Having been writing on this photography blog for a year and a half now, I thought it was time to write a complete glossary (at least as exhaustive as possible) on basic definitions in photography. In all my articles, I often talk with quite obscure terms: ISO, depth of field, aperture, macro, hyperfocal, etc. In short, so many photography terms that may seem at first a little complicated to understand.
To go one step further, I often detail the basics of photography on this blog. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can go into detail about all the technical terms existing in the field. Some of them deserve to be known and mastered, like exposure and the three parameters that constitute it, while others remain secondary and can be considered as minor, in some ways.
This article will therefore not be exciting in the literal sense of the word and will be more like a large photographic dictionary on which you can rely for reminders, or if some notions still elude you if you are new to photography. It will be about summarizing notions, techniques or vocabulary by proposing the simplest possible definitions. I will also mention every term in photography jargon that you can find when hanging out on forums or photography blogs in general. Everything will be listed in alphabetical order to make it easier to find your way around. Some are missing, some more precise definitions, and they will come as you go along… Let’s go!
This camera accessory makes it possible to use for example a filter with a different thread size than your lens. It is an economical way to avoid buying several filters for several lenses.
Also called “field of view”, it is simply the lens angle corresponding to the visible part of the image through it. The latter is directly related to the focal length (in millimeters). The greater your focal length, the smaller the angle of view, and vice versa.
This is one of the elements composing the triangle of exposure – the other two being ISO and shutter speed. The aperture is often associated with a lens by a “maximum aperture”. The larger the aperture, the larger the amount of light arriving at the sensor.
This is the semi-automatic camera mode you’ll find on cameras that allow the exposure of the scene to be calculated. The photographer only chooses the aperture of the diaphragm, and the camera will handle ISO and shutter speed.
Refers to the format of a camera sensor on an DSLR/Mirrorless camera (and on sometimes compact expert ones). The latter designates a sensor smaller than a Full-Frame sensor, usually 23 x 15 mm.
This is a defect found on an image, particularly due to too much compression of it (for example in JPEG) which results to a degraded picture.
This is the system that allows you to focus on a subject automatically. There are several types, depending on the camera.
System appearing as small red dots in the viewfinder of your body. These determine the focus area of your photo. Also known as focus points/focusing points.
It corresponds to the area behind the main subject being shot. Depending on several parameters (chosen aperture, focusing distance and focal length in particular), this background may be blurred or sharp.
In a backlight photo, the subject is located between the light source and the camera body. The result is often a form of a silhouette or a shadow puppet.
This is a special mode allowing you to take pictures with exposure times which were not preset at the beginning. You use this mode to evaluate yourself the desired exposure time you’ll need for a picture. Pictures of several minutes or even hours are shot with this “B” mode. Equivalent to Bulb.
It’s this short period of time right after sunset or before sunrise. A blue hour doesn’t last a long time but you’ll be able to shoot cooler and softer pictures during this period where the sky is full of blue.
This is the element that, with a lens, forms your camera. You can either buy a body alone, i.e. without a lens, or in kit, sold with a lens. A body alone, you guessed it, does not allow you to take pictures.
Technical term that characterizes the blur background (or foreground) on your images as well as its quality. It can be soft, grainy, etc. Generally, such blur is achieved by using a large aperture of the diaphragm (ex f/1.4).
Technique allowing, thanks to your camera, to take the exact same photo at several different exposures. Very often, the goal is to combine these photos in post-processing to make only one. HDR is the most common example.
Mastering bokeh in photography, one of the ways to clearly improve your shots
Type of camera positioned “between a point-and-shoot camera and a full DSLR”. You usually have some manual control with a long-range zoom and a viewfinder, but you can’t change lenses.
A lens that has a very large maximum aperture, for example f/1.4.
In photographic jargon, it is said of an image (or an image area) whose brightness is too high, making it sometimes totally white. No information is visible in this so-called “burnt area”.
It is the number of consecutive shots a camera can shoot. When using this mode, images are temporally stored on a buffer memory before being transferred into your memory card.
It is the blur created by the movement of the lens during the shooting. Basically, you just have shaken or slightly moved your lens or your camera while taking your photo.
These are semi-automatic modes that can be found on most advanced cameras (DSLR, Mirrorless, Point and shoot). The most popular ones are: Automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Program and Manual.
This is an optical defect found on some camera lenses which fail to focus all colors at the same point. Concretely, on a high-contrast picture, you will see colored stripes/halo at the border of two contrasting zones (for example a tree and a white sky behind it).
We can consider it as the art of highlighting one or more subjects on the image, according to visual rules or principles.
Action to reduce a small part of an image by post-processing on the computer.
Cropping an image is great for example if the composition was not good in the first place
It designates the proportion of a sensor size compared to a full frame camera (old 35mm film). Each brands work with a different crop sensor. For example, Canon offers x1.6 for their APS-C bodies, while other brands like Nikon or Sony use a 1.5x ratio.
To give you an example, if you use a 50mm on a Canon 6D (Full Frame sensor with a 1x Crop factor), you’ll get the equivalent field of view of a 50mm. But if you use this 50mm lens on let’s say a Canon 90D (APS-C body with a 1,6 Crop factor), you’ll get an equivalence of a 80mm on a Full Frame, so a tighter field of view.
It is simply the number of horizontal and vertical pixels in your picture.
This is the sharpness area on your picture. We talk about a large depth of field for an image which is sharp everywhere, and a short/shallow depth of field for an image with blurred areas -> Here is our full article on depth of field! You can alter you DOF by modifying your aperture, getting closer to your subject, changing your focal length (zoom in and out) or using a different camera sensor.
Process of removing colors from a photo (partially or totally) while keeping its light.
It is the mechanism of a camera lens allowing to vary the aperture of the lens. It allows us to let in more or less light and/or make backgrounds partially blurred.
This is a default on every lens appearing on small apertures. It also depends on your camera sensor as diffraction is hitting on smaller apertures on a Full Frame than on a small sensor (for example a m4/3 sensor). Concretely, the more you use small apertures, the more you’ll see your image getting blurrier and blurrier. The sweet spot is at what best aperture your image quality will be better/your lens will be the sharpest.
This is an optical default on some lenses, especially wide angle and ultra-wide angle lenses. Thus, your horizontal/vertical lines on your pictures are sometimes bended. There are 3 types of distortion: barrel, pincushion and mustache (wavy) distortion. You should also know that some lenses are built to naturally have distortion, like Fisheyes lenses.
Abbreviation for Depth of field. You can find it quite often in forums.
It’s a “digital single lens reflex” camera. This is, with mirrorless cameras, the most popular actually used by photographers. A DSLR camera has a mirror inside. The light going through the lens is directed to an optical viewfinder
It can be considered as the range of luminance, between the lightest and darkest tones of an image.
A camera function that allows you to adjust the brightness of your image. You can decide to manually overexpose or underexpose the image.
Exposure value, also known as Stop. It is a measure of the exposure of your image made by your camera.
This is information about your image stored during the shooting. It contains all the essential parameters: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.
Technique and term known in photography as exposing your photo slightly brighter. This technique essentially allows not to lose information in the shadow zones of your image. You also get a greater margin of treatment in post-processing.
It is a quantity of light in an image. It is determined by the three parameters of the exposure triangle: ISO sensitivity, aperture and shutter speed. We talk about under/over-exposure. Read our article on exposure in photography (full article).
Also known as shutter speed, it’s the duration to take a picture, measured in seconds or minutes. It is part of the exposure triangle. Below a given shutter speed, handheld photography is impossible.
This is an optical property of a lens, measured in millimeters. It measures the distance between your camera sensor and the optical center of a lens. Focal length determines the angle of view of your shot.
Unlike the background, this is simply the area in front of your subject. You can choose to blur this foreground to have an aesthetic effect, for example.
Also known as “Frames pers second”, it determines how many images the camera can shot per second.
Action of placing a subject into a scene, within the camera viewfinder. You can change the orientation of the image in a vertical/horizontal format. It contributes to the composition of an image.
Accessories more or less essential (according to some…) to give certain desired effects while shooting. To mention only the main ones: polarizing filter, neutral density filter (ND), graduated neutral density filter (GND). I rather use them than spending time behind a computer in post-processing.
It is considered as a stray light caused by an optical defect of a lens. It can appear as a colored blur or occasional spots.
System which can be integrated in the body or external (cobra flash/external flash), allowing to artificially illuminate a scene during the shooting.
Action to control the sharpness area of your image. It can be done manually or automatically (with autofocus).
Term used for full-frame sensors (24x36mm). These are generally used by amateurs + and professionals. They generally have better characteristics including a better ISO increase, a better noise handling or a larger number of AF points (and better quality too.).
Also known generically as GND (“Graduated neutral density”), it essentially compensates a light difference between the foreground (usually darker) and the background of a scene (usually the sky, brighter).
Also known as “magic hours”, this term is assimilated to the soft lights a few hours before sunset and right after sunrise. The soft tints and light allow to obtain beautiful pictures.
These are the brightest areas of your image, just before the whites, quite simply.
Abbreviation for “High-Dynamic-Range”. It is a photographic technique consisting of merging several images with different exposures of the same scene. The objective is to get, at the end, a “correct” exposure of the scene on every part. When pushed to its extreme, this technique looks almost like drawing …
Another photographic technique in which we voluntarily force the high light and white areas in an image. The opposite is called “low-key”.
This is a visual representation of the brightness of your image in a graphical form. You can learn how to read it and visually determine the different exposure areas of the image.
A somewhat barbaric term to define the ideal focusing distance according to the focal length and aperture used to get the whole picture in focus. A rather difficult math that is now directly done with applications.
It is a feature you’ll find on a lot of camera lenses, and more and more now on camera sensors, especially on the last mirrorless cameras released. IS is very important, especially when you’re shooting in low light condition or if you’re using for example a long focal length. Usually, you can improve about 3 to 6 stops. You can then use a slower shutter speed with an IS lens without being afraid of getting a blurry image.
It is an accessory allowing you to take pictures at regular intervals. All videos in time-lapse format are shot with this type of accessory.
Also known as “ISO sensitivity”, it is the ability of a sensor to capture the light of a scene. The higher the ISO is, the more light the sensor will capture. Beware of digital noise when using high ISOs.
This is the classic, basic format of images coming out of your camera. It is an image that has already been processed by the camera. Conversely, a RAW image is, as the name suggests, a raw format.
It’s simply an image shot from a low position, usually below the eye line, and looking up.
It represents the darkest, less illuminated areas of your image – in other words, the shadow zones. It can also be attributed to the shooting conditions of an image, for example at sunrise or sunset where the light is low (Ex: “this lens is perfect for shooting in low light…”).
Also known as teleconverters (TC), it’s a camera accessory placed between your camera lens and bodyto increase their focal length. There are several types of extender, usually x1.4 and x2.
This is an on-screen viewfinder mode that you’ll find on some cameras, such as a simple point-and-shoot camera.
Photographic technique that focuses on shooting with a very low shutter speed. Shutter speeds can range from a few seconds to several minutes, or even several hours. This technique is particularly used on seascapes, waterfalls, but also on merry-go-rounds or stars. Pushed to its extreme, it can even make passers-by disappear from a scene.
Technical term (opposite of High Key) related to an exposure deliberately darkened to emphasize, for example, a certain atmosphere in a scene.
A very well-known post-processing software allowing to manipulate pictures from RAW to JPEG format.
Essential accessory to save your photos on your camera. There are several kinds of them, the most known being SD, SDHC or CF (compact flash) cards.
This is the second best rival of the DSLR’s cameras nowadays. It’s a camera with no mirror. They have some advantages over DSLR and vice versa. We wrote a full article on choosing a DSLR vs mirrorless camera.
It is a blur not related to the photographers themselves, but to the subject being photographed. For example, it can be a passing car, a walking pedestrian, etc. The shutter speed is then too slow.
This is the measurement unit for your images size. It’s a good selling point to make people believe that you necessarily need “more megapixels” to create beautiful photos. If you don’t print your photos or only print them in standard size, there’s no point in going on a wild race for megapixels.
A photographic field intended to closely capture small to very small elements, such as insects, flowers, water drops, etc.
This is the focal length unit of reference. When we talk about 70-200mm lens, that means the focal length varies from 70mm to 200mm. The longer the focal length is, the more you can zoom without having to move.
This is the most delicate camera mode when you want to learn photography. You have to perfectly master the notions of shutter speed, ISO and aperture before shooting with this mode.
This is a phenomenon that appears on your digital images in the form of artefacts and colored pixels. This can be caused generally by the ISO sensitivity used, the ambient light or the size of the sensor.
Also known as neutral density” filter, this is mainly useful for long exposures. It allows to block part of the light reaching the sensor, thus increasing the exposure time during the shooting.
Technical term often used for filters. It characterizes the level of transparency of the filter. Filters can be more or less opaque (black). For example, an ND 1000 filter is completely black.
An image that has an exposure value too high than what it “should have”. White areas with no information (“burned area”) appear on the image.
An image with a large width-to-height ratio. The image is often 2 to 4 times longer than its wide. It is a technique often used for landscape or architectural photography.
Small size camera type. They are usually inexpensive. However, their quality remains very questionable compared to DSLR/mirrorless cameras, especially because of the very small size of their sensor. But you can find very expensive advanced point-and-shoot camera full APS-C, or even full frame sensor.
Also known as “polarizer filter”, it is the indispensable filter for landscape photographers. It allows, among other things, to brighten the colors while increasing contrast and saturation. It can also reduce reflections and distant haze.
The polarizing filter, one of the most useful filters for increasing contrast and saturation during shooting
Terms referring to the edition of an image on a computer after it has been shot, using specialized software.
It designates a lens with a fixed focal length (example: 14mm, 85mm or 300mm). Usually, they are faster, lighter and smaller than zooms.
RAW formats are camera native and unprocessed formats, unlike JPEG. RAW conversion is then the action consisting of converting this type of file into a standard file (JPEG for example). Software like Photoshop or Lightroom are the most known to do this kind of processing.
Digital raw image format. This is the file equivalent to the silver negative. The file, unlike Jpeg, has not undergone any processing. It is therefore necessary to use post-processing software to manually processes the image.
It is a basic principle of composition in photography: placing the subjects on imaginary lines dividing the image into 3 in the direction of length and width.
An electronic system in your camera that transforms light into information, making the colors of each point on your image appear. It is the equivalent of a silver film.
A notion defining a feeling of clarity of an image. We speak about sharp image when this last appears very detailed to the naked eye.
It is a small device located in the camera that allows light to enter more or less towards the sensor of your camera, in order to capture an image.
Another semi-automatic camera mode allowing the photographer to choose the desired shutter speed for a scene. The camera takes care of choosing the other parameters (aperture / ISO) to correctly expose the scene.
Technical term related to the aperture of the diaphragm in general. We often talk about an “aperture stop” when we open or close the diaphragm, which means moving its aperture from F/5.6 to f/4, for example. If we open by one stop, we thus let twice as much light into the sensor. The term is also used for shutter speed and ISO sensitivity.
An image that is not very sharp to the naked eye. Image quality is often related to the lens used and its quality.
It is a system embedded in some camera lenses. It reduces the risk of blurred images by allowing you to shoot a picture faster. You gain several stops in shutter speed depending on the stabilization.
This is simply the button you press to take a picture. If autofocus is active, pressing it halfway will activate the focus with the autofocus points.
Refers to an image in which the exposure value is lower than “necessary”. It results of a too dark image.
It’s essentially a protection filter which absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light. They’re less and less used in photography.
A type of lens also commonly known as a “zoom lens”. It can be in the form of a zoom or a fixed focal length (e.g. 300mm). This type of lens allows you to capture subjects from afar without moving, simply by being able to zoom in.
When the shutter speed (exposure time) is too low, a tripod can then be used. It is simply an accessory that allows you to put your camera down and take pictures at very slow shutter speeds.
This is a type of lens with a very wide angle of view. The field of view is even wider than a wide angle (mentioned above). Be careful with your composition when using it as it can distort the elements of the image.
It is the system that allows you to keep a color balance on an image. By default, it is automatic, but you can modify it according to the scene you’re going to shoot. In RAW format, this white balance is often modified in post-processing.
Generic term associated with a wide-angle camera lens. We can consider that a wide-angle lens exists under a focal length of 24mm (for full-frame), and 18mm for an APS-C body. The angle of field is really wide on this type of lens and perfect for landscape photography, for example.
It designates a lens with a flexible focal length, as for example 70-200mm or 16-35mm. When using a zoom lens, you have the possibility to zoom in and out without moving from the place you are.
Well, I’ll stop here for now. There are already a lot of things to remember and it’s a good start in photography, I think. Do you see any other useful terms you would like me to add in this list? Clearly not everything is here, and I’ve certainly forgotten some things. If you’re just starting out, come have a look at the articles about photography basics.
Speak to you soon,