Photography Jargon explained

I thought you might appreciate a refer of photography terms that might someday be of help to you.

Some of these terms may have a link to another post devoted just to explaining them. I have tried to give the most simple explanation on this post, and you can click through to the bigger explanation if you need to.

Photography– the word photography comes from two old Greek words “phos” meaning light and “graph” meaning to draw. So photography is literally the art of drawing with light.

Types of Photography – literally an endless list. Portrait, pet, product, astro, travel, aerial, landscape, commercial, fashion, macro, abstract, fine arts, night time, studio, natural light, still life, conceptual, beauty, glamour, wildlife / nature, wedding, underwater, high speed, newborn, family, bird, street, erotica, boudoir… literally anything you can think of.

Camera – a device for recording visual images in the form of photographs, film, or video signals

DSLR – Digital Single Lens Reflex. In a nutshell, what you see through the viewfinder is what you get. Whereas with a point and shoot camera the viewfinder is up and over from the lens and you are not looking at exactly what the image will be of. Film cameras were simply SLR if they were Single Lens Reflex. Many digital cameras today are DSLR with the ability to change lenses.

Light – electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength that travels in a vacuum with a speed of about 186,281 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second; specifically :  such radiation that is visible to the human eye OR (more simply) something that makes vision possible.

Image – a physical likeness or representation of a person, animal, or thing; photographed, painted, sculptured, or otherwise made visible.

Manual Mode – using your camera in manual mode means that you manual set all your settings. Allows you more control of getting the shot you desire.

The Exposure Triangle – used when shooting in manual mode to get the correct exposure. Allows you more control of getting the shot you desire.

Exposure – the amount of light per unit area reaching the sensor (or film), as determined by shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO and available light.

Underexposed – An incorrect exposure where not enough light has hit the sensor or film resulting in a dark image.

Overexposed – An incorrect exposure where too much light has hit the sensor or film resulting in a bright image.

Aperture – The opening in the lens that allows light onto the sensor (when the shutter is open)

Wide Open – using your lens at it’s widest aperture / lowest f-stop

F-Stop – the number associated with the size of the aperture. The higher the f-stop, eg. f/22, the smaller the aperture opening. The lower the f-stop number, eg. f/2, the bigger or wider the aperture opening.

Shutter curtain – The curtain in front of the sensor (or film) which moves to allow light onto the sensor (or film) when the shutter is released.

Shutter Speed – The length of time that the shutter curtain opens to allow light onto the sensor (or film).

Shutter Release – the button that activates the shutter allowing exposure of the sensor (or film).

Film -Photographic film is almost always plastic with an emulsion of silver halide crystal salts suspended in gelatin that change into pure, metallic silver when light hits them causing a latent negative image on the film. Development of film is required to create ‘negatives’ with which to use to create photos.

Prints – printing is the process of producing a final image on paper.

Sensor – the light sensitive device inside the camera that captures the light required to create an image. A full frame camera has a sensor the same size as 35mm film. A crop sensor has a cropped sized sensor – smaller than a full sensor. Professional cameras have a full frame sensor, most other DSLRs are crop framed.

ISO (film speed) – The international Standards Organisation is the measure of the sensitivity of the sensor (or film) to light.

Reciprocity – Reciprocate, Reciprocal – any equivalent value, or a ratio that is the same. In photography you have to exchange one stop of light for another – so increasing your aperture by half means you would need to speed up your shutter speed by half to reciprocate.

Stop (of light) – A stop is a doubling or halving of the amount of light let onto the sensor (or film) when taking a photo.

Viewfinder – the window through which you view your picture before you take the image

Live View – a popular feature of modern cameras allowing you to view on the LCD screen the picture before you take the image.

Tack sharp / Sharpness – Sharpness is how in focus the image is. Many factors will determine how sharp an image can be. Tack sharp is when an image is crisply sharp where it is intended to be.

RAW file format –  a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. When shooting in a format like JPEG image information is compressed and lost.

Nifty Fifty – a very popular 50mm lens

Composition – the placement or arrangement of subject(s) within the frame. The rule of thirds is a popular phtoographic composition. Imagine you have divided your image into three horizontally, and then again vertically – you would place your key element at the convergence points of those thirds.


Depth of field – the zone or area of the photo that will be sharp / in focus, controlled by the aperture.

Blur – Motion blur, out-of-focus blur – the zone or area of the photo that is not in focus. Some blur is acceptable and even desirable, while some is unintentional and unwanted.

Camera shake – movement captured in the image caused by the camera shaking. Usually caused by a slow shutter speed or the camera being moved while exposing the sensor (or film).

Bokeh – the aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur. Achieved by placing your key element or subject the forefront of an image and using your lens at its widest aperture making the background soft and blurry.

Focus – (I had to google the dictionary definition to try to get a better idea of how to explain this one) 1. the state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition. 2. the clear and sharply defined condition of an image. 3. to direct one’s attention or efforts.

Focal length / Focal plane – The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view and the higher the magnification. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle of view and the lower the magnification. It is the optical distance from the point where light rays converge to form a sharp image of an object, and not the actual length of the lens itself.

Golden hour – is the time just after sunrise and just before sunset when the light is redder, warmer and radiates softer shadows. A great time to be taking photos!

Reflector – a device used to bounce, diffuse or reflect light.

Macro / Micro – is achieved with special lenses that allow  you to get up close and magnify your subject to capture all the teeny tiny details.

Pixels – the thousands of little dots that make up an image

Post Processing – the editing of an image. Altering or polishing an image to its final result.

Vignette – darkening of the photos corners. Sometimes caused in-camera by the lens, or added in post processing.

Modes – sooo many modes. Should do an entire Blog Post on Modes – manual mode, auto mode,  aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, program mode, focal modes.


SD CARD, CF CARD, MEMORY CARD, USB – devices on which to record data / images.

METERING / Meter / Light Meter – used to measure the light and exposure of the image.

Lens / Glass – comes in a vast variety of choices. Attached to the camera to determine aperture, focal length, etc. You can get Macro / Micro lenses, wide angle lenses, etc

Prime lens – a lens with a fixed focal length. Generally made with the ability to go to a higher f-stop / wider aperture. Desirable for portraiture photography.

Zoom lens – a lens with a specific focal range allowing you to ‘zoom’ in and out.

Noise / Grain – produced when a high ISO is used or when an image is underexposed.

Flash – there are many types of flash or external lights you can use with your camera. Try to avoid using the on-board or built-in flash on your camera – it generally produces an undesirable light.

White Balance – to understand white balance you need to understand that different types of light have different colours or temperatures. Cameras have white balance presets, as do most post processing softwares, to try to correctly balance the colour / temperate of the light. The aim is to make the whites correctly whites.

Tripod – a device used to stabilise the camera to eliminate / reduce camera shake.

Hand-held – to hold the camera by hand.


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