A to Z of Photography – Photography Glossary

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Posted by Paul Crawford

A to Z Photography Glossary

I have created this Photography Glossary to list many of the common terms associated with photography with a simple explanation to its meaning.

Learning photography can be difficult – and some of the videos and tutorials found on the internet use strange words that can confuse someone new to photography.

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A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


aberration – an unwanted defect in a digital image, usually caused by a camera lens

ambient light – the existing light in a scene, usually daylight

aperture – a variable opening in the lens that allows the light to pass through to reach the sensor. Also controls the depth of field

aperture priority (A / Av) – a semi-automatic exposure mode. The photographer selects the aperture required and the camera will select what it thinks is the correct shutter speed for the scene

artefact – an unwanted defect in a digital image such as noise

aspect ratio – refers to the format of the image produced by the camera. Most cameras offer 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 – 1:1 and 4:5 have recently become popular due to Instagram

astrophotography – a genre of photography dedicated to shooting the night sky

auto – exposure mode in which the camera selects all the exposure settings and many other settings

autofocus (AF) – a system that uses sensors to calculate the focus distance required and focus the lens automatically

AWB – stands for Auto White Balance – the camera assesses the scene and sets what it thinks is the correct white balance

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backlight – when the primary light source is behind the subject, pointed towards the camera

back button focus – a setting on many cameras that lets you use a button on the back of the camera to activate the autofocus, leaving the shutter release button to only trigger the shutter

barrel distortion – when your lens, usually a wide-angle lens, appears to curve otherwise straight lines. For example, with a landscape, the horizon may appear to curve. Many digital image editing software can correct this

blown out – when you overexpose an image, and the brightest part of the image is rendered completely white, this is known as the highlights being blown out.

blue hour – the short period of time just before sunrise or just after sunset when the sun is just below the horizon and the light takes on a blue shade

bokeh(pronounced boh-keh) – the visual quality of the blur produced in the out of focus parts of an image produced by a lens

bracketing – shooting a number of images of the same scene at different exposure values to ensure that one is correctly exposed or to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image

bulb – the “B” setting on your camera that keeps the shutter open for as long as you press the shutter release button. Best used with a remote shutter release to prevent shake. Use this mode for extra long exposures

burst mode – most cameras offer a burst mode – it will keep taking pictures for as long as your finger is on the shutter release button. Most entry-level cameras offer between 3 to 5 shots per second

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camera shake – this occurs when the camera is moved during an exposure causing blurry images

candid – a portrait taken while the subject is unaware and not posing

centre-weighted metering – a light metering pattern which takes the exposure reading from the centre of the image

chimping – a slang term used to describe someone who looks at the review screen after every shot

chromatic aberration – coloured fringes that appear around the edge of objects, caused by light of different wavelengths (colours) coming to focus at different distances from the lens. Can usually be fixed in image editing software

clipping – when detail is lost in the highlight and/or shadow areas of an image

colour cast – a colour shift in an image usually caused by incorrect white balance settings

colour temperature – the measure of the temperature of light in degrees Kelvin (K)

composite – an image created by combining two or more images into a single image

composition – how you arrange the elements of your scene within the frame.

compression – a reference to how images files are saved. JPEG uses “lossy” compression to produce smaller file sizes. TIFF files are uncompressed.

continuous autofocus – an autofocus mode that sets the camera to constantly adjust the focus of the lens to keep a moving subject in focus

contrast – defines the range of tonal difference between the shadows and highlights of an image

crop factor – when using a crop sensor camera, the crop factor of the sensor is related to the effect of the focal length equivalent on a full-frame camera. The crop factor is usually x1.5 or x1.6 – you multiply the focal length of the lens on a crop sensor camera by this amount to get the equivalent focal length on a full-frame camera.

crop sensor camera – a full-frame camera has a sensor the same size as an old 35mm file size. Crop sensors are a smaller version of this, usually APS-C and Micro 4/3rds

CSC (Compact System Cameras) – a format of camera that is much smaller and lighter than DSLR’s because there is no bulky mirror and displays the image via an electronic viewfinder. Also known as Mirrorless Cameras

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depth of field (DOF) – the distance in front of and behind the point of focus that appears sharp in your photograph

diffuser – a flash diffuser is a simple modifier attached to a flash to spread the harsh light from the flash, creating a more even “softer” light on your subject

digital zoom – You will often see reference to Optical and Digital in photography. Digital means the effect is achieved through software, not the physical parts of the camera. In terms of Zoom, the camera “zooms in” on the image using software when using digital zoom. Optical is always better

DNG – stand Digital negative. This is Adobe’s lossless image format created to store image data in a generic, highly-compatible format, unlike RAW files that are specific to camera manufacturer

DSLR – stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera

dynamic range – the range of brightness and colour depth in an image. An image with a higher dynamic range will have more detail in the highlights and shadows

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electronic viewfinder (EVF) – Found in Bridge Cameras & CSC’s, an electronic viewfinder digitally replicates the field of view captured by the lens

EV (exposure value) – A single number given to the permutations of aperture, shutter speed and ISO that produce the same overall exposure. A change of 1 EV is the same as a change of 1 stop

evaluative metering – found on Canon Cameras and is the default light metering pattern, separating the entire frame into zones and adds extra importance to the focusing point used

EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) – refers to the metadata captured by your camera, recording the camera model, lens used, focal length, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO

exposure – how light or dark an image is. An image is created when the camera sensor is “exposed” to light

exposure compensation – when using automated modes on your camera, you might want the exposure to be brighter or darker than the camera thinks for the scene. You use “+” exposure compensation to brighten and “-” exposure compensation to darken the image

exposure triangle – a term used for the relationship between ISO, shutter speed and aperture. If one element changes, another has to change in the opposite direction

extension tubes – a hollow, light-tight tube that fits between the camera body and lens. Used in Macro photography to move the lens further from the camera to allow you to focus much closer

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f-number (f-stop) – A term used to refer to the size of the aperture in a lens

file format – how your camera records the data about the image. Raw files and JPEG are the two most common file formats

fill-in – Using a flash or reflector to “fill-in” (lighten) any shadows falling across your subject. Mainly used in portrait photography

filter – a piece of glass or resin that is placed in front of your lens to modify the light entering the lens.

firmware – In digital cameras, the firmware is the software that controls the features of your camera. You should check if you have the latest firmware updates for your camera

flash – an accessory for your camera that produces a flash of artificial light to light up your subject. It can be built into your camera or added via the hot shoe

flash sync speed – the fastest shutter speed the camera can be set to allow the flash to fire whilst the shutter is open. Too fast and you can cause black bands to appear in your image

focal length – the distance measured in millimetres where the light rays converge in your lens to form a sharp image on the camera’s sensor. A low number gives a wider field of view and a higher number will give you a narrow field of view

focus – the part of the image that appears sharp is referred to as “in focus”. The areas that are blurry are “out of focus”

focus point – the part of the image that was focused on and will be the sharpest part of the image

focus mode – the most common focus modes are Single autofocus (for stationary subjects) Continuous autofocus (for moving subjects) and manual focus where you need to adjust the focus ring manually.

FPS – stands for Frames per Second when using the burst mode. Important to have a high fps rate for sports and action pictures

fringing – Usually associated with cheaper lenses, it describes the “bleed” of colour along the edges of high-contrast subjects in your image

full-frame camera – a full-frame camera has a sensor the same size as an old 35mm film frame, approximately 36mm x 24mm

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golden hour – often referred to in landscape photography. It is the period of time (about an hour) just after sunrise or just before sunset when the sun is low in the sky and produces a warmer “golden” light

grey card – a card with 18% grey. Added to your test shots to help establish white balance in the scene when it comes to post-processing your images

greyscale – In photography terms, “greyscale” and “black & white” mean exactly the same thing. Greyscale is a far more accurate term. A truly black and white image would simply consist of just two colours – black and white. Greyscale images are created from black, white, and the entire scale of shades of grey

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HDR – stands for High Dynamic Range. This is a photographic technique often used by landscape photographers when the dynamic range within the scene is too great for the camera to capture in one shot. With this technique, the photographer would take several different exposures of the same scene and then blend them together in software to create an image with a much wider dynamic range

highlight – the brightest or lightest part of an image

histogram – the chart often found in your camera playback mode that displays the tonal values of your image. The left of the histogram represents the pure black and the pure white are represented on the right-hand side with the mid-tones in between. I remember it with “right is bright”

hot shoe – the slot found at the top of your camera for attaching accessories, usually an external flashgun

hyperfocal distance – Often used in Landscape photography, this is the distance at which you focus the lens that provides the maximum depth of field. This distance will change depending on the focal length of the lens, the aperture used and the distance between you and the subject

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image stabilisation (IS) – the technology found in some lenses and camera bodies that attempts to reduce camera shake, allowing you to take sharper photographs at slower shutter speeds. Also known as Vibration Reduction (VR)

image quality – a setting found on most cameras that changes the size of the image captured by the sensor as well as the level of compression applied to that image data.

ISO – an international standard film rating denoting a film’s sensitivity to light. Now used in digital cameras, although changing the ISO boosts the signal amplification, not the sensitivity

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JPEG – stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. This is a standard image format that is compressed and can be viewed by most devices and printers. Because of the compression, the files are smaller and contain less data and are therefore less flexible in post-processing

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kelvin – a colour temperature measurement giving us the colour of the light source. Daylight is around 5500 kelvin, tungsten light (often found in household bulbs) is around 3200 kelvin

keystone correction – keystone correction makes it possible to eliminate converging lines in images, particularly common in architectural photography, such as when taking a shot from the bottom of a tall building Can be achieved by using a tilt-shift lens or using software to make adjustments.

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leading lines – a technique used in composition using lines to guide the viewer’s eye into certain parts of the scene

lens flare – semi-circular or circular halos appearing in your photographs caused by direct sunlight hitting the front element of your lens and bouncing off different elements within the lens.

lens hood – A lens hood, also known as a lens shade, attaches to the front of your lens and blocks stray light from causing lens flare in your photographs

light meter – a device to measure the amount of light in a scene. Most cameras have light meters built-in

lightroom – very popular image management and editing software from Adobe

long exposure – a technique using long shutter speeds. This will cause any moving objects to blur while keeping stationary objects sharp. It can also be used to get a correctly exposed image in very low lighting conditions. A tripod is a must in long exposure photography

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macro – extreme close-up photography. Insects and flowers are the most common Macro Photography subjects.

manual mode (M) – the setting on your camera that allows for full control of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO

matrix metering – found on Nikon Cameras and is the default light metering pattern, separating the entire frame into zones and adds extra importance to the focusing point used

megapixel (MP) – 1 million pixels. A measure of the size and resolution of the pictures captured by your digital camera. Most entry-level cameras capture around 24 MP (megapixel) images

metering – how the camera measures the amount of light being reflected by the subject you are photographing.

micro 4/3rds – A digital format developed by Panasonic and Olympus. Based on a sensor size of approximately 17mm x 13 mm giving a crop factor of x2

mirrorless camera – a format of camera that is much smaller and lighter than DSLR’s because there is no bulky mirror and displays the image via an electronic viewfinder. Also known as Compact System Cameras (CSC)

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neutral density (ND) filter – a filter that blocks out light. It is a neutral colour darkened glass that allows you to use longer shutter speeds in bright conditions. ND filters come in different “strengths” from 1 stop of light-blocking up to 10 stops (or more). An ND1000 (10stop) would change a 1/60s exposure to a 15-second exposure

negative space – the area in your photo which surrounds the main subject. Negative space defines and emphasises the main subject of a photo, drawing your eye to it

nifty fifty – a slang term used when referring to a 50mm prime lens

noise – caused by using high ISO settings. Noise displays as small coloured specks on the final image

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opacity – a term used in digital image editing. When working with layers, it is a measure of how transparent a layer is: 0% being completely transparent and 100% being total opacity

optical viewfinder – a camera feature that uses an optical system to view a scene rather than an electronic viewfinder (EVF). All DSLR’s use an optical viewfinder

overexposed – when the sensor gets too much light to properly expose the image resulting in an overly bright image with a loss of detail in the highlight areas

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panning – a technique where the photographer uses a slow shutter speed and then moves the camera at the same speed as a moving subject while taking the picture. The result is a sharp subject with a blurred background, emphasising the speed of movement. A technique often used in sports photography

panoramic – a picture format with a horizontally elongated field of view. Created using specialist camera equipment or by stitching images together using software

photoshop – A very powerful image editing tool by Adobe. Often used in conjunction with Adobe Lightroom

pixel – short for “picture element” – the smallest unit of digital imaging

pixel peeping – zooming into an image at over 100% magnification to try and find tiny problems in your photograph that would otherwise be invisible to normal viewers

post-processing – the process of making adjustments to your images using image editing software

prime lens – a lens with a fixed focal length – you can’t zoom in or out! Prime lenses tend to be higher quality than their zoom lens equivalents and offer wider apertures

program mode (P) – a semi-automatic camera exposure mode. where the camera sets both the aperture and shutter speed. Differs from “Auto” in that the photographer can change other settings and can “shift” the exposure to prioritize depth of field or shutter speed

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raw file – most cameras allow you to capture raw files. This is an image format that retains all of the data captured by the sensor, without any processing or compression. You can’t see or print a raw file until you “process” it through editing software. Raw files are approx. 3 to 5 times the size of a JPEG

red-eye – an effect created when on-camera flash reflects off the blood vessels at the back of their eye making their pupils appear red in the photograph

red-eye reduction – a feature on the camera that attempts to reduce red-eye by firing a series of pre-flashes to dilate the pupil of the subject. Red-eye can also be removed using many popular editing software

reflector – a piece of photographic equipment that “bounces” light back into a scene. Much more natural option than using additional flashes

remote shutter release – an accessory that allows the camera shutter to be triggered without physically touching the camera. This helps prevent camera shake on long exposures. Can be wired or wireless and many cameras now come with Smartphone apps that connect with your camera to allow remote triggering

resolution – refers to the number of pixels that a camera has expressed in megapixels. One megapixel is equal to 1,00,000 pixels. An image that measures 6000×4000 pixels is equal to 24 MP. A higher resolution helps with cropping options and for larger printing

rule of thirds – The rule of thirds is a compositional “rule” that divides the image into thirds and placing the subject on one of those sides, instead of in the centre

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saturation – refers to the colour intensity of an image. As saturation increases, colours appear more vivid. Decreasing saturation results in muted colours. Full desaturation turns an image to Black & White

scene mode – many entry-level cameras have scene modes. These are essentially Auto modes with a “heads up” to the camera to let it know what you are shooting to allow it to set the optimum settings for that scene

sensor – an electronic device within your camera that converts an optical image into an electronic signal for a digital image

shadow – The darkest areas within the image

sharp – when the whole or part of your image is clearly defined and in focus, it is referred to as sharp. Camera settings (mainly shutter speed), technique and lens quality are factors that determine the sharpness of an image

shutter lag – refers to the brief delay between the time the shutter is pressed and the time the shutter fires. Found in early CSC’s and cheaper point and shoot cameras

shutter speed – the shutter is the part of the camera that opens and closes to let light to reach the sensor. The shutter speed refers to how long the shutter stays open for. A longer shutter speed results in a brighter image but introduces blur or camera shake. A shorter shutter speed freezes the action but requires more light.

soft – If something in your image is meant to be sharp (see above) but technique or focus has been slightly wrong, the resultant image can be referred to as soft

SOOC – stands for Straight out of the camera – no processing or editing was done to the image

speedlight – another term for a flashgun, an accessory for your camera that produces a flash of artificial light to light up your subject.

spot metering – a type of light meter pattern that measures the light in a very small area of the frame

stop – a change in exposure equal to a doubling or halving the amount of light reaching the sensor. Can be used when referring to exposure in general or any of the exposure controls – aperture, shutter speed or ISO

sunny 16 – a guideline for estimating exposures – on sunny days, at an aperture of f/16, your shutter speed is the inverse of your ISO value – eg. at f/16 using ISO 200, the shutter speed on a sunny day will be around 1/200

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teleconverter – sits between the camera and lens and is used to extend the focal length of a lens. Popular options are x1.4 or x2 teleconverters – a x2 teleconverter on a 200mm lens makes it into the equivalent of a 400mm lens

telephoto – a lens with a longer focal length than the standard lens. With a narrow viewing angle, it means a magnified image

tilt/shift lens – a very specialised lens used mainly in architectural photography. The sensor and focusing planes can be moved independently to eliminate parallax error – preventing parallel lines from converging

time-lapse – a series of still photographs taken over a period of time merged together to create a video. Many modern cameras have this feature built-in

tog – a slang term for photographers

tonal range – used to describe the quality of colour and tone ranging from an image’s shadow details through to the brightest highlight details, including all of the transitions in between

tripod – photographic equipment used to keep your camera steady. Essential for long exposure photography

TTL (Through the lens) – a metering system that determines exposure based on the light travelling through the lens of the camera. Many flashguns use TTL (called iTTL or eTTL) metering to calculate correct flash exposure

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underexposure – when the sensor doesn’t get enough light to properly expose the image resulting in an overly dark image with a loss of detail in the shadow areas

UV Filter – An UV or ultraviolet filter is mounted in front of the lens to reduce the amount of ultraviolet light that strikes the film or sensor. Since digital sensors are insensitive to UV light, the filters do not provide any image quality benefit. many digital photographers continue to use UV filters as a way of protecting the front element of the lens.

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vibrance – a post-processing term created by Adobe used to describe a type of saturation setting. Unlike the saturation slider, which increases all colours’ pureness equally, vibrance only affects those colours that are less saturated than the rest.

vibration reduction (VR) – the technology found in some lenses and camera bodies that attempts to reduce camera shake, allowing you to take sharper photographs at slower shutter speeds. Also known as Image Stabilisation (IS)

viewfinder – the system to allow you to see the view of the camera lens. Optical viewfinders can be found in DSLR’s and Electronic Viewfinders (EVF) in most other cameras. Some cameras are now supplied without viewfinders and use just the review screen

vignetting – when the corners of an image are made brighter or darker to draw attention to the middle of the frame. Can be reduced or increased using post-processing software

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watermark – text or image (usually a logo) added to a photograph to identify the author of the image

white balance – a feature of your camera used to adjust the colour of an image to match the colour temperature of the light

wide-angle – a focal length of a lens that gives a wider angle of view

wide open – a slang term for using a lens at its widest or lowest possible f/number

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zone system – a system developed by photographer Ansel Adams for determining optimal film exposure and development

zoom lens – a lens covering a range of focal lengths

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I hope you found this photography glossary useful.

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Posted by Paul Crawford

Paul has been a full-time professional photographer since 1990. He is married to Patricia and the proud Dad to 2 fantastic sons. He photographs around 30 Weddings each year in Northern Ireland and is an experienced Photography Tutor running Photography Courses and Workshops. He is the founder of photoclub247.com

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