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. Fair warning, there’s a lot of them. You can even bookmark this article, and search through it at your convenience.
[ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]
This is the opening in your lens that allows light through. It’s also known as f-stops. A maximum aperture (widest) might be f/1.4 or f/2.8. And the minimum aperture (smallest opening) might be f/22.
Aperture directly influences depth of field. This means that f/2.8 gives you a shallow depth of field (least amount of the scene in focus). And f/22 gives you a deep depth of field (everything is in focus).
More on that later.
The distance between the centre of a lens and its focus. This number is expressed in mm.
A 35mm lens has a distance of 3.5cm between the focus and the curved mirror or centre of the lens.
This number is magnified when using a cropped sensor.
A zoom lens is a variable length lens, allowing you to change perspective easily.
They often have limited sharpness due to needing more mechanisms inside the lens.
The Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II is one of the most popular choices.
A prime lens is a fixed lens unable to zoom in or out, forcing you to zoom with your feet.
The Canon f/1.4 35mm is one of the most popular prime lenses. They are often lighter and have better quality than zoom lenses.
This is due to fewer mechanisms inside.
A macro lens lets you photograph macro photography. The lens is designed specifically for close focusing. This usually starts from 1cm to infinity.
One of the most common macro lenses is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM.
A fisheye lens produces images with a strong visual 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 24mm, and have an angle of view from 100° to 180°.
One of the most popular fisheye lenses is the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM.
A camera lens with a wider view than a standard lens. Wide-angle lenses have a focal length smaller than the diagonal size of the film format or digital sensor.
A wide-angle lens has a focal length of 24mm-35mm, and an angle of view of 64° and 84°. One of the most popular wide-angle lenses is the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM.
A standard lens has a focal length approximately equal to the diagonal of the negative. It has a field of view similar to the naked eye’s.
One of the most popular lenses here is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II.
A telephoto lens has a longer focal length than the standard. Together with a narrow field of view, this means a magnified image.
These lenses have a focal length of 70mm to 200mm, and an angle of view between 10° and 30°.
A common choice is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM.
Super Telephoto Lens
A super telephoto lens has a focal length of at least 200mm and field of view from 1° to 8°. A common choice is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM.
Tilt/shift lenses were mostly used in large format photography. The film and focusing planes could be moved independently to eliminate parallax error in architectural photography.
In digital photography, they create a spot focus effect, making a scene look smaller than it is.
The Canon TS-E 24mm is a popular choice.
Some of the better telephoto and super telephoto lenses have an image stabilisation button.
This cuts down blur by compensating on pan and tilt movements.
It helps against camera shake when not using a tripod. The smaller angle of view from the telephoto lenses exaggerates movement.
An aspherical lens contains an aspherical element. This reduces spherical and other aberrations.
They are common in high-end wide-angle and standard lenses.
This is the most common type of element in lens making, creating a spherical lens.
This is what focuses the field of view onto the film plane. It usually creates spherical or optical distortions.
Lens distortions include:
- Barrel Distortion (standard lens close-up photography);
- Pincushion Distortion (low-end telephoto lens);
- and Mustache Distortion (wide end of zoom lens).
These come down to the symmetry of a camera lens.
These are more common in zoom lenses and large-range zooms, but also in some prime lenses too.
Use a lens hood or lens shade on the front end of a lens. It blocks the sun or other light sources to prevent glare and lens flare.
Photography Terms for Cameras
A Single-Lens Reflex is a camera with one lens, used for focusing, viewing and capturing.
The image is reflected with a movable mirror in the camera body. This allows the photographer to see directly through the lens.
The mirror flips up when the shutter is open to allow light to expose the film.
A camera with two separate lenses of the same focal length. One for viewing and focusing, the other for exposing the film.
The lenses are mechanically coupled so they focus at the same time.
A DSLR is the same as an SLR, where the only difference being this is the digital version. They still use one lens for viewing, light metering and capturing.
The mirror pops up to reveal the sensor, allowing it to record a scene visually.
Medium format cameras are much bigger than their 35mm smaller brothers.
In film photography, the size of medium format film (120 roll film) is either 6×4.5 (645), 6×6 or 6×7, 6×9 or even 6×17. The 6 refers to 6cm, the width of the film.
The camera film plane will determine what ratio your negatives will be. As well as the number of exposures possible.
Medium format film cameras, such as the Mamiya 645 are system cameras. This means you can interchange lenses and backs. And you can use polaroid films and pre-loaded cartridges.
Large format cameras shoot on sheet film which can range from 4×5″ (10.16cm x 12.7cm) to 8×10″ (20.32 cm x 25.4cm).
You need a tripod to use them. These are great for architectural photography due to the manipulation of film and focus planes.
A mirrorless camera system is a recent development in the photographic world. By removing the mirror, cameras can be faster, lighter and quieter, with less camera shake to boot.
This means that the lens can no longer be used for natural, real-life viewing. It compensates with an electronic viewfinder.
A point-and-shoot camera is also known as a compact camera. They are generally small enough to fit in your pocket.
The lens is fixed and automatic systems set the exposure and other options.
A great point-and-shoot camera is the PANASONIC LUMIX ZS100 4K.
A 360° camera lets you record your scene in a full-circle panorama. These are great for interior photography. Also to create photographs you can move around in, possibly using a virtual reality headset.
The Ricoh Theta V 4k is a perfect choice.
The complementary metal oxide semiconductor is a type of imaging sensor. It’s used in DSLRs.
These CMOS chips are less energy consuming than CCD-type sensors. They were once considered an inferior technology.
Now, they have been vastly improved and are the more common sensor of the two.
A charge-coupled device is a semiconductor device. Itconverts optical images into electronic signals.
CCDs contain rows and columns of ultra-small, light-sensitive mechanisms (pixels). These generate electronic pulses when electronically charged and exposed to light.
These pulses work in conjunction with millions of surrounding pixels. They collectively produce a photographic image.
The Advanced Photo System type 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, an aspect ratio of 3:2.
This gives a lens a crop factor of 1.6x, meaning your 50mm lens is effectively an 80mm.
You can find these in Canon’s entry-level DSLR range.
The Advanced Photo System type H is an image sensor format. It’s approximately equivalent in size to the Advanced Photo System “classic” negatives of 28.7×19 mm, an aspect ratio of 3:2.
This gives a lens a crop factor of 1.3x, meaning your 50mm lens is effectively a 65mm. These were specifically for the Canon 1D line.
Full frame sensors have a negative size of 36x24mm.
It offers the highest quality and resolution.
Micro Four Thirds (MFT or M4/3) was released by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008. It was for the design and development of mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras.
These cameras have better sensors than compact cameras. But not as strong as the APS-C or cropped sensors.
Its negative measures 18 × 13.5 mm.
As we took away the mirror from modern camera systems, we also lost real view through the lens.
We did pick up an electronic feed through the lens, which you see via the LCD screen on the back of the camera.
You’ll find the liquid-crystal display (LCD) at the back of your camera.
It shows you an electronic view of the scene, or of your captured images.
A low-pass filter, also known as anti-aliasing or “blur” filter, eliminates the problem of moiré. The filter blurs what actually reaches the sensor.
Extreme details are lost in the process, yet the problem of moiré is completely resolved.
The dynamic range measures the range of light intensities from shadows, to highlights.
It is the difference between the lightest and darkest areas of an image.
The total number of pixels that can be displayed on a screen/digital sensor at any one time. Resolution is measured in pixels and megapixels.
An image that measures 5184×3456 pixels is equal to 17.9 MP. A higher resolution helps with cropping and larger printing.
And it gives you more to play with when editing.
The shutter allows light to pass through the camera and hit the sensor for a determined period of time.
This allows you to see the view of the camera’s lens.
A light meter measures the amount of 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.
There are two functions a light meter performs. Incident measures the light falling on a scene by using a lens covered with a white dome.
Reflected reads light bouncing off the subject.
We recommend the Sekonic L-308S-U Flashmate.
This measures the distance from the camera to a particular object. It assists with proper focus. A rangefinder camera is a camera fitted with a rangefinder.
This allows the photographer to measure the subject distance. And take photographs in sharp focus.
Metering Photography Terms
Matrix metering (Nikon), also known as Evaluative Metering (Canon) is the default metering mode on most DSLRs.
It looks at the scene you are photographing and separates it into different zones.
These zones are then analysed on an individual basis for light and dark tones. It counts the focal point as more important.
When you don’t want to look at the whole scene for a correct exposure, centre-weighted metering evaluates the light in the middle of the frame.
It doesn’t look at where you focus, as it imagines you are concentrating on the centre of the image.
A type of light meter used to read 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.
Photography Terms for Camera Settings
ISO means International Standards Organisation and refers to the sensitivity of photographic film, and now, the digital sensor. A higher ISO allows you to photograph in low light conditions, but in a trade-off with quality.
Some modern cameras have the capacity to utilise a maximum ISO of up to 3,280,000 (although bringing along poor image quality).
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 a scene and creates a photograph.
The numbers here are fractions of a second (1/400th of a second, for example).
The shutter speed directly influences motion blur. A slow shutter speed will stay open longer than a fast one, resulting in more of the scene being captured.
Aperture Priority, also known as A or Av, is a camera setting mode.
The user can set the aperture as desired, but the shutter speed changes automatically.
Shutter Priority, also known as S or Tv is a camera setting mode where the user can set the shutter speed as desired, but the aperture changes automatically.
Burst mode is also known as continuous shooting mode.
In burst mode, several photographs are captured in quick succession.
Single shooting is a camera setting that allows you to take one image at a time, even if you keep your finger on the shutter release button.
Exposure is the quantity of light reaching a photographic film or digital sensor.
Exposure Value is a combination of the camera’s shutter speed and f-stop that give you the same exposure when changed.
This allows you to alter the exposure from the value you select.
It’s usually a slider, going from -3 to +3, and will make your image darker or lighter.
Every light source gives off a different temperature, measured in Kelvin. The white balance is a camera setting that gives you correct colour in your image.
There are usually settings for daylight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten and flash.
Focus: One Shot AF
This focuses your camera for one subject once. This is great for subjects and photographers that don’t need to move.
Focus: AF Servo
In this focus setting, the camera will keep re-focusing your lens on a moving subject, as long as your finger is pressed half-way down on the shutter release.
Focus: AI Focus
This auto-focus method is a hybrid of the two previous modes.
It starts off in the one-shot mode, but if your subject moves, it tracks it, keeping the subject in focus.
Back button focusing is achieved by changing the button controls on your camera, allowing you to define a different button for focusing, other than the shutter release.
This helps in faster focusing, and eliminates problems that arise from refocusing an already focused subject.
Through-the-Lens refers to light metering through the lens itself, rather than via a separate window.
You will see this on a flash unit, such as the Speedlite 600EX II-RT.
Bulb allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you press the shutter release button down.
This is best used with a remote shutter release.
Photography Terms for Techniques
This is a photographic optical illusion generally used to make two or more objects appear closer or farther away.
They can make the object or subject a different size than reality.
Depth of Field is the area in your image where the objects or subjects appear sharp.
A large DoF will keep the entire image in focus, while a small one will show a very small area in focus. This is controlled by using the lens’ aperture.
Bokeh is Japanese for blur and is the aesthetic quality of said blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image.
This is achieved by using a very wide aperture.
Focus stacking is a common technique in macro photography. This technique requires multiple images, where different parts of the subject are in focus.
When stitched together, they will show the object with a full, overall focus.
Bracketing involves taking several shots of the same scene, using different camera settings. This is used for HDR images.
This involves synchronizing the firing of a photographic flash with the opening of the shutter and curtain to expose the film or sensor.
An image captured informally, without any serious composition or planning, and usually with a point-and-shoot camera.
A method developed by Ansel Adams to determine optimal exposure and negative development.
On sunny days, at an aperture of f/16, your shutter speed is the inverse of your ISO value.
This means that if you are at f/16 and ISO 400, your shutter speed should be 1/400.
If the sun is shining over a snowy landscape, f/22 is the suggested aperture so that a balanced exposure is achieved using a shutter speed that is the inverse of your ISO.
ISO 400 will give you a shutter speed of 1/400.
Overcast 8 (and its f11 and f/5.6 variants)
Use f/11 when the sky is variable, use f/8 cloudy weather, but not really dark, and use f/5.6 for bad weather, such as rain.
Use f/4 for sunset photography.
For astronomical photos of the Moon’s surface, set aperture to f/11 and shutter speed the same as the ISO.
Lighting Photography Terms
All light gives off a different temperature and we measure it in Kelvin.
Daylight is around 5500 Kelvin, whereas fluorescent lighting is closer to 4000 Kelvin.
High-key lighting is achieved by using a lot of light or whites in a photographed scene.
Low-key lighting is achieved by using a lot of darker tones, shadows and blacks in a photographed scene.
Ambient light is also referred to as available light. This is the light that naturally occurs in a scene, without adding a flash or light modifiers.
This is the main source of light for a photograph. It could be natural, such as the sun, or an off-camera flash unit.
The fill light is the secondary light source and used to fill in shadows created by the main light.
A lighting pattern is a way light falls on the subject, where a specific pattern is created.
Chiaroscuro lighting is a great example of this.
A reflector is a piece of equipment, bouncing the light back into the scene without using an extra light.
The reflector tends to bring a softer light and is a cheaper option.
They can be from card or foam board, and not necessarily studio-grade.
We recommend the Neewer 43-inch 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector.
This is harsh or undiffused light, coming from the sun or flash.
It produces hard shadows and well-defined edges, contrast and texture.
A soft light is diffused light, usually found on an overcast day.
It can be strong light diffused to cut down on its harshness.
Extra Equipment Photography Terms
A flash is a device that produces a flash of artificial light for lighting photographic subjects and objects.
This can be built into the camera, or can sit on the camera via the hot shoe.
A remote flash trigger connects the camera and the flash unit when the flash unit is off-camera.
This works using infra-red signals or a wire.
A studio strobe is a flash unit that has lightning fast recycle times. The photographer never has to wait for the flash to catch up.
A hot shoe is a holding area for a flash or other device that allows a connection between the camera and the device.
A cold shoe is a holding area for a flash or other device that doesn’t allow a connection between the camera and device.
A polarising filter is usually placed on the front element of the lens and can help to eliminate reflections, stop glare and even darken skies.
A neutral density filter, usually placed at the front of the lens, limits the amount of light hitting the film or sensor.
These are used for long exposures in the daytime.
A graduated neutral density filter is a neutral density filter, except graduated from the centre upwards.
This helps to darken specific parts of your scene, primarily the sky.
A remote trigger is a device that allows you to take a photograph without pressing the shutter release on your camera.
They can connect via wire or infra-red.
A grey card is a card with a colour of 18% grey. Photographing this before any photographic shoot will help you ascertain a correct white balance from the light found in the scene.
Extension tubes are used to further extend the zoomable area of lenses in macro photography.
They come in x1, x2 and x3 options. A 100mm macro lens with the extension tube x3 turns your lens into the equivalent of a 300mm lens.
They sit between the camera body and the lens.
A teleconverter is used to further extend the focal length of a telephoto lens. They come in x1, x2 and x3 options.
A 200mm telephoto lens with the teleconverter x3 turns your lens into the equivalent of a 600mm lens.
They sit between the camera body and the lens.
Chimping is constantly looking at your images on the LCD screen while missing perfect photographic opportunities.
Stopping down refers to increasing the numerical f-stop number (for example, going from f/4 to f/5.6), which decreases lens aperture.
This reduces the amount of light entering the lens.
Opening up refers to decreasing the numerical f-stop number (for example, going from f/5.6 to f/4), which increases lens aperture.
This increases the amount of light entering the lens.
A flag or Gobo is a piece of material that stops unwanted light hitting part or all of your scene.
Especially common with fashion and product photography.
Shutter lag is the delay between triggering the shutter and when the photograph is actually captured.
What photographers call each other.
Common alternative name for lens.
Fast glass is a lens that can stop down to a ‘fast’ aperture, namely f/1.4-f/2.8.
Spray and Pray
Spray and pray means firing multiple images in succession, hoping that one of them will be good.
Overexposed areas in your image that have received an abundance of light are considered blown-out as all detail is missing.
Grip and Grin
Capturing of two people shaking hands and grinning at the camera.
They can also be exchanging something, for example, an award or present.
SOOC stands for Straight Out Of Camera, meaning an image that has received no editing or post-production.
Dust bunnies are balls of dirt and fluff found in and around your camera gear.
A nifty fifty is a 50mm standard lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 or faster.
Shooting wide open is using the aperture at its widest and fastest f-stop, usually f/1.4 – f/2.8.
Jpeg stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It’s a file extension for a lossy graphics file.
The Jpeg file extension is used interchangeably with Jpg.
A camera raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, image scanner, or motion picture film scanner.
It can be upwards of five times bigger than a Jpeg image. They are often called digital negatives.
A Digital Negative is a patented, open, non-free lossless raw image format written by Adobe and used for digital photography.
Exchangeable Image File Format is a standard that specifies the formats for images, sound, and ancillary tags used by digital cameras.
This is where all of the image’s information is found, such as aperture, f-stop and ISO.
Tagged Image File Format, abbreviated TIFF or TIF, is a computer file format for storing raster graphics images, popular among photographers.
Printing / Editing Photography Terms
CMYK refers to the four inks used in some colour printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black).
The RGB colour model is an additive colour model. Red, green and blue light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colours.
Metadata in photography is information that describes image files. As with all sorts of metadata, it contains information on who made it, when, using what.
EXIF data is also metadata.
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 and in between these two are the mid tones.
These are neither completely black or white.
Pixel means picture element, and every digital image is made from them.
They are the smallest unit of information, usually round or square, and arranged in a 2-d grid.
Dots per inch measures the dot density found within an inch of a printed image. Don’t confuse this with PPI.
A watermark is an identifying image or text, designed to protect photographers’ images from copyright theft.
All photographic images have an aspect ratio. A square image used on
Instagram has an aspect ratio of 1:1. 8×10″ images have an aspect ratio of 2:3.
Crop or cropping refers to cutting away unwanted areas of a photograph, or changing its aspect ratio.
An image with high contrast will exhibit a full range of tones from black to white, with dark shadows and bright highlights.
The mid tones refer to the tonal range found between the highlights (light areas) and shadows (dark areas)
Lightest areas within an image.
Darkest areas within an image.
Photography Terms for Problems
An image or part of an image that doesn’t receive sufficient light for a proper exposure.
Dark, and often with a loss of detail and contrast.
An image or part of an image that receives too much light to be a proper exposure.
Light, and often with a loss of detail and contrast.
The effect produced by the refraction of different wavelengths of light through slightly different angles.
It results in a failure to focus and a coloured halo around objects in the frame.
Digital noise refers to the low-quality grain found on images captured using a high ISO.
Camera shake is the resulting blur found in images when you capture 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.
This photography terms refers to the warping and distortion due to the relative scale of nearby and distant features.
The top of a building will fall away, as it is farthest away from the film plane or sensor. Also known as Parallax Error.
Fringing is the photography terms for an out-of-focus purple or magenta “ghost” image on a photograph, due to Chromatic Aberration.
Moiré occurs when a scene or an object contains repetitive details, such as lines, that exceed the sensor resolution.
As a result, the camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern.
Red Eye occurs when a camera captures light reflecting from the retina at the back of your subject’s eye.
This happens when using a flash at night and in dim lighting.
Vignetting refers to a ‘light fall-off’ and means the darkening of image corners, compared to the centre.
Lenses and/or using external tools such as filters and lens hoods cause these.
Lens flare is where light is scattered or flared in a lens, due to bright light, producing a sometimes undesirable effect.
Motion blur occurs when the object is moving faster than your shutter speed can handle, resulting in a blurred effect on the moving subject.
Do you want to test your photography knowledge? Check out our new photography quiz post next!