighter photograph and vice versa.

Aperture Diameter

Image via B&H Photo Video

Aperture is measured using f-stops, which is a measure of the diameter of the lens opening. The larger the reading, the narrower the aperture. For instance, f/1.8 is wider than f/22. If you want a narrow focus resulting in a crisper image, you should use a higher f-stop (ex. f/8, f/11, f/22, etc.). A lower f-stop will let in more light, which can be useful in low-light situations or night photography.

Typical cameras lenses will have a minimum and maximum aperture of f/1.8 and f/22. The more expensive types of cameras will have a maximum of f/1.4 or larger. You will find such cameras very useful where the light conditions are low.

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Aspect ratio 

The aspect ratio is the ratio of the height to the width. The camera sensors will determine the dimensions, but you can alter them in post-processing or in your camera settings. The typical ratio is 3:2 and 4:3.

Aspect Ratio Graphic

Image via Expert Photography

If you are, for example, taking pictures for Instagram, you will go with 4:5 due to the multiple cropping. Many modern digital cameras will give you the option of 4:3, 3:2, or 16:9.

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Button Focus

You probably already know that when you half-press the shutter button, your camera will autofocus. However, in some situations, you will want to take a photograph without the autofocus function. You can use back button focus in this scenario:

Button Focus Graphic

Image via ApogeePhoto

You can find the button on the back of your camera and will use it to focus on the image you want to photograph. You must, however, first disable the out-of-focus from the shutter button.

Depending on the specific camera you have, it will come as default on the AF-On button. Many professionals actually prefer to use the back-button focus rather than to rely on the autofocus.

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Bokeh

Bokeh refers to the rendering or visual quality of the out-of-focus areas in an image. It’s often an aesthetic quality that photographers aim for, and you can typically increase the amount of bokeh when zooming in on a subject using a zoom-lens.

Bokeh Example

Image via Photography Life

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Bracketing

Bracketing refers to the situation where you take a series of pictures in a sequence but with some variations.  For example, you could use different shutter speeds to take multiple images with varying levels of brightness, which is known as exposure bracketing.

Bracketing

Image via We Are So Photo

Most cameras have a bracketing menu that will allow you to capture bracketed pictures in a row automatically.

In focus bracketing, your aim is to shoot sequential images at different distances. Some of the settings for bracketing include ⅓, ½, and full-stop increments. The advantage of bracketing is that you ensure that you capture the image in the right exposure.

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Burst Mode

With burst mode, you can continue snapping photos as long as you hold down the button. However, you can only continue to take pictures until the buffer is full. The speed will depend on the type of camera you have and is measured in with the frames-per-second (FPS). For example, 6 FPS would mean you can snap 6 images per second.

Shutter Speed Example

Image via How-To Geeks

Burst mode can be a great option for capturing quick moving objects, making it perfect for nature or sports photography.

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Candid

Candid photography is when you take a picture without the subject posing for it. You will find many photographers using candid portraits for social occasions such as weddings, events, and birthdays.

Candid Example

Image via Pexels

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Card Reader

A card reader is a device that will allow you to transfer data from your camera memory card to your external storage on your computer or external hard drive.

SD Card

Image via Pexels

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Chimping

You may have observed some photographers constantly check the camera display every time they take a single shot. It is especially prevalent among beginners. This act is sometimes referred to as “chimping” because photographers will look at their camera while saying “Ooh, ooh, ooh!” like a chimpanzee.

Chimping

Image via The Discerning Photographer

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Composition

Composition is how you arrange the elements in your photograph. Some features in the picture will immediately attract more attention and therefore have more visual weight. The correct arrangement of the visual weight will determine the kind of image you take. The purpose of the picture will determine the composition.

Composition Example

Image via PetaPixel

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Contrast

Contrast is the difference between light and shadows in an image. When there is high contrast, you get an emphasis on the variation, thus stronger texture and color. Low contrast pictures, on the other hand, may look dull in appearance.

Contrast Example

Image via Expert Photography

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Depth of Field (DOF)

When you focus your camera on a particular image, you will see that some of the objects are very close, while others are very far away.  The distance between the foreground and background is the Depth of Field (DOF).

The aperture and distance to the subject will determine the DOF. You can control the DOF by increasing or narrowing the aperture. The wider the aperture, the narrower the DOF.

Depth of Field Graphic

Image via Expert Photography

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Diaphragm

The diaphragm is the device that will control the aperture. Most modern DSLR cameras have an iris diaphragm that allows you to increase or decrease the aperture due to the overlapping blades.

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DSLR Cameras

Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) are some of the most popular cameras in the market today.  You get a digital sensor and reflex mirror, which will direct light to the optical viewfinder from the lens.

Canon Camera

Image via Precision Camera & Video

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Dynamic Range

The dynamic range is the difference between the darkest and lightest values in an image, and this term is usually used in reference to a camera’s ability.

Dynamic Range

Image via How-To Geek

This is measured in “stops.” Dynamic range is most effective when taking photos with high contrast, and cameras with a higher dynamic range will produce the most detailed pictures.

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Exposure

Exposure refers to how much light reaches the camera sensor.  It determines how bright or dark the final image is. Shutter speed, ISO, and aperture determine the exposure. You can also specify the exposure levels manually, automatically, or through the use of shutter and aperture priority.

Exposure Example

Image via Exposure Guide

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Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is a setting that allows the camera to brighten or darken the image, depending on your settings. For example, if you are taking a picture and you realize that the light is too bright, you can input negative exposure compensation to take a darker photo. The typical camera will allow the use of compensation of 1/2, 1/3, or full-stop increments.

Exposure Compensation

Image via REI

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F-Stop

Sometimes referred to as the F-Number, F-Stop is the ratio of the lens focal length to the diameter of the pupil. In simpler terms, F-Stop is the number your camera gives when you change the aperture. When displayed on a camera, you will see the F-Stop written as a fraction like “f/8, f/2, or f/22.” Since it is expressed in terms of fractions, and f/8 would be larger than an f/22.

Aperture Size Example

Image via Expert Photography

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Filters

Filters are the attachments you put on the front or back of your camera. They impact the quality of light, which reaches your sensor while others will prevent scratches on your lenses. Typically you find filters made of plastic, resin, or glass.

Lens Filter Set

Image via Camera Gear Store

Most cameras will allow you to attach the filter without any special requirements. Others will require that you have a separate mounting system to utilize them. There are different types of filters available, and one such filter is the polarizer, which will accentuate or block polarized light. You reduce the haze and reflections in your photo. Other types of filters include dark or neutral density filters, color, and graduated filters.

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Focal Length

The focal length, typically expressed in millimeters (mm), is a system used to measure the distance between the center of the lens and the sensor of the camera. Focal length is used to describe the angle of view of a lens, not the physical size of a lens.

Focal Length Graphic

Image via Nikon

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Focusing

You cannot get the right picture without focusing. Many lenses will only allow you to focus on a particular distance each time while anything outside the range will lose focus.

Most cameras will give you a wide range of out-of-focus options, including single-servo versus continuous-servo AF, which will tell the camera to auto-focus on a stationary object or to move when your subject moves.

If you are taking photographs of landscapes, you will most likely use the single-servo, or if, you are capturing movement, you will most likely use the continuous option. Other options for focusing include single autofocus point, automatic autofocus points, and 3D tracking autofocus points.

Focusing Example

Image via ShutterRunner

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GIF

A GIF or Graphic Interchange Format is an image file that you can use to create still or animated images.

GIF Example

Image via TwistedSifter

You get no sound, and if you code it in a certain way, you can load sequential pictures. You would typically use them for entertainment purposes, and they are a fantastic way to create memes. GIFs are 8-bit 256 colors.

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Golden Hour (or Magic Hour)

Golden Hour Example

Image via Ryan Loughlin

Sunset and sunrise photos are popular with most people who consider themselves photographers, but to capture that perfect shot, you need to be at the right place during the golden hour. This is the period right before sunset and sunrise when the sun is low on the horizon, and you get light with a red or orangish shade.

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High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Camera sensors cannot necessarily distinguish features in the same way the human eye can.  When you are focusing on an image that has some shadows, you have the option of capturing either the image or shadow, resulting in poor exposure of the other.

You can correct this problem by creating a high dynamic range (HDR) images. It requires that you take two photographs and blend them together so that you utilize the parts with the best exposure. You will need the right software to do this, such as Photoshop. The trick to getting the right images is to take as many HDR photos as you can so that you capture the movement for easy blending.

HDR ExampleHDR Example

Image via Exposure Guide

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Hot Shoe

You will find the hot shoe at the top of the camera, and it allows you to mount or trigger different devices. Such devices include wireless transmitters, electronic flashes, GPS devices, standard microphones, viewfinders, and field monitors.

Hot Shoe Graphic

Image via Photokonnexion

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Hyperfocal

Hyperfocal refers to the distance where the focus provides a deeper depth of field. You will find landscape photographers using it so the scenes are as sharp as possible.

Hyperfocal Distance Graphic

Image via Martin Bailey Photography

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Image Stabilization 

If you do not have a very steady hand when holding your camera, you will need the image stabilization feature. The different kinds of stabilization features include emergency stabilization, which is in the lenses and will work by moving the lens elements to compensate for any movement.

Image Stabilization Example

Image via Premium Beat

You will also find body or IBIS stabilization that will move the sensor.  Not only does it stabilize the camera, but you will also find the picture very useful in low light conditions.

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ISO

ISO refers to the light sensitivity levels of the camera. A camera that has ISO 100 is not sensitive to light and is excellent for daytime shooting. An ISO 3200 camera is very sensitive and is fantastic for low-light conditions. To get the right kind of exposure, you need to balance the ISO with shutter speed and aperture.

ISO Triangle

Image via Digital Photography School

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Jaggies

Jaggies refers to how curves or angles will appear in a digital image. They usually take the appearance of a staircase, and the number of pixels will determine their appearance. You will often find jaggies in photographs you take at lower resolving powers.

Jaggies

Image via Definition.net

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JPEG

Many people will save image files using the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG). It is the default format for many photographs, but they have the main disadvantage of being heavily compressed.

You only get to see an 8-bit color, unlike other cameras that can give you up to 14-bit color. The latter will provide you with access to 16,384 shades of red, green, and blue, while the former only gives you access to 256 shades of the same. The main advantage with JPEG is that the files are small in size, and you will not have compatibility issues with many applications.

JPEG Example

Image via Kinsta

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Lens Flare

When you use a mirror in the dark and have multiple sources of light on, you will get some flare due to the light bouncing off the surface of the mirror. The same situation may occur in camera lenses, although some have multiple anti-reflective coatings that reduce or minimize the reflection.

Lens flare is not always a negative thing because it can result in some pretty amazing pictures, especially where landscapes are concerned. It can interfere with the subject matter and the quality of the image. You must invest in a camera with the right kind of anti-reflective coating to take care of this problem.

Lens Flare Example

Image via PictureCorrect

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Light

Any picture you take is highly dependent on the light. That is why you see professionals carry around equipment to ensure that they get the right quality of light.

Light Spread Example

Image via DIY Photography

It is also not strange to hear a photographer insist that he or she needs to take pictures at a particular time to capture the best light. If you look at it in the broad sense, there is really nothing like good or bad light because it will depend on the type of picture you want to take.

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Long Exposure

Long exposure is a technique that uses shutter speeds of more than thirty seconds to create a blurred effect on moving elements. This technique is commonly used for light or water subjects, but there are numerous other uses for it.

Long Exposure Example

Image via Exposure Guide

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Macro Lens

A macro lens is a lens that is optimized for taking extreme close-up shots of small subjects. The focus of a macro lens is much closer, which allows you to fill a frame while capturing as much detail as possible. Macro lenses are great for capturing product and nature images.

Macro Lens

Image via FotoZZoom

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Metering

There is a particular way your camera will read light, especially with regards to darkness, contrast, and brightness. It will suggest the exposure so the final picture has the right level of intensity.

Metering Modes Example

Image via Matador Network

Most cameras have a default setting of mid-gray because the metering system may face some confusion when there is too much black or white in the scene. The result is white or black scenes end up being grey. It is at this time you should take advantage of exposure compensation for the right exposure.

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Megapixels

Simply put, megapixels are the resolution of the camera sensor. Expert photographers will tell you that while it is essential, the sensor size has a more significant role to play in regards to the quality of the image.

Megapixels Graphic

Image via Photography Life

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Noise

Noise is the random variation in brightness or color that can sometimes result in a grainy veil that obscures details in photos. Although it’s impossible to have a picture without some noise, it’s important to note an extreme amount of noise will make any picture unusable.

Camera Noise Example

Image via Photography Life

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Overexposure

Referring to the brightness of an image, overexposure means the image is extremely bright, or in some instances, parts of the photo are pure white.

Overexposed Example

Image via SLR Lounge

This can be used as a technique for photographers, if they want an extremely bright image, but it typically refers to an image that is brighter than it is supposed to be.

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PNG

PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics. It’s a file type commonly used for web images because it creates a larger file, however, it’s not typically great for print images as the pictures may become distorted.

Photo Editing

Image via IvanExpert

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Panning

Panning is the continual horizontal movement of a camera scanning a moving subject. It’s used to create the feeling of motion without blurring the subject of the photo.

Panning

Image via Digital Photography School

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Prime Lens

A prime lens is a fixed focal length, which means they are optimized to a specific focal length. Unlike a zoom lens, a prime lens generally has better optical performance with sharper images.

Prime Lens Example

Image via Digital Photography School

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RAW

A RAW file is an uncompressed version of an image file that allows for greater control over the final image. RAW allows for more control over white balance adjustments, sharpness and noise adjustments, as well as image data. Compared to a JPG image, however, RAW files take up more space and aren’t universally compatible.

RAW Image

Image via Finding the Universe

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Red Eye

Red-eye refers to the effect a flash may have on the eyes of a photographic subject. The red-eye effect is typically associated with point-and-shoot cameras and pop-up flash attachments on DSLR cameras.

Red Eye Graphic

Image via Photokonnexion

This happens when the light from the camera flash is reflected off the back of the eye into the camera lens. Although it can be annoying to deal with, red eye is easily removed with post-processing software.

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Resolution

Resolution is the measurement of the pixel plane, and is used for measuring in most equipment like cameras, scanners, and digital images. Resolution is measured in pixels, which means the higher the pixel, the better the resolution. Resolution plays a big role in editing images, especially when resizing pictures.

Resolution

Image via University of Michigan

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Saturation

Saturation is the intensity of a color. The color is more vivid with higher saturation, and closer to gray when the saturation is low.

Saturation Example

Image via Medium

This is another key component when editing photos, and it’s important to understand saturation so you can avoid over-saturating a picture. When the colors in the picture are too vivid from saturation, the photo is distorted and looks unnatural to the viewer.

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Shutter

A shutter is part of the camera that allows light to pass for a period of time, which exposes the sensor to light, making it possible for a permanent image to be created. There are different types of camera shutters, and the two most common are leaf shutters and focal plane shutters.

Aperture Example

Image via Premium Beat

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Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter remains open, which can be controlled to capture different kinds of images. Shutter speed is measured in seconds, and by changing the speed, a camera is able to capture moving subject or low light images more effectively.

Shutter Speed Example

Image via VirtualPhotographyStudio

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Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens is a lens with a long reach, which can be used to magnify and capture a subject that is far away. Telephoto lenses are great for nature photography or getting action shots at sporting events, as well as just adding distance between you and your subject if needed.

Lens Example

Image via BorrowLenses

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Time-Lapse

Time-lapse is a series of photos taken over a period of time. The period of time can be minutes, hours, or even days. When the series of photos is played back, time seems to move at a faster rate than which the series was taken.

Time Lapse GIF

Image via Giphy

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Tonal Range

The tonal range is used to describe color quality and the tones ranging from the darkest and the shadows to the highlights and brightest whites.

Tonal Ranges

Image via Digital Photography School

Whites are the brightest part of an image, where details are indiscernible, while highlights are the bright areas where the texture and detail can still be seen. In contrast, blacks are the darkest parts of an image, while shadows are dark areas with discernable details and texture.

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Viewfinder

A viewfinder is the part of the camera used to focus and compose the subject of an image. Viewfinders can be optical or electronic. Optical viewfinders are common on DSLR cameras, and they allow you to see precisely what is in the shot by looking through the lens. Electronic viewfinders are typically displayed on the LCD screen.

Viewfinder

Image via Improve Photography

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Watermark

A watermark is an image, text, or logo placed over a photo to make it more difficult to copy or use the photo without the photographer’s permission.

Watermark Example

Image via Computer Hope

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White Balance

White balance is the adjustment of colors for a natural looking image, as well as the camera’s ability to color correct in different lighting conditions. The temperature of a color affects how an image will turn out, which in turn may require white balance adjustments to make the image look more natural.

Correct White Balance Example Bad White Balance Example

Image via Photography Life

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Wide Angle Lens

A wide angle lens has a short focal point with a wide field of view. This lens can be used to capture more of a scene while allowing for close-up detail without eliminating the background of a photo.

Wide Angle Lens Example

Image via Adorama

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Zoom Lens

A zoom lens can vary its focal length and angle of view by physically moving the optic elements. A zoom lens covers a range of focal lengths, which allows you to take varying pictures without having to switch out lenses to get a different length or angle.

Zoom Lens Example

Image via Photography Life

Typically, a zoom lens is not as sharp as a prime lens, but it’s nice to use a zoom lens for event photography or photojournalism when you need to be able to switch angles quickly.

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