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 photographer terms. Fair warning, there’s a lot of them. You can even bookmark this article, and search through it at your convenience.
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A key part of any lens. It’s an iris mechanism, which controls the amount of light that gets through the lens. It also affects the depth of field.
The relative size of the aperture is described by the f-number. The f-number (or f-stop) is the ratio of the lens opening and the focal length. As the number decreases, the aperture physically gets wider. More light passes and depth of field gets thinner.
Focal length is one of the most important photography terminologies you will need. This is the distance between the centre of a lens and its point of focus inside the lens.
This number is expressed in mm and written on the outside of the lens. 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. For more information on this, see our What Does Crop Sensor Mean? article.
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. As far as camera terms go, you’ll need this when looking for a new lens.
As we looked at above, you have the choice of two different lenses. 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 type of lens is designed specifically for close focusing.
One of the most common higher-end macro lenses is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM.
Are you looking to photograph insects, flowers or something more abstract? Then this is one of the most important camera terms to know.
Try our Macro Magic course to become an expert in macro photography!
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.
You might have heard of this before, but not known what it meant. Now you know one of the basic photography terms.
A camera lens with a wider view than a standard lens. The focal length of wide-angle lenses is smaller than the diagonal size of the film format.
Wide-angle lenses have 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.
In terms of photography vocabulary, this is one of the most important camera terms.
A standard lens could be the first lens you own. Thanks to our list of photo terms, you now know what it is.
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.
Telephoto lenses are lenses with focal lengths longer than standard. Together with a narrow field of view, this means a “zoomed-in” image.
These lenses have a focal length of equivalent 70mm to 200mm and an angle of view between 30° and 10°.
A common choice is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM.
A super-telephoto lens is larger than a standard telephoto lens. Knowing the difference is important, especially if you are photographing subjects very far away.
These have a focal length of at least (equivalent) 200mm and a field of view from 8° to 1°. A common, relatively inexpensive choice is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM.
Tilt-shift lenses give you extensive perspective and focal control. They are generally expensive.
The position and angle of some lens elements can be independently changed in such lenses. This allows them to be moved and tilted relative to the sensor.
You can correct perspective (useful in architectural photography) and modify the plane of focus.
The latter is often used to create a ‘miniature effect’, where the scene looks tiny. The effect is possible to be created with Photoshop as well, albeit less precisely.
The Canon TS-E 24mm is a popular choice.
Image stabilisation was introduced to lenses in the late ’90s and to camera bodies a few years ago.
Such lenses have a built-in gyroscope and moving lens element(s). In stabilised camera bodies, the sensor moves according to a gyroscope in the body.
This cuts down motion blur by compensating on pan and tilt movements. Handholding your camera is thus possible at longer shutter speeds.
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 might not be the most needed photography terminology unless you are researching a new lens.
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.
Knowing about this photography vocabulary word can help you get the best out of your images.
A lens hood blocks light coming from the sides from causing unwanted reflections and flares. A must-have if you’re 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.
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 way, the photographer can see directly through the lens.
The mirror flips up when the shutter is open to allow light to expose the film.
It is a handy photography vocabulary word to know, especially when looking for a new camera.
Twin Lens Reflex. A vintage camera type.
TLR cameras have two separate lenses. These lenses are designed with the same focal length, the top one is usually darker. With the top one, you can focus and compose the scene. The bottom one is solely used to take the photograph.
A DSLR is the same as an SLR, where the only difference being this is the digital version (Digital Single Lens Reflex). 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 is either 6×4.5 (the 645 standard), 6×6 or 6×7, 6×9 or even 6×17. These numbers, unlike in large format, are the lengths of the sides in centimetres.
Medium format cameras are usually modular. This means you can interchange lenses, backs, viewfinders, grips, and more. Technically, Polaroid cameras are also medium-format.
Knowing the difference between the sizes of these cameras is important. For your photography terminology, as well as the detail in your negatives.
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.
Mirrorless camera systems are a fairly recent development in digital photography. By removing the mirror, cameras can be faster, lighter and quieter.
This means that you can no longer look through the lens optically when composing. Instead, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and/or a digital screen is used.
Technically, smartphones and compact cameras also count as ‘mirrorless’. But the term generally refers to more advanced devices, MILCs. This abbreviation means Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera.
A point-and-shoot camera is also known as a compact camera. They are 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. You can create photographs and videos you can move around in.
The complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor is a type of imaging sensor. It’s used in modern imaging systems, such as DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
Compared to CCD, they operate at significantly lower voltages, consuming less power.
They were once considered an inferior technology. Today, they have been vastly improved and are the more common sensor type of the two.
A charge-coupled device is a semiconductor device.
CCDs differ from CMOS sensors in that 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.
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, with an aspect ratio of 3:2.
This gives a lens a crop factor of 1.5-1.6x, meaning your 50mm lens is effectively an 80mm.
You can find these in manufacturers’ entry-level and midrange cameras.
The Advanced Photo System type H is also an image sensor format, with a size between full-frame and APS-C. They give a crop factor of 1.3x, meaning your 50mm lens is effectively a 65mm. These were specifically used in the original Canon 1D line.
Full frame sensors have a size of 36x24mm.
It offers high image quality and resolution and can handle low-lit scenes with less noise than smaller formats. For more information, see our Full Frame vs Crop Sensor article.
Micro Four Thirds (MFT or M4/3) can refer to a lens mount or a sensor format. The MFT 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 crop factor of 2x.
As we took away 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, which you see via the LCD screen on the back of the camera.
You’ll find the liquid-crystal display (LCD) screen at the back of your camera.
It shows you an electronic view of the scene or your captured images.
A low-pass filter, also known as anti-aliasing or “blur” filter, eliminates the problem of moiré.
However, you have to be aware, that with this type of filter, more delicate details can get lost.
The dynamic range measures the range of light intensities from shadows, to highlights.
Sensors with a higher dynamic range offer more flexibility during shooting and also editing. They are also more expensive.
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.
In terms of editing, it gives you room to play around.
As one of the most basic photography terms, it will be handy to know what you get from your sensor.
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 in real-time.
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.
There are also external light meters, which are essential if you’re shooting with large format systems. 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 has a built-in rangefinder feature.
This way, the photographer can calculate his subject’s actual distance from the camera. A rangefinder camera is known for taking sharp images.
In terms of which camera to buy, this is an important term to know about.
Metering Photography Terms
Matrix metering (Nikon), which is 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 are photographing 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.
When you don’t want to look at the whole scene for correct exposure, centre-weighted metering evaluates the light in the middle of the frame.
It doesn’t look at where you focus, as it assumes you are concentrating on the centre of the image.
A type of light metering 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 Organization for Standardization and also refers to the sensitivity of the photographic film. Although, it is not a true acronym as this is not a direct reference to the organization. The union of the two film standards called ASA (American) and DIN (German) brought this name to a different perspective as the whole operation was under the auspices of the organization called ISO. Later on, this phrase became more famous for its photographic aspect as they referred to ISO as sensitivity after the event.
ISO became an important value in digital photography as most of the camera brands used this term to describe the brightness level and sensitivity in their DSLR’s.
Generally, a higher ISO allows you to photograph in low light conditions, but with a trade-off in quality.
Some modern cameras have the capacity to utilize a maximum ISO of up to 3,280,000 (although bringing along poor image quality).
This is one of the most important and basic photography terms to know.
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’. These numbers here are fractions of a second (1/400th of a second, in this example). If shooting for longer than a second, it’s displayed as 1″ (or longer).
Shutter speed directly influences motion blur. At slow shutter speeds, the shutter will stay open longer, resulting in more visible blurring.
Aperture Priority, also known as A or Av, is a camera setting mode.
You can set the aperture as desired, shutter speed (and ISO, if set to auto) 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, and aperture changes automatically.
Burst mode is also known as continuous shooting mode.
This continuous shooting mode captures a number of photos in a fast sequence.
As far as photography terms go, you might only need to know about this if you’re capturing action, wildlife, or sports.
Exposure is the quantity of light reaching a photographic film or digital sensor.
‘Exposure value’ or EV, is a standardised measurement of exposure.
It’s a logarithmic scale, where lower values are darker, higher values are brighter. 0 EV is the luminance (brightness) of exposure at ISO 100, 1 second and f/1.0.
Any exposure setting that has the same luminance as this (for example, ISO 400, 1/2 second and f/1.4), will also be 0 EV.
1 EV is twice as bright, for instance, 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, one stop lower is half the brightness. So, when we say ‘3 EV lower’, we mean 8 times darker.
Exposure Compensation 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.
A very handy photography vocabulary word to know.
Every light source gives off a different temperature, which can be measured in Kelvin. The white balance is a camera setting that gives you the correct color in your image.
You can choose from different settings suitable for different conditions such as daylight, cloudy, etc.
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. This allows you to define a different button for focusing, other than the shutter release. On most cameras, there is a dedicated AF-ON button for this purpose.
This helps 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 the duration you keep the shutter release button pressed down.
This is best used with a remote shutter release.
It is very handy to know about when capturing long-exposures.
Photography Terms for Techniques
This is a photographic optical illusion. It is 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 are sharply in focus.
A large DoF will keep most of the image in focus, while a small one will show a very small area in focus. DoF is controlled by using the lens’ aperture. With tilt-shift lenses, you can control the direction in which DoF changes.
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.
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.
Synchronizing the firing of a photographic flash with the opening of the shutter and curtain to expose the film or sensor.
Rules for Great Images
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, at f/22 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.
This is only for calculation. You shouldn’t use either f/16 or f/22 unless you have a specific purpose with it. Apertures narrower than f/11 degrade image sharpness.
Overcast 8 (And f11 and f/5.6 variants)
Use f/11 when the sky is variable, use f/8 in cloudy weather, but not really dark, and use f/5.6 for bad weather, such as rain.
In order to take breath-taking photos of the surface of the moon, use an f/11 aperture 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.
Soft light is diffused light, usually found on an overcast day.
It can be strong light diffused to cut down on its harshness.
Photography Definitions for Extra Equipment
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. With this, you will never have to stand by until the flash recovers.
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. It can help to eliminate reflections, stop glare and even darken skies.
A neutral density filter limits the amount of light that hits 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 color 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 translates to increasing the number of the f-stop. The higher the number, the smaller the aperture.
This reduces the amount of light entering the lens.
Opening up translates to decreasing the number of the f-stop. The lower the number, the larger the aperture.
By opening up, more light will enter 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 territory midway to setting the shutter off and capturing the image.
A common alternative name for a lens. Fast glass is a lens that can stop down to a ‘fast’ aperture, namely f/1.4-f/2.8.
Overexposed areas in your image that have received an abundance of light are considered blown-out as all detail is missing.
SOOC stands for Straight Out Of Camera, meaning an image that has received no editing or post-production.
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 the same as Jpg.
Raw image files contain unprocessed pixel data, either uncompressed or minimally compressed. They offer extensive editability and flexibility. In turn, you always have to edit and tweak them, and then export them to another file format (usually Jpeg).
It can be upwards of five times bigger than a Jpeg image. They are often called digital negatives.
Abbreviation for “Digital Negative”. As a container file, it not only consists of the image itself. It also holds non-destructive editing information. Because of this, DNGs can be moved more easily, you don’t have search for their sidecar .xmp files.
DNG also offers more future compatibility than brand-specific raw files.
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” is a file format. It’s flexible, allowing for a ton of different compression rates and algorithms, bit depths, and other variations. 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 Used in Printing and Editing
CMYK refers to the four inks used in some color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black).
The RGB color model is supplementary in nature. Red, green, and blue light are, in different ways, mixed together to create a wide range of colors.
Metadata is the additional information that describes (image) files.
Metadata tells you the author, the creation date, the camera device, and many more of a digital photograph.
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. 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 up of them.
They are the smallest unit of image information.
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. But we have other standard ones such as 2:3, 4:5, 5:7 and 16:9.
Crop or cropping refers to cutting away unwanted areas of a photograph or changing its aspect ratio.
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.
The midtones 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 proper exposures.
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 colored 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 term 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 term for a purple “ghost” image on a photograph, apparent near contrasting edges. A type of 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.
We call it red-eye effect when the eyes of the person you’re photographing mirror the light back at your camera.
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. This produces a sometimes undesirable effect.
Motion blur blur occurs when the object is moving faster than your shutter speed can handle. This results in a blurred effect on the moving subject.