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129 Photography Terms (Best Definitions List for Beginners)

Last updated: December 30, 2023 - 36 min read
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Some photography terms can make you scratch your head. You might even wish for a photography-to-English dictionary. We figured it’s our job to shed some light on all this.

So, let’s look at some of the most popular photography terms and what they mean. Fair warning, there’s a lot of them.

Quick Capture Cheat Sheets
Quick Capture Cheat Sheets
Learn the essential photography terms quickly and easily with our convenient cheat sheets.
 

129 Photography Terms for Beginners

We’ve broken down our photography glossary into 12 sections. We’ve alphabetized photography terms A-Z to make finding what you’re looking for easy. Use the links below to jump to each photography definition.

What Are Key Terms to Photography?

The key terms in photography are too many to name. But a few are aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. We go through these and many others to help you learn the basics of photography.

Camera Terms

  1. 360 Camera
  2. APS-C
  3. APS-H
  4. CCD
  5. CMOS
  6. DSLR
  7. Dynamic Range
  8. Full Frame
  9. Large Format
  10. LCD
  11. Light Meter
  12. Low Pass Filter
  13. Medium Format
  14. Micro Four Thirds
  15. Mirrorless
  16. Point-and-Shoot
  17. Rangefinder
  18. Resolution
  19. Shutter
  20. Single-Lens Reflex (SLR)
  21. Twin-Lens REflex (TLR)
  22. Viewfinder

Lens Terms

  1. Aperture
  2. Aspherical Lens
  3. Fish-Eye Lens
  4. Focal Length
  5. Image Stabilization
  6. Lens Distortion
  7. Lens Hood
  8. Macro Lens
  9. Prime Lens
  10. Spherical Lens
  11. Standard Lens
  12. Super-Telephoto Lens
  13. Telephoto Lens
  14. Tilt-Shift Lens
  15. Wide-Angle Lens
  16. Zoom Lens

Photography Equipment Terms

  1. Cold Shoe
  2. Extension Tubes
  3. Flash
  4. Graduated Neutral Density Filter
  5. Gray Card
  6. Hot Shoe
  7. Neutral Density Filter
  8. Polarizing Filter
  9. Remote Flash Trigger
  10. Remote Trigger
  11. Strobe
  12. Teleconverter

Photography File Format Terms

  1. DNG
  2. EXIF
  3. JPEG or JPG
  4. RAW
  5. TIFF

Terms for Camera Settings

  1. Aperture Priority
  2. Autofocus – AI Focus
  3. Autofocus – AI Servo AF
  4. Back Button Focus
  5. Bulb Mode
  6. Burst Mode
  7. Exposure
  8. Exposure Compensation
  9. Exposure Value (EV)
  10. ISO
  11. One-Shot AF (Autofocus)
  12. Shutter Priority
  13. Shutter Speed
  14. TTL (Metering or Flash Metering)
  15. White Balance

Photography Lighting Terms

  1. Ambient Light
  2. Fill Light
  3. Hard Light
  4. High-Key Light
  5. Kelvin (K)
  6. Lighting Pattern
  7. Low-Key Light
  8. Main Light or Key Light
  9. Reflector
  10. Soft Light

Terms for Metering Modes

  1. Center-Weighted Metering
  2. Matrix Metering
  3. Spot Metering

Terms for Photography Techniques

  1. Bokeh
  2. Bracketing
  3. Depth of Field
  4. Flash Sync
  5. Focus Stacking
  6. Forced Perspective

Terms for Photography Rules

  1. Looney 11
  2. Overcast 8 and Variants
  3. Sunny 16
  4. Snowy 22

Terms for Photography Problems

  1. Camera Shake
  2. Chromatic Aberration
  3. Digital Noise
  4. Fringing
  5. Lens Flare
  6. Moiré
  7. Motion Blur
  8. Overexposure
  9. Perspective Distortion
  10. Red Eye
  11. Underexposure
  12. Vignetting

Terms for Photo Editing and Printing

  1. Aspect Ratio
  2. Crop
  3. CMYK
  4. Contrast
  5. DPI
  6. Highlights
  7. Histogram
  8. Metadata
  9. Midtones
  10. Pixel
  11. RGB
  12. Shadows
  13. Watermark

Photography Slang

  1. Blown Out
  2. Chimping
  3. Flag or Gobo
  4. Glass
  5. Nifty-Fifty
  6. Opening Up
  7. Selfie
  8. Shutter Lag
  9. SOOC
  10. Stopping Down
  11. Wide Open
 

Photography Terms for Cameras

360 Camera

A 360-degree camera lets you record your scene in a full-circle panorama. You can create photographs and videos viewers can move around in.

APS-C

The advanced photo system type C (APC-C)  is an image sensor format. It’s approximately equivalent in size to the advanced photo system “classic” negatives of 25.1 × 16.7 mm, with an aspect ratio of 3:2.

APS-C sensors are also called “crop sensors.” You can find APS-C cameras in manufacturers’ entry-level DSLR, beginner, and mid-range camera lineups.

Compared to the 35 mm full-frame format, this gives a lens a crop factor of 1.5 to 1.6x. A 50mm lens is effectively an 80mm full-frame equivalent. For more information, see our crop-sensor vs full-frame sensor article.

Graphic showing the crop factor with different camera sensors

 

APS-H

The advanced photo system type-H (APS-H) is also an image sensor format. It falls between full-frame and APS-C sensor sizes. Their crop factor is 1.3x. This means your 50mm lens is effectively 65mm. These were specifically used in the original Canon 1D line.

CCD

A charge-coupled device (CCD) is a semiconductor device. CCDs differ from CMOS sensors because their pixels cannot be accessed individually. The readout is thus time and energy-consuming.

CCD cameras have to use the whole surface of their sensors. In turn, advanced CCD technology tolerates low light better than CMOS.

CMOS

The complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) is a type of imaging sensor. It’s used in modern imaging systems, such as DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

They operate at significantly lower voltages than CCD sensors, consuming less power. They were once considered an inferior technology. Today, they have been vastly improved. And CMOS sensors are the more common sensor type of the two.

DSLR

A DSLR is a  “digital single-lens reflex” camera. They work with the same mechanical system as single-lens reflex cameras (SRLs). But instead of using film, they capture the image digitally and store it on a memory card.

Many camera brands have discontinued production of DSLRs. But Pentax still makes a good selection of DSLR cameras. You can read our review of the best DSLRs still available.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is the range of light intensities from the largest to smallest values in an image. Camera sensors with a higher dynamic range offer more flexibility during shooting and editing. They are also more expensive.

Full Frame

“Full frame” refers to digital cameras with an image sensor size equivalent to a 35mm film frame. A full-frame sensor typically measures 36mm x 24mm in digital photography. This is the same size as a frame of 35mm film.

Full-frame cameras offer high image quality and resolution. They can handle low-lit scenes with less noise and a shallower depth of field compared to smaller-sensor cameras. This makes them popular among professional photographers.

A comparison of sensor sizes on full-frame and APS-C Canon cameras
Sensor size comparison between a full-frame Canon EOS R5 and an APS-C Canon R7
 

Large Format

“Large format” refers to cameras that use film formats larger than 35mm. These cameras produce higher-resolution images due to the larger film size.

Large-format cameras shoot on sheet film ranging from 4 x 5 inches (10.16 x 12.7 cm) to 8 x 10 inches (20.32 x 25.4 cm). You can capture greater details with a large format camera. This is because it reaches the biggest possible resolution in film photography.

It is often used in professional and specialized photography. They are great for architectural photography due to the manipulation of film and focus planes. It is also perfect for landscapes, environmental portraits, conceptual artworks, and studio photos.

LCD

A liquid-crystal display (LCD) is on the back and sometimes the top of digital cameras. It’s a screen that shows you an electronic view of the scene or your captured images.

LCDs work by blocking the light. These are made of two polarized glasses, and between them, there is a liquid crystal. These crystals turn due to electricity. Electricity can be changed at every point. This way, the amount of light can be ruled.

A digital camera with its back LCD on
A digital camera’s LCD (Adobe Stock).
 

Light Meter

A light meter measures the light in a scene, determining the proper exposure. Light meters are built into cameras. They let the user determine which shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO to use.

A light meter performs two functions. “Incident” measures the light falling on a scene by using a lens covered with a white dome. “Reflected” reads light bouncing off the subject.

There are also external light meters. They are essential if you’re shooting with large format systems.

Low-Pass Filter

A low-pass filter (anti-aliasing or blur filter) eliminates the moiré problem. But more delicate details can get lost with this filter type. This is why it’s missing from most professional cameras.

Medium Format

Medium-format analog cameras use 120-roll film. Digital medium format cameras have a digital sensor that mimics that size.

The film ratio for medium format differs for each brand or camera type. They all use the same film, but the amount of frames depends on the camera.

Medium-format cameras are usually modular. You can interchange lenses, backs, viewfinders, grips, and more. Technically, Polaroid cameras are also medium-format.

Micro Four Thirds

Micro Four Thirds (MFT or M4/3) can refer to a camera sensor format or lens mount. The MFT lens mount was released by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008. Other manufacturers, such as DJI or Blackmagic, also use it.

An MFT sensor measures 18 × 13.5 mm, with an aspect ratio of 4:3 and a 2x crop factor.

Mirrorless

Mirrorless camera systems have become the norm in digital photography. The term generally refers to more advanced devices, MILCs. This abbreviation means “mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.”

Removing the mirror makes cameras faster, lighter, and quieter. This means you can no longer look through the lens optically when composing. Instead, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a digital screen are used.

Two Sony mirrorless cameras and an assortment of lenses on a table
Sony mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and assorted lenses. Wolfgang Hasselmann (Unsplash)
 

Point-and-Shoot

A point-and-shoot camera is also known as a compact camera. It is small enough to fit in your pocket. Its sensor is small. It starts at 1/2.7 inches (5.37 x 4.04 mm). The lens is not interchangeable, and automatic systems set the exposure and other options.

Rangefinder

This tool measures the distance from the camera to a particular object. A rangefinder camera has a built-in rangefinder feature. This is a focusing mechanism that can result in perfectly sharp images.

A photographer can calculate the subject’s distance from the camera. It also lets us see, in advance, what goes into the frame.

Resolution

Camera resolution is measured in pixels and megapixels (MP). An image that measures 5184 x 3456 pixels is equal to 17.9 MP. A higher resolution helps with cropping and larger printing. In terms of editing, it gives you room to play around.

You can have a great sensor, but image resolution depends on your lens. Sometimes, it’s better to choose a cheaper camera and a more expensive lens than a pricey camera with a cheap lens. Knowing what you get from your sensor is handy, but use the right lenses, too.

Shutter

The shutter lets light pass through the camera and hit the sensor for a determined period. Certain types of shutter mechanisms include a leaf shutter, central shutter, or electronic shutter.

Single Lens Reflex (SLR)

A single-lens reflex (SLR) is a camera with one lens for focusing, viewing, and capturing.

SLRs use a mirror and a prism to reflect the light coming into the camera. This lets photographers look through their viewfinder and see exactly what they capture. The mirror flips up when the shutter opens to let light expose the film. These are analog cameras, and they use color or black-and-white film.

Twin Lens Reflex (TLR)

A twin-lens reflex (TLR) is a vintage camera type. TLR cameras have two separate lenses with the same focal length.

With the top one, you can focus and compose the scene. This is part of the viewfinder system. The viewfinder uses a mirror, a matte focusing screen, and a hood. The bottom lens is solely used to take the photograph.

These two are connected. So, if an image appears sharp in the viewfinder, it is also sharp on the film.

A person holdng a twin-relfex lens Rollieflex camera
A Rollieflex twin-reflex lens camera. Alexander Andrews (Unsplash)
 

Viewfinder

A viewfinder is that part of the camera that you look in and see the image you capture. It shows the field of view. DSLRs use an optical viewfinder that lets photographers see exactly what the lens sees.

As we removed the mirror from modern camera systems, we also lost a real view through the lens. We did pick up an electronic feed through the lens. You see this via the LCD screen on the back of a camera.

The sensor records what your lens sees. Then, a small electronic display shows the picture in the small viewfinder window. This way, you don’t necessarily have to use the large LCD.

Photography Terms for Lenses

Aperture

An aperture is an iris mechanism. It controls how much light gets through the lens. It also affects the depth of field.

The f-stop number describes the relative size of the aperture. The f-number (or f-stop) is the ratio of the diameter of the hole of the aperture and the focal length. We write it as “f/” followed by a number—for example, f/2.8.

As the number decreases, the aperture physically gets wider. More light passes, and the depth of field gets shallower. Generally, lower f-numbers mean better low-light capacity. This is why lenses with lower f-numbers are more expensive.

Close-up of a camera lens aperture blades
Close-up of a camera lens aperture blades (Adobe Stock).
 

Aspherical Lens

An aspherical lens contains an aspherical element. This reduces spherical and other aberrations. They are common in high-end wide-angle and standard lenses.

We recommend paying attention to this photography term if you plan to buy new lenses. These keep your images sharp.

Fish-Eye Lens

A fish-eye lens produces images with strong barrel distortion. This is due to the angle of view being wider than the sensor or film format, squeezing the edges to fit.

They go from 4.5mm to 16mm, depending on the sensor size. They have an angle of view from 100 to 180 degrees.

Autumn forest treetops intentionally distorted with a fisheye lens
An intentionally distorted image with a fish-eye lens (Adobe Stock).
 

Focal Length

Focal length is the distance between the principal plane of a lens and the focal point (point of convergence). (Lenses have a point where light rays converge, which we call the focal point.)

This focal length number is expressed in millimeters (mm) and written on the lens’s outside. For instance, a 28mm lens has a distance of 2.8cm between the focal point and the principal plane of the lens.

This determines the lens’s angle of view and magnification in photography. This is one of the main parameters that marks and groups the lenses. The number is magnified when using a cropped sensor (APS-C).

Graphic showing how focal length is measured using the point of convergence
The point of convergence (focal point) of a 22mm lens
 

Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is a technology designed to reduce the effects of camera shake. It compensates for small movements or vibrations. The results are sharper photos and smoother videos.

It does this by using various mechanisms within the camera or lens. This includes optical elements or sensor shifting. These counteract the blur when capturing images or recording videos handheld or in low-light conditions.

Image stabilization was introduced to lenses in the late 90s and the in-camera version in the mid-2010s. Such lenses have a built-in gyroscope and moving lens element(s). In stabilized camera bodies, the sensor moves according to a gyroscope in the body.

This cuts down motion blur by compensating for pan and tilt movements. This technology makes it easier to take photos while holding your camera in your hands. It also lets you take photos with a longer shutter speed.

It doesn’t mean you won’t have to use a tripod anymore, but it extends your possibilities. Thanks to the built-in image stabilization, you can be more mobile.

Lens Distortion

Lens distortion is the alteration or deformation of an image caused by a camera lens’s imperfections or characteristics. It produces a warped or skewed appearance of straight lines or objects within a photo. This includes the following:

  • Barrel distortion (standard lens close-up photography)
  • Pincushion distortion (low-end telephoto lens)
  • Mustache distortion (wide end of zoom lens)

These come down to the symmetry of a camera lens. These are more common in zoom lenses but can also occur in some prime lenses.

Lens Hood

A lens hood blocks light from the sides, causing unwanted reflections and flares. It’s a must-have for shooting in bright daylight or towards the sun.

A lens hood can also play a protective role. Smashing a lens hood is always better than smashing your lens’ front element. Also, it can stop dust and camera lens fungus from getting inside your lens.

Macro Lens

This type of lens is designed specifically for close-up images. Are you looking to photograph insects, flowers, or something more abstract? If so, this is one of the most important camera terms.

Macro lenses are telephoto lenses with a very close near point. The near point is the closest point to the lens where the subject is still sharp. That’s why you can get your lens close to that little ant.

A macro lens can produce a magnification ratio of 1:1 or even higher. The magnification ratio refers to the size of the subject appearing on the camera sensor and the size of it in real life.

This lets you take breathtaking photos of really small creatures and objects. Try our Macro Magic course to become an expert in macro photography!

Close-up macro shot of an insect
Ngan Nguyen (Unsplash)
 

Prime Lens

A prime lens is a fixed lens that cannot zoom in or out, forcing you to zoom with your feet. Basically, it means that you can’t change the focal length of a prime lens. Different fields of photography require different prime lenses.

Prime lenses are often lighter and have better quality than zoom lenses. You can read more about the differences between zoom and prime lenses. Or you can check out our recommendations for the best cheap prime lenses.

Spherical Lens

A spherical lens is the most common type of element in lens making. The curve of a spherical lens is the same across its entire surface. This is what focuses the field of view onto the film plane. It usually creates spherical or optical distortions.

Spherical aberration means your lens won’t draw a sharp image in the whole frame. It is not always a problem. For example, when you take portraits, you won’t even notice that your image is getting soft towards the edges.

Standard Lens

A standard lens has a focal length approximately equal to the diagonal of the image (the negative). It has a field of view similar to our non-peripheral vision. Lenses with a 50mm focal length are also considered “standard lenses.”

Super Telephoto Lens

A super-telephoto lens has an even larger focal length than a standard one. These have a focal length of at least 200mm (full frame equivalent) and a field of view from eight to one degree.

Telephoto Lens

Telephoto lenses have focal lengths longer than the diagonal size of the image they take. This results in a narrow field of view. You can “bring” faraway objects closer with these lenses.

These lenses have a focal length equivalent of 70mm to 200mm. And they have an angle of view between 30 and 10 degrees.

Tilt-Shift Lens

Tilt-shift lenses give you extensive perspective and focal control. The position and angle of some lens elements can be independently changed in such lenses. This lets them be moved and tilted relative to the sensor.

You can correct perspective (useful in architectural photography) and modify the plane of focus. The latter often creates a “miniature effect,” where the scene looks tiny. The effect can be created with Photoshop as well, albeit less precisely.

Tilt-shift lenses are generally expensive.

Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence Italy taken with a tilt-shift lens
Tilt-shift effect, Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence, Italy (Adobe Stock).
 

Wide-Angle Lens

Wide-angle lenses have an angle of view of 64 and 84 degrees. So, they have a wider view than a standard lens and our vision.

The focal length of wide-angle lenses is shorter than the diagonal size of the image they take (or the film format). The diagonal of a 35mm film (or a full-frame sensor) is approximately 45mm.

A wide-angle lens can have, for example, 24mm focal length. So, we can clearly see that the focal length is shorter than the diagonal.

Zoom Lens

A zoom lens is variable length, meaning you can change its focal length. This lets you change perspective easily.

Although these are more versatile, they often have limited sharpness due to needing more mechanisms inside the lens. Also, these are not operating with as fast f-stop values as prime lenses.

Terms for Photography Equipment

Cold Shoe

A cold shoe is a holding area for a flash or other device. It doesn’t allow a connection between the camera and the device.

Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are used to further extend the zoomable area of lenses in macro photography. They sit between the camera body and the lens.

They come in 1x, 2x, and 3x options. A 100mm macro lens with a 3x extension tube turns your lens into the equivalent of a 300mm lens.

Flash

A flash is basically a light source that produces a burst of artificial light. It lights just for a short time (flashes). This is where its name comes from.

It can be built into the camera or sit on top via a hot shoe, or you can use it on a stand. A flash is commonly used in studios and low-light conditions, like at different events.

Graduated Neutral-Density Filter

A graduated neutral-density filter is a neutral-density filter. But it’s an ND filter that’s graduated from the center upwards. This helps to darken specific parts of your scene, primarily the sky.

Gray Card

A gray card is a card with a color of 18% gray. Photographing this before any photographic shoot helps you ascertain a correct white balance from the light found in the scene.

Hot Shoe

A hot shoe is a holding area for a flash or other device that connects the camera and the device.

Close-up of a camera hot shoe to illustrate photography terms
Hot shoe on a Canon camera
 

Neutral Density Filter

A neutral density filter (ND filter) limits the light that hits the film or sensor. We use it on the front lens of a camera. A one-stop ND filter will let only 50% of the light in. So, you can set your camera for one f-stop higher value.

They are perfect for shooting in really bright light conditions. They are also used for long exposures in the daytime.

Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is usually placed on the front element of the lens. It can help to eliminate reflections, stop glare, and even darken skies.

Remote Flash Trigger

A remote flash trigger connects the camera and the flash unit when the flash unit is off-camera. This works using infrared signals or a wire.

Remote Trigger

A remote trigger is a device that lets you take a photograph without pressing the shutter release on your camera. They can connect via Bluetooth, an app, infrared, or a wire.

Strobe

A studio strobe is a flash unit that has lightning-fast recycle times. So strobes can flash fast many times in a row. They also provide brighter and stronger light than a simple flash.

Teleconverter

A teleconverter is used to further extend the focal length of a telephoto lens. They sit between the camera body and the lens. And they come in 1x, 2x, and 3x options. A 200mm telephoto lens with the teleconverter x3 turns your lens into the equivalent of a 600mm lens.

A Panasonic 1.4x teleconverter on a 70-200mm lens
A Panasonic 1.4x teleconverter on a 70-200mm lens, making it a super-telephoto lens with a 280mm max zoom range
 

Photography Terms for File Formats

DNG

This is an abbreviation for “digital negative.” As a container file, it does not only consist of the image itself. It also holds non-destructive editing information.

Because of this, DNGs can be moved more easily. You don’t have to search for their sidecar XMP files. DNG files also offer more future compatibility than brand-specific RAW files.

EXIF

Exchangeable image file format (EXIF) is a standard. It specifies the formats for digital camera images, sound, and ancillary tags used by digital cameras. This is where an image’s information is found, like aperture, f-stop, and ISO.

JPEG or JPG

JPEG stands for “joint photographic experts group.” It’s a file extension for a lossy graphics file. The JPEG file extension is the same as a JPG.

RAW

RAW image files contain unprocessed pixel data, either uncompressed or minimally compressed. They offer extensive editability and flexibility. But you must edit, tweak, and export them to another format (usually JPEG).

A RAW file can be up to five times bigger than a JPEG image. They are often called “digital negatives.”

TIFF

TIFF stands for “tagged image file format.” It’s a flexible file format. It allows for different compression rates, algorithms, bit depths, and variations. A TIFF file is useful for printing as it doesn’t lose data during post-processing.

It can also contain layers that Photoshop and other editors can read. The size of a TIFF image can range anywhere from a few megabytes to multiple gigabytes.

Photography Terms for Camera Settings

AI Focus (Autofocus)

AI stands for artificial intelligence. This autofocus mode is a hybrid of the two camera focus modes listed below. It starts in the one-shot mode. But if your subject moves, it tracks it, keeping the subject in focus.

AI Servo AF (Autofocus)

In this focus setting, the camera’s artificial intelligence refocuses your lens on a moving subject. It does this as long as your finger is pressed halfway down on the shutter release.

Aperture Priority

Aperture priority (A or Av) is a camera setting mode. You can set the aperture as desired and automatically change the shutter speed (and ISO, if set to auto).

Back Button Focus

Back button focusing is achieved by changing the button controls on your camera. This lets you define a different focus button other than the shutter release. On most cameras, there is a dedicated AF-ON button for this purpose.

This helps eliminate problems that arise from refocusing an already focused subject.

Bulb Mode

Bulb mode lets you keep the camera shutter open for the duration you keep the shutter release button pressed. This is best used with a remote shutter release. It is very handy to know when capturing long exposures.

Burst Mode

Burst mode is also known as continuous shooting mode. Sometimes, you can see the “fps” abbreviation, which means “frames per second.” This continuous shooting mode captures several photos in a fast sequence. It’s especially important if you’re capturing action, wildlife, or sports.

Exposure

Exposure is the quantity of light reaching a photographic film or digital sensor.

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation lets you alter the exposure with the value you select. It’s usually a slider, going from -3 to +3, and will make your image darker or lighter.

Exposure compensation graphic to illustrate photography terms

Exposure Value (EV)

Exposure value, or “EV,” is a standardized exposure measurement. It’s a logarithmic scale, where lower values are darker and higher ones are brighter.

Zero (0) EV is the luminance (brightness) of exposure at ISO 100, one second, and f/1.0. Any exposure setting with the same luminance as this will also be 0 EV. For example, ISO 400, 1/2 s, and f/1.4).

1 EV is twice as bright—for example, ISO 200, 1 second, and f/1.0. Every next value is twice as high as the previous one.

EV is used as a relative measurement, too. One stop (1 EV) higher is double, and one stop lower is half the brightness. So, when we say “3 EV lower,” we mean eight times darker.

ISO

ISO refers to the sensitivity of photographic film. But it has become important in digital photography as most camera brands use this term to describe their DSLRs’ brightness level and sensitivity.

It stands for “International Organization for Standardization.” It is not a true acronym, though. It is not a direct reference to the organization.

The union of the two film standards (American ASA and German DIN) brought this name to a different perspective. The whole operation was under the auspices of the ISO organization.

Later, this phrase became more famous for its photographic aspect as they referred to ISO as film sensitivity after the event. Generally, a higher ISO lets you photograph in low light conditions but with a trade-off in quality.

Some modern cameras can utilize a maximum ISO of up to 3,280,000. But this brings poor image quality with it.

Shutter Priority

Shutter priority ( S or Tv) is a camera setting mode. The user can set the shutter speed as desired, and the aperture changes automatically.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time the film plane or digital sensor is exposed to light. When a camera’s shutter is open, it captures the scene and creates a photograph.

Your camera usually displays it as a whole number, like “400.” The numbers here are fractions of a second (1/5 s, in the example below). If shooting for longer than a second, it’s displayed as 1″ (or longer).

Shutter speed directly influences motion blur. At slow speeds, the shutter will stay open longer, resulting in more visible blurring.

An underground train tunnel shot in black and white and with motion blur
Shot with a Nikon D800. 50mm, f/2.8, 1/5 s, ISO 800. Albert Stoynov (Unplash)
 

TTL (Metering or Flash Metering)

TTL stands for “through the lens.” This flash mode is the same as the automatic mode on your camera. It uses the camera’s built-in metering system and measures the distance from the subject. It’s also called TTL metering or TTL flash metering.

White Balance

White balance is a camera setting that gives you the correct color in your image. Every light source gives off a different temperature, measured in Kelvin (K). 

You can choose from settings suitable for different conditions such as daylight, cloudy, etc. Later on, you can adjust this white balance when editing your pictures.

Photography Terms for Lighting

Ambient Light

Ambient light is also referred to as available light or natural light. This light naturally occurs in a scene without adding a flash or light modifiers.

Fill Light

Fill light is the secondary source used to fill in shadows created by the main light.

Hard Light

This is harsh or undiffused light coming from the sun or flash. It produces hard shadows and well-defined edges, contrast, and texture.

High-Key Light

High-key lighting is achieved by using a lot of light or whites in a photographed scene. This way, you can eliminate dark tones and shadows from your image. High-key photos usually give a clean and positive impression and feeling.

A bird taking flight with high-key light
Shot with a Nikon D610. 85mm, f/8, 1/200 s, ISO 110. Christian Lambert (Unsplash)
 

Kelvin (K)

Kelvin is a measurement unit (K) for temperature. In photography, it’s used for measuring color temperature.

Different light sources have different color temperatures. This determines the white balance, as our subjects will reflect the color of the light they were in. Daylight is around 5500K, whereas fluorescent lighting is closer to 4000K.

Lighting Pattern

A lighting pattern is how light falls on the subject, creating a specific pattern.

A woman lying down with lighting patterns falling across her
Shot with a Sony a7R II. 32mm, f/2.8, 1/1600 s, ISO 100. Sergei Gavrilov (Unsplash)
 

Low-Key Light

Low-key lighting is achieved by using a lot of darker tones, shadows, and blacks in a photographed scene.

You usually need a dark background and a light source that only highlights specific areas. This way, you can keep your subject in the shadow and highlight some parts. Low-key photos are dramatic and mysterious.

Black-and-white low-key portrait of a woman wearing sunglasses
Shot with a Canon EOS 650D. 50mm, f/13, 1/200 s, ISO 100. Timur Khan (Unsplash)
 

Main Light or Key Light

This is the main source of light for a photograph. It could be natural, like the sun or an off-camera flash unit.

One-Shot AF (Autofocus)

This focuses your camera on one subject once. This is great for subjects and photographers that don’t need to move.

Reflector

A reflector is a piece of equipment that bounces light back into the scene without using extra light. The reflector tends to bring a softer light and is a cheaper option. They can be made from card or foam board, not necessarily studio-grade.

Soft Light

Soft light is diffused light, usually found on an overcast day. It can be strong, filtered light to cut down on its harshness.

Photography Terms for Metering Modes

Center-Weighted Metering

When you don’t want to use the whole scene for correct exposure, center-weighted metering evaluates the light in the middle of the frame.

It measures the light in the middle of the image with an intensity of 75% and less intensity on the sides. It doesn’t look at where you focus, as it assumes you are concentrating on the center of the image.

Matrix Metering or Evaluative Metering

“Matrix metering” (Nikon), the same as “evaluative metering” (Canon), is a light metering mode. It determines the correct exposure with a special algorithm.

It looks at the scene you photograph and separates it into different zones. These zones are then analyzed separately for light and dark tones. It counts the focal point as more important.

Spot Metering

Spot metering reads reflected light in a concentrated area of any given scene. It looks at where your focus is placed and evaluates the light only in that area, ignoring everything else.

Portrait of a man in a spotlight
Shot with a Canon EOS Rebel T6i (750D). 18mm, f/6.3, 1/500 s, ISO 1,600. S’mile Vilakati (Unsplash)
 

Photography Terms for Shooting Techniques

Bokeh

Bokeh is Japanese for “blur.” It is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image.

More bokeh is achieved by using wide apertures, longer focal lengths, or getting closer to the subject. Light appears in circles because of the blade mechanism of the aperture.

A photographer shooting photos from a city balcony with light bokeh in the background
Shot with a Sony a7R II. 85mm, f/1.4, 1/400 s, ISO 400. Jordan Tan (Unsplash)

Bracketing

Bracketing involves taking several shots of the same scene using different camera settings. This is used for HDR images.

Depth of Field

Depth of field is the area in your image where the objects or subjects are sharply in focus. A large depth of field keeps most of the image in focus, while a small one will show a very small area in focus. The depth of the field is controlled by changing the lens’s aperture.

Flash Sync

This synchronizes the firing of a photographic flash with the opening of the shutter and curtain to expose the film or sensor.

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is a common technique in macro photography. This technique requires multiple images where different subject parts are in focus. When stitched together, they show the object with a fuller, overall focus.

Forced Perspective

This is a photographic optical illusion. It is generally used to make two or more objects appear closer or farther away. Or it can make the object or subject a different size than reality.

A hand holding a sphere over a lake at sunset illustrating the forced perspective photography term
Shot with a Canon EOS 60D. 10mm, f/3.5, 1/125 s, ISO 100. Matyas Prochy (Unsplash)
 

Terms for Photography Rules

Looney 11

This is a photography rule to take breathtaking photos of the moon’s surface. Use an f/11 aperture and a shutter speed setting the same as your ISO. For example

Overcast 8 (And Variants)

This is a photography rule to use on cloud days with various aperture settings. Use f/11 when the sky is variable, f/8 in cloudy weather but not very dark, and f/5.6 for bad weather, like rain.

Sunny 16

This is a photography rule using an aperture of f/16 on sunny days. Your shutter speed should then be the inverse of your ISO value. So, if you are at f/16 and ISO 400, your shutter speed should be 1/400 s.

Snowy 22

This is a camera setting if the sun is shining over a snowy landscape. At an aperture of f/22, a balanced exposure is achieved using an inverse shutter speed inverse to your ISO. So, ISO 400 gives you a shutter speed of 1/400.

This is only for calculation. It’s best not to use f/22 unless you have a specific purpose. Apertures narrower than f/11 degrade image sharpness.

A sunny snow landscape shot with the sunny 22 rule
Shot with a Sony a7R IV. 128mm, f/9, 1/160 s, ISO 250. Ricardo Gomez Angel (Unsplash)
 

Photography Terms for Shooting Problems

Camera Shake

Camera shake is the blur in images when capturing a scene without a tripod. Hand movement is enough to cause a blur in the image, especially when using a shutter speed below 1/60 s.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is the effect produced by the refraction of different wavelengths of light through slightly different angles. It results in a failure to focus and a colored halo around objects in the frame.

It appears near the highlights, brighter parts of the image, or high-contrast edges.

Digital Noise

Digital noise refers to the grain found on images captured using a higher ISO. This lowers the quality of the images.

Fringing

Fringing is the photography term for a purple “ghost” image on a photograph, apparent near contrasting edges. It is a type of chromatic aberration.

Lens Flare

Lens flare is where light is scattered or flared in a lens due to bright light. This produces a sometimes undesirable effect.

Silhouetted figures with bright yellow light and lens flare
Shot with a Sony a6300. 50mm, f/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 800. Hassan Ouajbir (Unsplash)
 

Moiré

Moiré occurs when a scene or an object contains repetitive details, like lines, that exceed the sensor resolution. As a result, the camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern.

Motion Blur

Motion blur occurs when the object is moving faster than your shutter speed can handle. This results in a blurred effect on the moving subject.

Overexposure

Overexposure is seen in an image or part of an image that receives too much light to be a proper exposure. This often means a loss of detail and contrast, and those image parts are filled with white areas.

Perspective Distortion

Perspective distortion refers to the warping due to the relative scale of nearby and distant features. The top of a building falls away, as it is farthest away from the film plane or sensor. This is also known as a “parallax error.” Wide-angle lenses can also foreshorten and distort the subjects.

A view. of distorted city buildings, blue sky, and clouds looking up
Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S7. Dylan Tan (Unsplash)
 

Red Eye

We call it a red-eye effect when the eyes of the person you photograph mirror the light back at your camera. They appear bright red or orange. This happens when using a flash at night and in dim lighting. Modern camera technology has improved to reduce this occurrence.

Underexposure

An image or part of an image that doesn’t receive sufficient light for proper exposure. The image is dark and often with a loss of detail and contrast.

Vignetting

Vignetting refers to a “light fall-off.” It means the darkening of image corners compared to the center. Lenses or using external tools like filters and lens hoods cause these.

Photography Terms Used in Printing and Editing

Aspect Ratio

All photographic images have an aspect ratio. A square image used on Instagram has an aspect ratio of 1:1. But we have other standard ones such as 16:9, 5:4, 4:3, and 3:2. They came from film photography and filmmaking.

A flower image with colored line overlays showing different aspect ratios

Crop

Crop or cropping refers to removing unwanted areas of a photograph or changing its aspect ratio.

CMYK

CMYK refers to the four inks used in color printing. They are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). CMYK is for subtractive color mixing.

Contrast

The difference between dark and light parts of a photo. A contrasty image has deep blacks and bright whites. A flat image has more balanced tones.

Their histograms show this, too. A high-contrast image has its midtones scooped, with peaks on both sides. A flat image has a bell-shaped histogram.

DPI

The photography term “dots per inch” (dpi) is used for measuring the resolution of an image. It means the dot density found within an inch of an image in print and on-screen.

Highlights

Lightest areas within an image that still contain details.

Histogram

A histogram is a graphical representation of an image’s light levels. The shadows (blacks) are represented on the left side. Highlights (whites) are represented on the right side. In between these two are the midtones. These are neither completely black nor white.

Understanding the histogram is important because the LCD on your camera doesn’t accurately show what the image looks like. This can also be true for the displays you use for post-processing.

Histograms give you a mathematical representation of how well-exposed an image is. You don’t only have to rely on what you see because this data representation can help you, too.

A graphic of a camera histogram to illustrate photography terms

Metadata

Metadata is the additional information that describes image files. It tells you the author, the creation date, the camera device, and much more information about a digital photo. EXIF data is also metadata.

Midtones

The midtones refer to the tonal range between the highlights (light areas) and shadows (dark areas).

Pixel

Pixel (px) means picture element, and every digital image comprises them. They are the smallest unit of image information.

RGB

The RGB color model is supplementary. Red, green, and blue lights are, in different ways, mixed to create a wide range of colors.

RGB is used on screens as it operates with the colors of the light. These colors are added together to produce different colors (this is what is called additive color mixing).

Shadows

These are the darkest areas within an image that still has details.

Watermark

A watermark is an identifying image or text that protects photographers’ images from copyright theft.

A leaf in clear water with light patterns and an ExpertPhotography watermark
Example of an ExpertPhotography watermark. Photo by Ritz (Unplash)

Photography Slang

Blown Out

Overexposed areas in your image that have received abundant light are “blown out,” as all detail is missing.

Chimping

Chimping is constantly looking at your images on the LCD screen while missing perfect photographic opportunities.

Flag or Gobo

A flag or gobo is a material that stops unwanted light from hitting part or all of your scene. This is especially common with fashion and product photography.

Glass

“Glass” is a common alternate name for a lens. Fast glass is a lens that can stop down to a “fast” aperture, namely f/1.4 to f/2.8.

Nifty-Fifty

A nifty-fifty is a 50mm standard lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 or larger.

Opening Up

Opening up translates to decreasing the number of f-stops. The lower the number, the larger the aperture. By opening up, more light will enter the lens.

Selfie

When you photograph yourself!

A selfie of a photographer taking a picture with a camera captured with a cell phone
Shot with a Nikon D5500. 50mm, f/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 100. Lisa Fotios (Pexels)
 

Shutter Lag

Shutter lag is the time difference between setting the shutter off and capturing the image.

SOOC

SOOC is an abbreviation for “straight out of camera.” This means an image without editing or post-production.

Stopping Down

Stopping down translates to increasing the number of f-stops. The higher the number, the smaller the aperture. This reduces the amount of light entering the lens. This way, you can avoid many kinds of light diffraction.

Wide Open

Shooting wide open uses the aperture at its widest and fastest f-stop, usually f/1.4 to f/2.8.

 

Conclusion: 129 Photography Terms

We have collected many photography terms you need to know about taking photos. This might be a lot, but you can return and study them anytime.

As this list is non-exhaustive, we recommend reading as much as possible if you are interested in photography. Also, if you wish to know more about these terms, we recommend our other articles, eBooks, or courses that dig into them deeper.

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