A to Z: Photography Terms Glossary

by David Em

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There are many terms and jargon in photography. Learn the most common photography terms to improve your skills as a photographer.

Photographer outside near trees.
Photo by David Em/Portraits Refined and Canva.

Photography is full of jargon, like other industries.

Since the first permanent photo in 1826, photography has come a long way. It’s more accessible than ever.

If you’re starting a photography hobby, become familiar with the terms.

The following is a complete glossary of the terms you need to know.

It’ll help you develop your skills and understanding as a photographer.

The most common photography terms

Ambient Light: Light that’s present in a scene without artificial light. This is also known as natural light.

Aperture: The opening in a lens, which light travels through to enter the camera.

Aperture Priority (A or Av): A semi-automatic camera setting that allows you to set a specific aperture. The camera will change the shutter speed automatically to properly expose the image.

Aspect Ratio: The ratio of an image’s width to its height. It’s commonly expressed as two numbers separated by a colon.

Aspherical Lens: A lens with a surface that’s not the shape of a sphere or cylinder. The curve changes in certain parts of the surface to reduce aberration.

Backlight: Lighting where the main source of light is behind the subject.

Blown Out: The image is overexposed, and the bright parts of the image lose detail due to being washed out.

Blue Hour: The period of twilight when the sun is below the horizon, which causes a blue shade. Blue hour happens twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.

Bokeh: Out-of-focus points of light that appear as circles. It’s created by using a large aperture.

Bracketing: Taking the same photo several times using different camera settings for each image.

Bulb (B): A camera mode that allows you to control the shutter speed by holding down the shutter release button. This is beneficial for slow shutter speeds because you can hold it for as long as you’d like.

Burst Mode: The ability to take continuously take photos by holding down the shutter. This is also known as continuous shooting.

Camera Shake: Shaking the camera due to unsteady hands, which results in a blurry image.

Chromatic Aberration: Failure of a lens to focus all colors accurately at the same point, which causes color blurring along the edges of an image.

CMOS (Complementary Metal–Oxide–Semiconductor): The type of sensor in a camera, which gathers information to make an image.

CMYK: A color model that includes cyan, magenta, yellow, and key to print color images.

Composition: How elements are arranged in a photo.

Contrast: The differences between dark and light.

Crop Factor: The ratio of the image sensors size to 35mm. Since round lenses capture circular images, the camera sensor captures a rectangular portion of the image, which causes it to be cropped.

Diffraction: A lens effect that causes the image to lose sharpness as the aperture gets smaller.

Digital Zoom: The camera software crops and enlarges the image electronically. It does the same thing as cropping an image in post-processing.

Distortion: The result of a lens causing the straight lines in an image to appear curved and bent.

DNG (Digital Negative): An open-sourced RAW file format that’s created and patented by Adobe.

DoF (Depth of Field): The distance between the nearest and furthest object that’s in sharp focus.

DPI (Dots Per Inch): A printer setting that describes the number of dots of ink per inch.

DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex): A camera that uses a single-lens reflex mechanism and digital image sensor.

Dynamic Range: The range from the darkest to the lightest parts of an image.

EV (Exposure Value): A number that represents a combination of the shutter speed and aperture. It only accounts for exposure and doesn’t include movement or blur.

EVF (Electronic Viewfinder): An electronic display on the back of a camera that allows you to frame your image without looking into the optical viewfinder.

EXIF (Exchangeable image file) Data: Information that is recorded when you take a photo. It includes the location, device, time, and size of the file.

Exposure: The amount of light that reaches your camera sensor or film, which is part of how bright or dark your photo is.

Exposure Compensation: A method to adjust the exposure that’s automatically set by the camera when you’re not using manual mode.

File Format: Standard ways to organize and store digital images.

Fill Light: A supplementary light is used to lighten the shadows in a photo.

Flash: An on-camera or off-camera device that produces a burst of artificial light to help lighten up the scene.

Focal Length: The distance between the lens and the camera sensor, measured in millimeters. It’s measured when the lens is focused at infinity.

Focus: When the lens shows the sharpest image possible.

FPS (Frames per second): The number of images that can be taken per second.

Fringing: A blurry purple or green color around the edges of a subject.

Front Light: The light source is in front of the subject.

F-Stop: Also known as the f-number, it’s the ratio of the lens focal length to the diameter of the opening. It specifies the aperture of the lens for a photo.

Golden Hour: The period shortly after sunrise and before sunset when it gives a warm, orange-colored light.

Gray Card: A middle gray or 18% gray reference that’s used to produce consistent exposure and color.

Hard Light: A bright light that causes harsh shadows.

HDR (High dynamic range): Several photos taken at different exposure levels are combined into one to create a photo with better exposure and colors.

Highlights: The brightest points in an image.

Histogram: A graph showing the number of tones of each brightness level in your photo. You read it from left to right. The left side represents black, or 0% brightness. The right represents white, or 100% brightness.

Hot Shoe: A spot on your camera where you can attach a flash or other accessories that are compatible.

IS (Image Stabilization): A feature in a lens or camera that allows you to take sharp images at slower shutter speeds.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization): A camera setting that brightens or darkens an image electronically.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group): An image file format that’s commonly used by digital cameras.

Kelvin (K): A unit of temperature, which correlates with a color.

Large Format: Large film size, which results in better quality.

Light Meter: A device that measures the amount of light to help properly expose an image.

Lens Flare: A phenomenon where bright light is scattered in a lens. It causes circles and rings to appear in the photo.

Long-Exposure: Using a very slow shutter speed to capture images at night, or to blur moving objects.

Macro: A close-up photograph that uses macro lenses, which offers a 1:1 magnification.

Manual Mode: A camera setting that allows you to control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Medium Format: A camera format that uses the 120 film size or a digital image sensor that mimics that size.

Megapixels (MP): The number of pixels your camera sensor can capture, in millions.

Metadata: Text information that provides information about the image and its production.

Metering: It measures the brightness of a subject, which is how the camera determines the right shutter speed and aperture.

Micro Four Thirds: A camera format that has a sensor with a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Mirrorless: A camera that doesn’t use a mirror to reflect the image into the viewfinder. Instead, it uses a digital display system.

Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter): A filter that reduces the amount of light that enters the camera. It works similarly to the sunglasses for your eyes.

Noise: Small specks in your photo that look like grain in a film photograph.

Overexposure: The image is too bright that the sensor isn’t able to record details in the brightest parts of the image.

Pixel: The smallest unit of a digital image.

PPI (Pixels per inch): The number of pixels in an inch of a digital image.

Point-and-Shoot: Also known as a compact camera, it’s a type of camera that can’t swap lenses, and is excellent for shooting in automatic mode.

Polarizing Filter: A filter that darkens the sky, reduces reflections and glare. It also increases contrast and saturation.

Prime Lens: A camera lens with a fixed focal length.

Program Mode: A camera shooting mode that automatically sets the exposure. However, you still can control other camera settings.

Rangefinder: A type of camera where you look through a small viewfinder and bring two images to the center when the photo is in sharp focus.

RAW: An unprocessed image captured by a digital camera.

Reflector: A tool that’s made with a reflective surface to redirect light towards a subject.

Render: In photography, rendering an image refers to converting an image file to a viewable format on a device.

Resolution: The camera’s ability to present an image in detail.

RGB: A color model that has three primary colors, red, green, and blue.

Saturation: The intensity of a color.

Selfie: A self-portrait.

Shadows: The dark parts of the image, which add depth and draw attention the what’s in the light.

Side Light: Light that illuminates a subject from the side.

Single-Lens Reflex: A camera that uses a mirror or prism to reflect an image into the viewfinder.

Shutter Priority (S or Tv): A camera setting that allows you to set the shutter speed, while the camera chooses the aperture to get the proper exposure.

Shutter Speed: The length of time that a camera sensor is exposed to light.

Soft Light: Light that creates light shadows, and looks diffused.

Spherical Lens: A lens whose surface has the shape of a sphere.

Spot Metering: A metering mode that measures the exposure in one specific spot.

Strobe: Also known as a Speedlight, they’re external flash units that produce a faster flash than the camera flash.

Subject: The object that’s shown in a photo.

Super Telephoto Lens: A lens that has a focal length longer than 200mm.

Teleconverter: Also known as an extender, it’s mounted between the camera and the lens, which allows you to magnify a photo.

Telephoto Lens: A lens that has a focal length between 70mm to 200mm.

Thumbnail: A reduced-size version of a photo. It’s also used to preview an image.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format): A computer file format that generally stores graphics and art.

Tilt-Shift Lens: A lens that allows you to adjust the angle of the lens.

Time-Lapse: A technique where you take many photos or a video over a period. It’s combined to show time moving faster.

Underexposure: An image where there isn’t enough light, meaning the image is dark. It also results in loss of detail in the shadows.

Vibrance: The intensity of the muted colors. This doesn’t include the colors that are saturated.

Viewfinder: An optical or electronic part of the camera that allows you to view the entire frame before taking the photo.

Vignette: Darkening of the corners of an image. It draws the focus to the center of the photo.

Watermark: A faint pattern, image, or logo that identifies the maker.

White Balance (WB): Also known as color balance, it allows you to adjust the colors to ensure that the image looks natural.

Wide Open: Using the maximum aperture of a lens.

Zoom Lens: A camera lens with an adjustable focal length.

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Featured image by David Em/Portraits Refined and Canva.

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