To many new photographers, it probably seems as if there are an endless number of terms within the photography world. There are indeed many, but once you hear them used in context a few times, they become easier to understand and internalize. The goal of this glossary is to provide a resource that can be used when you’re not sure what a certain photographic word means.
Aberrations are simply distortions that lower image quality and the way an image’s colors appear. They are most often caused by a lens limiting the photographic output of a camera’s sensor. They generally occur in high-contrast areas of an image.
AF Servo Mode:
AF servo is a focus mode on cameras that constantly focuses on a given subject. It’s done by putting the camera in AF servo or Continuous Focus mode and half-pressing the camera’s shutter button. It’s used in situations where the photographer’s subject is not stationary.
Aliasing happens when curves and lines within a photo come out in a jagged pattern. The most common type of aliasing is called moiré.
Aperture is the opening of a camera’s shutter that opens and closes, allowing light to reach its film or sensor. The wider the aperture setting, the more light is let in. The smaller the aperture, the less light is let in. Aperture affects the look of a photo in that using a wider aperture will result in a shallower depth of field while smaller apertures have more depth of field, meaning more of the photo will be in focus. Aperture is also referred to as ‘f-stop’.
Aperture priority is a shooting mode that allows the photographer to choose the aperture size while the camera chooses the other two exposure settings, the ISO and shutter speed.
APS-C refers to a camera’s sensor size. APS-C is also known as ‘crop sensor’ due to it being about a half crop of a full-frame, 35mm sensor. If you put a lens built for full-frame sensors onto a crop-sensor camera body, there will be about 1.5x magnification of the lens’ normal focal length.
Artifacts are distortions within a photo that appear in dark and light areas of the image. They show up as jagged patterns in highlight areas and halos within dark parts of an image. Types of artifacts include halos, noise, moiré, chromatic aberrations and blooming.
The ability of a camera to focus on a subject electronically, rather than the photographer having to focus the lens manually.
Auto White Balance:
Auto white balance, or AWB is a camera setting in which the camera automatically adjusts the color balance of the scene.
This is a phenomenon in which lines that run parallel to each other appear to converge.
Blooming happens when a camera’s sensor is exposed to too much light. The visual effect results in colored or bright halos around the highlights or bright areas of an image.
the word ‘bokeh’ comes from the Japanese word for ‘blur’, and in photography is the rounded, out-of-focus areas of a photograph.
Bracketing is a camera function in which one image is taken in multiple exposures, generally with the option of full stop, half stop and one-third stop increments.
Burst rate is the number of photos that any given camera can take before its buffer fills.
Chromatic aberration is when the colors of a photo fail to converge on the same plane. What that results in is green, red or purple showing up in areas of images where they shouldn’t, generally in high contrast areas. This is also known as color fringing.
Color temperature is a color scale that measures whether a color is cold (blue tones) or warm (more yellow tones). Colors are given corresponding numbers in this system that are called degrees kelvin.
Depth of Field:
Depth of field is the area of an image which is in focus, or ‘sharp’. Generally there is an area before and behind a photo’s subject that is out of focus. Depth of field can be controlled with aperture size. The smaller the aperture size, the more there will be in focus in the picture. When the aperture is set to a larger size, the less there is in focus.
DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex and is a camera that uses a mirror to send light captured through a lens to the camera’s viewfinder. They use a digital sensor as film to capture images. DSLRs are the most commonly used cameras among professionals at this time, but mirrorless cameras are increasingly on the rise.
Dynamic range is simply the difference between the light and dark parts of an image. If a scene exceeds the capabilities of a camera’s dynamic range, dark parts of an image will show up as pure black and light parts, highlights will appear as pure white. The wider a camera’s dynamic range, the better, as this means the camera has the ability to capture more of a scene’s natural color without losing detail.
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF):
An electronic viewfinder shows the scene captured by a camera’s lens on a miniature electronic screen. Up until recently, EVFs were considered inferior to optical viewfinders, as they were once slow to update and far less accurate than optical viewfinders. They are however, becoming more and more advanced as technology moves forward.
Exposure is the amount of light taken in by a camera’s film or digital sensor to make a picture.
The “correct” exposure that a camera’s light meter gives you is not always the exposure that the photographer would like to take. Exposure compensation is a camera function that allows the photographer to adjust exposure more or less based off what the camera thinks is right, usually in increments of one third, half and full stop.
F-stops are the numbers given to represent the size of the opening of a lens’ aperture. A standard range for a professional quality prime lens is f/1.4 to f/22. F-stop numbers are counterintuitive; the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the aperture.
Flash sync generally refers to the fastest shutter speed your camera can use in conjunction with a flash. Standard maximum flash sync speed is 1/250th a second.
Fringing is the prevalence of bleeding of colors in high contrast parts of an image. Rather than having defined lines and colors in a high contrast area, the distinction between the two is less clear than it should be.
A histogram is a graphical and visual representation of the level of brightness in an image.
A hot shoe is mount on the top of cameras that allows the camera and accessories such as a flash communicate electronically with one another. The most common hot shoe accessory is a hot shoe flash, but other accessories, such as radio triggers and microphones connect to hot shoes as well.
Image stabilization, which also goes by IS on Canon cameras or VR (vibration reduction) on Nikon cameras includes several different technologies to eliminate camera shake in order to achieve sharper images.
ISO represents a film’s or sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the brighter an exposure will be and conversely, the lower the number, the darker the exposure will be.
JPEGs are image file formats that have been compressed. JPEGs are not limited in color, which makes them the ideal image type for web sharing, which is what the majority of images you see on the Internet are. The downside to JPEGs are that they are a ‘lossy’ file format, which means they lose information through their compression.
Filters found on digital cameras whose purpose is to reduce the prevalence of moiré and aliasing.
A macro lens is a camera lens designed to take close up images of subjects.
A metering mode in which the camera breaks areas of a scene down into separate segments and analyses the levels of light in each one. It analyses the whole scene rather than just one particular point. Most cameras come with this metering mode (or the manufacturer’s version of it) as default.
One megapixel is made of up of one million pixels – tiny squares that each have one specific color. Put many of them together, and the human eye can’t see them individually. Camera sensors are measured in megapixels.
For lack of a more scientific way of putting it, moiré looks like weird-looking wavy textures within an image that should not be there. It happens when a repetitive pattern exceeds what a camera’s sensor can handle.
Noise is the digital equivalent of film’s grain and appears as colored artifacts within an image.
In-camera software that reduces artifacts in a camera’s image files.
A zoom lens’ ability to change its focal length, i.e. zoom in and out.
When too much light is recorded in a given exposure, making the photograph lighter than the scene actually was. Overexposed photographs can be corrected to an extent in post processing, but blown highlights (completely white areas of a photo) cannot be saved. It’s easier to correct overexposed RAW files than JPEG files.
The difference between what the photographer sees through the viewfinder and what the film or sensor captures. The two may differ such as in the case of rangefinder cameras because the viewfinder lies on a different line of sight than what the lens sees.
Pixels, short for picture element, are tiny squares that record the data of a scene. They are individual components that make up a larger whole to create photographs.
RAW is a file format that includes all information captured during an exposure, unlike other file formats such as JPEGs. Because RAW files contain more information, it’s much more likely to salvage them rather than a JPEG if something goes wrong during exposure. There’s a lot more leeway in editing RAW files than any other type of files, so it’s recommended to shoot in RAW and convert to JPEG after you’ve done your edits to your RAW files. There are of course exceptions, but the majority of professional photographers shoot their photos exclusively in the RAW file format.
Red-eye is the appearance of reddened pupils in pictures of people and animals when a flash is used. The phenomenon is due to the eye’s blood vessels being lit up from the camera’s flash. The occurrence of red-eye can be eliminated by not shooting flash straight on – this can be achieved by using an off-camera flash or using a hot shoe flash to bounce light off of a ceiling or nearby wall.
Reflex cameras utilize a mirror to send light to a screen or viewfinder in order to show the photographer what is being captured through the camera’s lens. The image seen on a reflex camera’s screen is identical to what is seen by the lens – these cameras don’t suffer from the parallax problems seen in other types of cameras.
Resolution is the amount of pixels, measured horizontally and vertically, that either a camera has or a device used to display images has. When it comes to capturing or displaying images, the more pixels there are, the more resolution there will be.
Saturation refers to the intensity of colors within an image. Completely desaturated photos are black and white. Lightly saturated photos are said to be muted in tone. Photos with very bright and vivid colors are said to be highly saturated or oversaturated.
A camera mechanism that opens and closes for a chosen period of time, allowing light to pass through to a camera’s film or sensor and record images. Shutter speed is one aspect of the exposure triangle that determines how much light will enter the camera for a given exposure.
A semi-automatic shooting mode in which the photographer chooses the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture size to arrive at the correct exposure. Shutter priority mode is used when a photographer wants to have control over whether or not they want motion blur in their photos and the lighting conditions are changing frequently.
Acronym for Single Lens Reflex. These cameras utilize a mirror and prism mechanism to show the photographer a depiction of what the lens is taking in.
A metering mode in which the camera takes a meter reading in only one small area of an image to determine an exposure. Spot metering works great for certain types of difficult lighting conditions, such as when your subjects are backlit.
Acronym for Through The Lens, a metering system in which an exposure is determined by the light that passes directly through the lens of the camera. Many hot shoe flashes have a TTL capability, in which the flash power is chosen based on the measuring of the light coming through the lens.
Underexposure, or when a photo is underexposed, is when a picture was taken which did not capture enough light. The result is a dark or completely black photo. Underexposed photos can be saved to an extent in post processing. Photos shot in RAW have a far greater chance of being salvaged than underexposed photos taken in JPEG.
A camera feature designed to allow the photographer to see the scene being taken in by the camera’s lens and let the photographer compose photographs accordingly. Viewfinders come in various optical and digital formats.
A vignette is when a photograph has darker edges and corners than the center of the frame. It’s due to a lens’ inability to evenly distribute light throughout the image’s frame. Vignettes are not always a bad thing, as many photographers use them creatively to draw the viewer’s eye into the center of a photo’s frame.
A watermark is a photographer’s branding, usually placed in a corner of an image, to protect the copyrights of a photo and also used as a form of marketing.
Simply put, white balance is a camera’s process of making the colors of images reflect natural colors as best as possible. If a scene had white in it, it should show up as white in a photograph of it.
I’ve done my best to compile a comprehensive list of photographic terms here in this photography glossary. If you got something out of this, you may also be interested in our photography categories list if you’re looking for inspiration for what type of photography to get into.