If you are new to photography and find some of the common photography terms, definitions and jargon confusing, not to worry. Help is right here! You will want to bookmark or print this list of photography words for easy reference.
In this article, I will explain 49 commonly encountered photography terms, words and phrases that you need to know and understand. To confuse you even further, many of the camera manufacturers use different terms for the same thing. I’ll try and mention those where it’s applicable.
Let’s get started and I’ll help you sort them all out. If I missed any, let me know in the comment area below the article and I can add them to this already epically long photography terms list!
Basic Photography Terms
Click on any of the items below to jump to that term instantly:
- Aspect ratio
- Camera shake
- Card reader
- Chromatic aberration
- Crop sensor camera
- Depth of Field
- Drive mode
- Exposure Compensation
- Exposure Triangle
- EV or Exposure Value
- File formats
- Fisheye lens
- Flash Sync
- F-stop or f-number
- Focal length
- Focus modes
- Frames per second
- Full Frame Camera
- Hot shoe
Aperture is defined simply as the opening in the lens through which the light enters and passes through to the camera. The aperture is made up of a series of blades that form a circular opening and it is located inside the lens.
Think of the aperture like the pupil in your eye. It opens and closes to adjust the amount of light it lets in so you can see. The aperture is very much the same.
The size of the aperture controls the amount of light passing through. It is also the setting you will adjust to control the depth of field or how much of the image is in focus.
This is the first part of the exposure triangle.
The aspect ratio is what determines the shape and proportions of your image. Standard digital cameras use a 3:2 aspect ratio.
What that means is if you need a square image for Instagram, or a panoramic one for a Facebook banner, your image will need to be cropped to fit those proportions.
Most photo editing programs have a crop tool where you can set the aspect ratio and/or lock it so you can make sure you get the exact crop you want.
Camera shake is a vibration or movement of the camera which can cause blurry images.
It is most often caused by hand holding the camera at a shutter speed that is too slow. Any slight movement of your hands while taking the photo will cause camera shake.
Follow this rule to ensure you are using a fast enough shutter speed to eliminate this problem.
A card reader is a small device that connects your camera’s memory card to your computer.
I HIGHLY recommend getting one similar to this and using it instead of plugging your camera into the computer directly.
The drawbacks of downloading directly from the camera are:
- It is much slower than using a card reader.
- If the camera battery dies the card could error which could result in partial or total image loss.
Most card readers are less than $30, just get one!
Chromatic aberration occurs when the three colors (RGB) captured by the camera as separate layers on the sensor, are not properly aligned with one another.
This is an anomaly that occurs usually with entry-level or lower quality lenses, particularly wide-angle ones.
What that looks like is a slight color outline around the edges of things, most commonly on the edge of the image in high contrast areas. It usually appears as purple or magenta/green or red/cyan.
In the image above you can see the purple (red arrow) on one side and green (blue arrow) aberration on the other side.
This is also an easy fix in your chosen photo editing software. In most cases, you simply tick off a check box and the program fixes it for you. If it doesn’t and it’s really bad, you may need to consider upgrading your lens to a better quality one.
Crop sensor camera
You may have heard this photography term before and if you are new to photography and just got your first digital camera, it is likely a crop sensor one. The other alternative is full-frame which is over $2000+ just for the camera body.
The short definition of a crop sensor camera is one that has a smaller digital sensor than the old 35mm film format. It is often called APS-C format.
Rather than explain in great detail here, read this complete article on the subject to see how it affects you and what you need to know: What Does Having a Crop Sensor Camera Really Mean?
Depth of Field (DoF or DOF)
The depth of field is the amount of your image that is in sharp focus. It is affected by two things:
- The aperture chosen (smaller aperture = more depth of field)
- The distance to the subject
Here are two extremes as examples.
The old house above was shot at f/22 so that the doorway and the chair and setting inside would both be sharp. This option is commonly used by landscape and macro photographers to keep more of the image in focus.
The costumed character below was shot at f/2.4 (a large aperture, remember the pie). That kept their face sharp but made the background and the tip of the telescope out of focus. This style is common for portraits because it puts more attention on the subject.
You may have heard that the focal length of your lens also affects it, but that is another myth. Yes, a wide-angle lens may seem to have more depth of field but it has more to do with the distance to the subject. It’s a complicated subject I can’t get into here.
Read more here: How to use Depth of Field
Drive mode is about how many and how fast the camera captures images. Most cameras have a few different options as follows:
- Single shot – the camera takes one single image with each press of the shutter button.
- Continuous low burst mode – the camera takes photos continuously as long as the shutter button is held down. This is the slower of the two burst modes (shooting multiple images in rapid succession).
- Continous high burst mode– the camera shoots continuously at the maximum frames per second rate your camera offers (while the shutter button is depressed fully).
- Self-timer mode – this mode allows you to set a timer from 2-10 seconds (depending on your camera) so you can run and get into the photo, or just avoid camera shake when using a tripod.
Note: The names for the different drive modes may vary from one camera manufacturer to the next.
You may also hear the term frames per second (fps) see below for more on that.
This is an easy one, it is just an abbreviation for Digital Single Lens Reflex which is a standard interchangeable lens camera.
If you can remove the lens on your camera, and you see a mirror behind the lens – then you have a DSLR. If there is no mirror and you see the imaging sensor, then you have a mirrorless camera (more on that later).
In the diagram below, you can see the different parts of a DSLR.
When you press the shutter button, the aperture (1) in the lens closes to the f-stop setting chosen, the mirror inside the camera body (2) flips up out of the way, the shutter inside the camera opens (3) – and light hits the digital sensor (4) capturing the image.
When you are using one of the camera’s semi-automatic modes (Aperture or Shutter Priority) you can use this setting to either increase or decrease the EV (Exposure Value) or amount.
Increasing the exposure compensation to +1 brightens the image one stop (double the amount of light. Decreasing it to -1 darkens the image by one stop. Just remember plus brightens, and minus darkens.
Use exposure compensation when the camera gets the exposure wrong. Subjects that are really dark or all black, or ones that are all white will trick the camera’s metering system.
Because the camera tries to average the scene and match 18% grey (middle grey), subjects that aren’t middle grey will be incorrectly exposed. In the example image below of a black camera bag, you can see how that plays out.
Exposure compensation of -1.66 (one and ⅔ of a stop) was needed to correct the issue.
Read More: What Is Exposure Compensation on Your Camera and How To Use It Properly
The exposure triangle is made up of the three elements that work together to set the exposure value for your image. You can adjust any of the three to increase or decrease the amount of light but how you do so changes the look of the image.
Think of it as a 3-way teeter-totter (are you old enough to remember those? I am!). When one of these settings goes up, another has to go down. There are many different combinations of how they can work together so it’s essential you learn this key element.
The components of the exposure triangle are:
- Shutter speed
Ev or Exposure Value
Exposure value is a numerical value that quantifies the amount of light hitting the digital imaging sensor. This is the actual mathematical formula. But in practice, you don’t need to memorize or use this.
All you need to know is that the EV is the amount of light required for a given scene. You can achieve the same exposure in many different ways by adjusting the aperture and the shutter speed (ISO as well).
For example, the following all produce the same EV or the same amount of light hitting the sensor (if the ISO remains constant):
- f/2 at 1/1000th
- f/8 at 1/60th of a second
- f/16 at 1/15th of a second
Read more below about Fast Glass to see why having a lens with a large maximum aperture is desirable. But can you see how you need a smaller f-number (f/2) in order to get a faster shutter speed (1/1000th)?
File formats (JPG versus RAW)
When you set up your camera for the first time, one of the options you’ll have to choose is the file format. You’ll have a choice between JPG and RAW.
For more detailed information on that read: Why shoot in RAW format…
The short answer here on which you should choose depends on two things:
- Do you plan on doing any image processing?
- Do you have a photo editing software that can handle the camera raw files?
If you said NO to one or both of the above questions, then set your camera to JPG.
If you do plan to eventually edit your images and you have something like Luminar AI, Luminar Neo, Lightroom, Photoshop (even Elements) or ON1 Photo Raw then set your camera to RAW.
One thing you need to know – if you decide to shoot RAW they MUST be processed.
You cannot post them online, email them to friends, or order prints from your local lab from a raw file. So if you aren’t quite ready for that yet – set your camera to shoot both RAW and JPG, then you have options.
NOTE: Always set the image quality to the highest level and largest files. You may need larger SD memory cards but it’s worth doing so. You never want to be in the position of having taken a small JPG and not being able to print it later because it’s too small.
From time to time your camera manufacturer will create updates for the internal software for the camera. This is called firmware. It is beneficial to update your camera (lenses too) when updates come out.
To do so just Google “firmware update” and add the model name and brand of your camera. For example, I’d search for Fuji XT3 firmware update
Then just follow the directions on the manufacturer’s website to download and install it on your camera. You will need an empty and formatted memory card.
A fisheye lens is one that is extra wide, almost to the point of the image being rounded on the edges or a total circle. On a full-frame camera, a fish-eye is in the 12-15mm range, a crop sensor is 8-12mm.
They can be tricky to use as you have to get really close to the subject to make a good image. Here are a couple of examples I make with my Rokinon 8mm lens on my Fuji crop sensor camera.
The definition of Flash Sync is the maximum (fastest) shutter speed you can set the camera to when using flash. If you use a faster one you will see dark bands across the image because the shutter is closing faster than the flash fires.
The image above is an example of what happens when you go over the flash sync speed. Just reduce the shutter speed to 1/200th to solve this issue. To find the exact flash sync speed for your camera (most are between 1/200th and 1/250th), consult the user manual.
Read more about flash and sync speed here: How to Use Your Flash – What all the Buttons and Settings Mean
If you’re getting value out of this list of photography terminology, consider giving it a tweet!
F-stop or f-number
This is where the aperture might get tricky and confuse you. The size of the aperture is called the f-number or f-stop. The larger the opening, the smaller the number.
For example, in the image below you see that f/1.8 is a very large opening and f/11 is much smaller.
This is the formula used to assign a number to the lens opening: f/stop = focal length divided by the diameter of the opening in the lens.
Is that a bit counterintuitive or confusing to you? It gets even more complicated when we add in Depth of Field (DoF). But let me try and simplify it for you.
Notice the way the f-number is displayed with a slash after the letter? That’s because the number represents the result of a mathematical equation and it is actually a fraction just like ½ or 1/8th.
Look at it this way. Would you rather have 1/22nd of a pie or ½?
The focal length refers to the distance between the exact middle of your lens and the imaging sensor. That’s the definition, but what it means in real terms is that the focal length of your lens affects how the image appears, the angle of view captured.
More on normal and telephoto lenses later.
What you need to understand about the focal length is that the smaller the number like 18mm, the wider angle of view the lens sees. A 200mm lens is a narrowed and more zoomed-in view.
As well as the angle of view, the amount of perspective or distortion changes from wide to long lenses. See the example images below (note: she did not move from one frame to the next, only the focal length and distance from her to the camera were changed).
Read this for more on choosing the right focal length for your given subject: Camera Lenses Explained – How to Choose the Right Lens For the Job
Focus modes are the various options your camera offers in regards to autofocus. Most cameras have an option for One-Shot (AF-S) where the focus locks on the subject and another that focuses continually on a moving subject (AI Servo or AF-C).
You’ll notice that once again the camera makers couldn’t get it together and pick one standard name for the different focus modes. So check your camera’s user manual to learn more about the options you have with your model.
I’ve written a more in-depth article on focus modes and focus settings. Read this to get more info and to download a free cheat sheet to help you: How to Get Sharper Photos – 6 Essential Settings You Need to Know
Frames per second
This might be obvious, but in case it’s not, frames per second is the number of frames the camera can capture in a second when shooting in burst mode. Low will usually be somewhere around 2-4 frames per second and high is between 5-10 but could be as many as 20 (only high-end cameras offer that kind of speed).
You’ll likely never need the super high frames per second (FPS or fps) rates though unless you plan on doing sports or bird photography. If so and you are considering getting a new camera, read the following article before you make any decisions: How to Choose the Best Digital Camera for You
Full frame camera
Previously we discussed crop sensor cameras, this is the other side of the coin. Full frame digital sensors are the equivalent size to the old 35mm film frames. They have a higher resolution and usually perform better at higher ISO and in low light conditions.
Read this before you consider doing an upgrade: 7 Questions to Ask Before You Upgrade to a Full Frame Camera Body
HDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range which is a scene that has a large contrast between the darkest and lightest areas.
In photography, it’s also come to be known as a style. It is most often created by taking exposure bracketed images and merging them together to get one file that contains details across the entire tonal range.
This is an intermediate or more advanced technique and requires software that can merge the images such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Aurora HDR, or others.
Learn more about HDR here:
- How to do HDR Photography the RIGHT way! (this was a webinar I did that you can purchase now if you want to learn more)
- To HDR or Not – When and If You Should Use HDR?
- Guide to Using Merge to HDR in Lightroom Effectively
- 10 tips on how to do HDR photos without a tripod
The histogram is a little graph that represents the tonal values and range of an image. It will help you get the best exposure for any given scene if you learn how to read and use it properly.
Your camera can display the histogram with image playback if you have a DSLR. If you shoot mirrorless though you get the added benefit of seeing the histogram while you’re shooting in the actual viewfinder.
The histogram is also useful when doing photo editing to make sure you maintain detail in critical areas. Read this for more on how to use the histogram in your photography: Why is the snow gray in my winter photos?
The hot shoe is the little slot on top of your camera where you can attach an external flash or speedlight. Contacts on the camera and flash connect so they can communicate and help you get the right exposure.
Read more: How to Use Your Flash – Tips for Total Beginners
Image stabilization (IS/VR)
Image stabilizaation is an anti-shake mechanism inside your lens that helps reduce camera shake when you are hand-holding the camera. Canon and many others call it Image Stabilization, while Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction.
You may also have in-body image stabilization (IBIS) which is similar but located in the camera, not the lens.
Turn this ON whenever you are shooting hand-held.
Turn it OFF when you are using a tripod.
Some manufactures will tell you that the camera is smart enough to know it’s on a tripod and automatically disable this feature – but I don’t trust it.
Do it yourself. Having it on while mounted to a tripod can actually cause vibrations.
ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization which has little meaning in terms of what you need to know about it.
The short definition is that the ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera’s digital sensor to light. The lower the number the less sensitive, and the higher the number the more sensitive.
Note: If you are a true die-hard and you want the real scientific definition of ISO it is the signal-to-noise ratio. If you want to read a more scientific explanation CLICK HERE.
One drawback of increasing the ISO though is that you also get the following:
- Decreased contrast and saturation
- Decreased sharpness
- Increased image noise (graininess)
But don’t be afraid of increasing it and using a high ISO when necessary.
Read more: How to Overcome Your Fear of High ISO and Take Sharper Photos.
Lens flare is something that can occur when the sun or a bright light source hits the front of your lens element. Lens coatings and high-quality filters can help minimize this phenomenon.
But you can also use it as a design element and choose to incorporate it into your images on purpose. The following images are all examples of lens flare and how it might manifest in your images.
If you wish to avoid lens flare make sure you use a lens hood on all your lenses and try to keep the sun from hitting your lens. It becomes really difficult if you are shooting into the sun. Sometimes using your hand to shade the lens can help.
Read more: How to Create Sun Flares for Effect In-Camera
A macro lens is one that can get closer than a regular lens. The minimum focusing distance (how close you can get to the subject) is smaller, allowing you to get a greater magnification of the subject on the digital sensor.
A true macro lens is one that produces the subject at 1:1 size on the sensor. Micro is the term that Nikon uses for this kind of lens.
Read more here: Macro Photography – How to Use a Macro Lens.
You’ll see this photography term in conjunction with your camera, such as 24MP. It represents the actual pixel size of the images that the camera is capable of producing.
For example, if your camera resolution is 4000×6000, if you do the actual math on that the result is 24,000,000 or 24 million (mega) pixels. Get it now?
The higher the megapixels count, the large the file, and the larger you can print the image and retain high quality.
But the size of the pixels also matters as all pixels are not created equally.
A mobile phone with a 16MP camera will not produce the same quality as an APS-C crop sensor DSLR or mirrorless camera because the sensor size is a lot smaller in the phone (refer to the chart above under Full Frame)
Metadata is information that is stored inside your image files about all sorts of things. It includes technical data about how the image was made which is added automatically by most cameras. You can also add metadata manually such as copyright information, titles, captions, keywords, etc.
Metadata captured by the camera includes (but is not limited to) things such as:
- The camera that took the image including make, model and serial number
- Which lens you used
- The focal length
- The exposure information (camera mode, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, metering mode, exposure compensation, etc.)
- Whether or not the flash fired
- Date and time the image was captured
- Where it was captured (if your camera has GPS)
- The file size, original camera name
- and more . . .
Metadata you can add to your images includes (but isn’t limited to):
- Copyright information (you can add your name, email, and copyright status)
- Keywords (helpful for searching images to find all your flower images for example)
NOTE: This is about the least sexy and exciting part of photography but if you do this well it will make your images easier to find and organize later.
Your digital camera has the ability to read the amount of light falling on your subject. Then, depending on the shooting mode you’re using, it will either suggest or choose the camera settings needed to capture a good exposure. This is called metering – the act of measuring the amount of light.
Most cameras have three or four standard metering modes (the names may be slightly different).
- Matrix (Nikon) or Evaluative (Canon) – the camera reads the entire scene in the frame and tries to balance the highlights and shadows for the best overall exposure. It is often the default and this is the one I suggest you use most often. It measures 100% of the image area.
- Center-weighted average – the camera looks more at the center of the frame and uses only part of the scene to take light measurements (60-80% depending on the camera).
In the image above the circles represent (approximations only):
- Red – the area that center-weighted metering will measure
- Blue – the area that partial metering will measure
- Yellow – the area that spot metering will measure
- Spot metering – This mode only meters a very small area of the image (about 1-3%) at the same point there the autofocus is locked. This mode is good for backlit subjects or difficult lighting, but I do NOT recommend using this mode unless are you an intermediate to expert level photographer. AVOID this mode if you are a beginner!
- Partial Metering (Canon offers this, other brands do not have it) – This is an additional option for most Canon cameras and is between Center-weighted and Spot. The camera meters around the area where the camera is focused. It measures about 6-10% of the total image area.
So you can see that if your subject isn’t centered, the center-weighted metering may not work as well for you such as the image below. This is one case where you may want to actually use spot metering (a backlit subject).
- Three Ways to Fix Dark Backlit People Photos.
- Exposure Versus Metering Modes – What Are They, How To Use Them?
A mirrorless camera is an interchangeable lens camera that does not have a mirror inside the body. That makes the camera body width narrower than a traditional DSLR.
There are a few pros and cons of mirrorless cameras:
- Smaller and lighter than most DSLRs
- Benefit of previewing the exposure and histogram prior to taking the photo
- Totally silent shooting option for full-stealth mode
- Innovative technologies (Fuji, Sony, Olympus are ahead of the game here)
- There is no mirror flipping up and down to cause virbrations and possibly camera shake.
- The price tag can be high (counter intuitive to what you might expect, it often costs more to make things smaller)
- Some people dislike the electronic viewfinder EVF (eye piece)
- Batttery life (they go through them faster due to the EVF
Read more here: Mirrorless Cameras – Everything You Wanted to Know
There are also large-format mirrorless cameras that offer an even large sensor than a full-frame.
Read more here: Fujifilm GFX 50S Field Test at the Venice Carnival.
When you are doing photo editing on your computer, it matters how your screen or monitor is set up. The brightness level needs to be adjusted correctly as does the color, otherwise, you will get unexpected results when posting your images online or printing them.
To properly do monitor calibration you need a small device to assist you. I use one made by Xrite called i1Display Pro, but it’s been replaced. Check out the one below instead called Color Checker Calibrate (pro version available as well).
Is it 100% necessary to do this? No.
But if you get to the point where you want your images to match everywhere (on your screen, on your phone, online, in print, photo books, etc.) then this is what you will need.
Noise is a photography term that is defined as having a speckled or grainy look to your image that appears when certain conditions exist. Many people believe it is solely high ISO that causes noise but that is a myth.
Can you see the difference between the two images above? One was shot at ISO 200 and the other was at ISO 25,600. No?
Well, when I zoom in to 100% view to compare, can you see it now?
There is also an overall dullness, lack of sharpness, and lower color saturation in the right image. But keep in mind that ISO 25,600 is quite extreme and this was shot in 2013 with a Canon 5D Mark III. Newer cameras perform at this level surprisingly well.
Any and all of the following create noise in your image:
- High ISO – over 1600 in cameras 5 years old or newer
- Long exposures – the longer the exposure, the more the sensor heats up causing noise
- Underexposure – if the image is too dark and you fix it in processing, you will see more noise in an underexposed image at ISO 100 than a correctly exposed one at ISO 1600
- Blue – most noise lives in the blue channel (RedGreenBlue blue is one layer in your image) so night images, blue hour, and the shadow areas is where you’ll see more noise.
But all is not lost! This is what effective noise reduction and sharpening in the processing phase can do!
Read this to see how to combat or remove noise in your images: How to do Noise Reduction – Software Comparison and Recommendations.
A normal lens is one that approximately reproduces the angle of view of your eyes. So it depends on the kind of camera you are using as to what focal length is considered normal.
Here are a few sizes and their matching normal lens:
- Full frame camera – 50mm
- Crop sensor camera – 35mm
- Micro Four Thirds camera (like some Olympus or Panasonic models) – 25mm
- Medium format – 62mm
Getting a lens like this is a great option for a good walking-around lens. You can get a simple prime 50mm lens (or whatever is the equivalent for your camera as listed above) fairly inexpensively. More on prime lenses below.
These are literally the building blocks that make up your image. If you zoom all the way in on your images you will see the pixels, as shown below.
The small inset shows the full image. The tiny little white box outlined in the inset defines the larger area seen above. That is how much I zoomed in on this image – to 1600%! These are the actual pixels in the image.
So where you see “pixels per inch” or 4000×6000 pixels, each one of those squares is one pixel.
Back to talking about our friend the Nifty Fifty, 50mm lens, and its cousins.
A prime lens is one that simply has a fixed focal length, meaning it does NOT zoom. Hence, they are also called fixed lenses so you may hear the two terms used interchangeably.
The benefit of prime lenses is that they are usually less expensive than zooms, smaller, lighter, and have larger maximum apertures. That means you can get creamy, dreamy bokeh in the background of your images like this.
You can also use the large aperture to your advantage to shoot wide-opened when the lighting is dim.
Read more on that here: Tips for Low Light Photography.
Red eye occurs when the flash on your camera fires and the light hits the subject directly and bounces back. What you’re seeing when their eyes turn red is the blood vessels in the person’s eye reflecting the light back from the flash.
This only happens when you are using the pop-up flash that is built into the camera, or a speedlight on top of the camera aimed directly at the subject.
To solve the issue, just get a speedlight that rotates and learn how to bounce the light.
Read more here: How to Use Bounce Flash for Better Photos.
Resolution (dpi and ppi)
DPI stands for dots per inch and ONLY applies when you are printing your images on an inkjet printer!
PPI stands for pixels per inch and ONLY applies when you are printing your images at your local photo lab. If so, you need to know the ppi they use and size your images accordingly (for example 300 ppi).
If you are sizing your images for posting online, neither of those apply. In that case, only the actual pixel size matters (i.e. 800 pixels wide).
Read more: How to Resize Photos for Facebook, Email and Social Media
This is a short one. RGB stands for the three colors that make up all digital images. Each is a layer in your image and together they combine to make all the colors:
SD stands for Secure Digital and is the standard format memory card for most digital cameras.
They come in different sizes and write speeds. If you are shooting sports, birds, anything that requires high-speed burst mode for extended periods, or video – make sure you get ones with fast write speeds.
Choose a good brand name like Sandisk, I’ve never had an issue with a single card they make.
CLICK HERE to see a list of my recommended items for new camera owners which includes some memory cards like the ones I use. I recommend 32GB and 64GB cards and a nice card wallet to keep them all safe.
The shooting or photography mode is the main thing you have to select on your camera when you first begin. Each has pros and cons and varying degrees of the camera versus photographer control.
- Manual – you, the photographer, contols all aspects of the exposure settings.
- Program – the camera chooses the ISO, shutter speed and aperture for you but you have some other options you control (like white balance, focus settings, etc.)
- Auto – the camera has full control of all settings.
- Shutter Priority – semi-automatic mode where you choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture.
- Aperture Priority – semi-automatic mode where you choose the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed.
To learn about these very important shooting modes in more detail and to download a free cheat sheet to help you click here: Camera Modes – Do Real Photographers Only Shoot in Manual Mode?
The shutter is a curtain inside your camera body (right in front of the digital sensor) that opens and closes to let in light.
How much light the shutter allows in is controlled by the length of time it stays open. See below – shutter speed.
The shutter speed then is defined as the amount of time the shutter is opened. It can range all the way from really fast like 1/8000th of a second to medium (1/200th) and on the other end infinitely long (30 seconds or more).
This video shows how the shutter works inside a DSLR camera body. You can see how the mirror flips up for the exposure and how much vibration it can cause (which I mentioned above as one of the pros of mirrorless cameras – they don’t have one!).
Shutter speed is a very common photography term.
The shutter speed you select will also affect the final image if you are photographing a moving subject. A fast shutter speed will freeze motion, and a slow one blurs moving subjects.
Learn more here: How to Blur Photos or Freeze Motion Using Shutter Speed
This is simply another photography word for a flash. Most manufacturers use the term speedlight, but Canon had to make up their own word and call it a Speedlite.
To learn more about flash and practice using yours CLICK HERE or on the image above.
A telephoto lens is one that has a larger focal length or is longer than a normal lens. So . . .
- Full frame camera > 50mm
- Crop sensor camera > 35mm
- Micro Four Thirds camera (like some Olympus or Panasonic models) > 25mm
- Medium format > 62mm
A long or telephoto lens compresses perspective and is good for isolating the subject against the background. Here are a couple of examples.
White Balance (AWB)
White balance refers to the color tint of your image. It can be adjusted and controlled in the camera and in the processing phase.
In the camera, you can choose Auto White Balance (AWB) and the camera tries to read the scene and neutralize any color tint it detects. That can go wrong though in certain situations, such as photographing a sunset.
Below are some examples of the same scene, shot with different White Balance settings.
You can also set the white balance when editing, as long as you have shot a raw file. Adjusting a JPG is possible but remember it contains only 8-bit color so doesn’t have as much data to work with as a raw file.
Starting to really get some of these terms yet? I hope so!
Read more here: How to use Camera White Balance to Improve Your Photos
A wide-angle lens is one that has a smaller focal length or is shorter than a normal lens.
- Full frame camera < 50mm
- Crop sensor camera < 35mm
- Micro Four Thirds camera < 25mm
- Medium format < 62mm
Wide-angle lenses are inclusive, meaning they can make the viewer feel like they can stop into the scene. They also require some finesse and learning to use effectively.
Read this to avoid some common errors: 5 Mistakes Beginners Make Using a Wide Angle Lens and Tips For How to Avoid Them
Opposite to prime lenses, a zoom lens is one that has a variable focal length – meaning you can zoom in and out to adjust from wide to telephoto. The pros and cons are also in contradiction to that of prime lenses:
- Increased flexibility in situations when your own movement is limited.
- Handy for travel where you can just take one lens and go.
- Cause less dust to be pulled into the camera.
- Larger and heavier than prime lenses.
- More expensive if you get a zoom with a large maximum aperture .
- Often not as sharp as prime lenses due to the increased number of elements needed and more moving parts.
- Zoom lenses can cause increased dust inside the camera on the sensor. When you zoom the lens it creates a kind of static electricity that literally sucks in the dust.
Slang photography terms or jargon
Slang photography terms (aka jargon), are words that photographers have come up with to explain things, situations, or otherwise non-official wording. A selection of these slang photography terms are below which I will expand upon at a later date.
- Blown out
- DAM (digital asset management)
- Glass/fast glass
- Grip and grin
- Landscape orientation
- Nifty Fifty
- Pixel Peeping
- Portrait orientation
- Shutter lag
- Spray and pray
- Wide open
- Blue Hour / Golden Hour
Wow, that was a long list of photography terms and definitions! I didn’t intend for it to be this long but once I got started, it was hard to stop.
I hope these explanations and short photography glossary has helped explain a few of the photography words that may have been eluding you.
Other than the list of photography slang or jargon words mentioned above, have I missed anything? If there are any other photography phrases or words that you don’t understand, please put a note in the comment area below and I’ll add them here or to the slang list.