Photography Glossary: 185+ Terms and Definitions You Should Know

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Welcome to our Photography Terms Glossary! Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the world of photography or you’re looking to brush up on your vernacular, you’ve come to the right place.

This glossary is designed to be your go-to resource, making the sometimes complex terminology of photography accessible and understandable.

We’ve curated a list of terms covering everything from the basics to more advanced concepts, ensuring that no matter your level of experience, you’ll find valuable insights here.

🔥 TIP: Bookmark this page. It’ll come in handy frequently!

A

AE Lock

A camera feature used to lock the exposure setting when taking a photograph.

Ambient Light

The natural or artificial light that is present in a given environment. It includes all sources of light, such as sunlight, moonlight, street lights, and even the glow from electronic devices like laptops and smartphones.

Aperture

The opening in a camera lens through which light passes to reach the sensor. It’s usually expressed as an f-number (like f/2.8), with smaller numbers indicating a larger aperture that allows more light in.

Aperture Priority

A camera mode where the photographer sets the aperture and the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed to maintain the correct exposure. (Also see Camera Mode)

APS-C

A type of cropped sensor that is commonly used in DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It typically has a crop factor of 1.5x or 1.6x, meaning the field of view is multiplied by that amount compared to a full-frame sensor.

Artifact

Any unwanted element or imperfection in an image, often caused by technical limitations or errors. They can be removed or reduced through post-processing techniques.

ASA

Previously known as the term for American Standards Association, ASA referred to how sensitive film was to light. Nowadays, this term has been phased out and replaced by ISO, which serves the same function for both film and digital photography.

Aspect Ratio

The ratio of the width to the height of an image or screen. Common aspect ratios in photography include 3:2 and 4:3.

Auto Exposure Bracketing / AEB

A feature on cameras that takes multiple photos at different exposure settings, usually with one underexposed, one correctly exposed, and one overexposed. This allows photographers to choose the best exposure or combine them in post-processing for a high dynamic range (HDR) image.

Auto White Balance / AWB

A camera setting that automatically adjusts the color balance to match the color temperature of the light source.

Autofocus

A camera feature that automatically focuses the lens.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of bokeh. Photo: Jan Miko/Shutterstock

B

Backlight

Light coming from behind the subject, towards the camera, creating a silhouette effect. It can be used creatively to create dramatic images, but may require additional lighting techniques or post-processing adjustments.

Barrel Distortion

A type of lens distortion that causes straight lines to appear curved outwards, creating a barrel shape. It can be corrected in post-processing or minimized by using higher quality lenses.

Bitmap

A type of digital image file format that uses a grid of pixels to represent an image. It is commonly used for images with simple graphics or logos and does not work well for photographs due to its limited color information.

Blown out

When an area of the photo is overexposed and appears completely white with no detail.

Blooming

A type of image distortion where bright areas in an image bleed into surrounding areas, causing a halo effect. It is often seen in photos with high contrasts and can be reduced by using lower ISO settings or exposure compensation.

Blue Hour

A period of time before sunrise and after sunset when the sky has a deep blue color, creating a beautiful backdrop for photos. It is often preferred by photographers for its soft lighting and calm atmosphere.

Bokeh

A term derived from a Japanese word meaning “blur” or “haze”. It refers to the quality and effect of the out-of-focus areas in a photograph

Bounce Flash

A flash technique where the flash is pointed at a reflective surface, such as a ceiling or wall, to soften and diffuse the light. This can result in more natural-looking lighting for portraits and indoor photography.

Bracketing

Taking multiple photos of the same scene at different exposure settings.

Bridge Camera

A type of compact camera with advanced features, such as manual controls and larger zoom capabilities. It bridges the gap between point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs, making it a popular choice for travel or everyday use.

Buffer Memory

The temporary storage space for images in a camera’s memory, allowing for continuous shooting without delay. A larger buffer memory is beneficial for fast-paced photography, such as sports or wildlife photography.

Bulb (Bulb Mode)

A camera setting where the shutter stays open as long as you hold down the shutter button, allowing for exposures longer than the maximum setting. It is often used for capturing long exposure photos of star trails or fireworks.

Burst Mode

A camera mode where multiple photos are taken in quick succession, usually used for capturing fast-moving subjects.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of using a wide-angle lens. Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

C

Calibration

Adjusting and fine-tuning camera settings to ensure accurate color and exposure.

Camera Mode

A setting on a camera that determines how the camera captures an image. (See also: Aperture Priority Mode, Shutter Speed Priority Mode, Manual Mode)

Camera Raw

A file format that contains minimally processed data from a digital camera’s image sensor. (See also: RAW)

Camera Shake

The unintentional motion blur in an image caused by the movement of the camera during exposure. It typically results in a blurred, unsharp photograph. Camera Shake is more apparent in images shot at slower shutter speeds, or when using a telephoto lens without stabilization.

CF Card / Compact Flash Card

A type of storage media used in professional cameras that offers high storage capacity and fast read/write speeds. It is often preferred by photographers for its durability and reliability.

C-Fast Card

A newer type of storage media that offers even faster read/write speeds than CF and SD cards. It is commonly used in high-end cameras for professional photographers and videographers.

Candid Photography

Taking photos of people or animals in their natural, unposed state.

Center-Weighted Metering Mode

This is a camera feature that calculates the exposure by primarily focusing on the center of the frame and then considering the surrounding area to a lesser degree. It is especially useful when the main subject is in the middle of the frame and is surrounded by a different level of brightness, ensuring that the main subject is exposed correctly.

Chimping

The act of immediately checking and reviewing photos on the camera’s LCD screen after taking them. It can be helpful for adjusting settings or composition, but can also be a distraction from capturing more photos.

Chromatic Aberration

The effect caused by different wavelengths of light being refracted differently, causing colors to appear at the edges of objects in an image.

Clipping

The areas of an image where the brightness level has exceeded the maximum that a camera’s sensor can capture, resulting in a loss of detail in either the highlights or shadows. When clipping occurs in the highlights, it is often referred to as “blown out” highlights, and areas appear completely white. Similarly, when clipping occurs in the shadows, details are lost and areas appear completely black.

CMOS Sensor (Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor)

A type of image sensor used in digital cameras that converts light into electrical signals.

CMYK

Short for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black), CMYK is a color model used primarily in the printing industry. It’s what we call a “subtractive” color model, which means it combines different inks to create a wide range of colors. When you mix all these colors together, you theoretically get black—hence the “Key” part, which actually refers to the black ink used to add depth and details. This model is essential for any kind of print work because it directly aligns with the way printers operate, laying down inks of these four colors to reproduce the spectrum of colors in the printed material. (Also see RGB and sRGB)

Color Balance

Adjusting the intensity of various colors (such as red, green, and blue primary colors) in an image. The goal is to render colors as accurately as possible, making sure that white objects appear white, without any color casts, under different lighting conditions. Most digital cameras have an automatic white balance (AWB) setting to correct color balance automatically, but photographers can also manually adjust the color balance depending on the lighting conditions and creative intent.

Color Cast

A color cast is a tint of a particular color, usually unwanted, which affects the entire image evenly. It can be caused by various factors such as certain types of lighting conditions or the presence of too much of one color in the image. Most digital cameras have color adjustment functions to correct for this, and it can also be corrected in post-processing with software like Photoshop. A color cast may be used intentionally to create a certain mood or effect in a photograph.

Color Temperature

A measurement of the color of light, expressed in degrees Kelvin (K). Lower temperatures (around 2000K-3000K) have a warmer, reddish-orange hue while higher temperatures (5000K and above) have a cooler, bluish tone. Photographers may adjust the white balance or use filters to control color temperature in their images.

Compact Camera

A smaller and more lightweight alternative to a traditional DSLR or mirrorless camera. They usually have fixed lenses and simpler controls, making them popular for travel and everyday use.

Composite Image

An image created by combining multiple images or elements to create a final, blended image. This technique is often used in landscape photography to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene or in portrait photography for creative and artistic effects.

Compression

The reduction of file size in a digital image, often resulting in a loss of quality. It can be used to save storage space or speed up image transfer, but should be done carefully to avoid significant loss of detail.

Composition

How elements are arranged within a frame to create a visually appealing picture. It’s all about placement, positioning, and arrangement of the subject, background, and other elements within the shot. Composition often includes consideration of aspects such as leading lines, symmetry, rule of thirds, and viewpoint to enhance the visual impact of the photograph.

Contrast

The difference between the lightest and darkest areas of an image.

Crop Factor

Crop Factor, also known as focal length multiplier, refers to the size of the image sensor in a digital camera compared to a full-frame 35mm film frame (24mm x 36mm). The term “crop” is used because smaller sensors capture a smaller area of the scene, effectively cropping the image compared to a full-frame sensor. Crop factor is significant because it impacts the field of view and the apparent focal length of a lens. For example, a camera with a crop factor of 1.5 will make a 50mm lens appear to have a focal length of 75mm (50mm x 1.5). Thus, crop factors are important to consider when choosing lenses, as they can affect the equivalent focal length and depth of field.

Cropped Sensor

A sensor that is smaller than a full-frame sensor, resulting in a narrower field of view and a magnified image. This can be beneficial for telephoto photography, but may result in a loss of image quality compared to full-frame sensors.

Cross Processing

A photographic technique where film intended for one type of development process is deliberately processed in a different type of solution. Traditionally, it involved developing color slide film in color negative film chemicals, or vice versa. This technique results in photographs with unusual, often surreal colors and high contrast. In the digital realm, the effect can be replicated using photo editing software, where color channels are manipulated to achieve a similar look. Cross processing is used for stylistic effect, often to add an artistic, vintage, or dramatic feel to the image.

Crushed

An image that appears to have lost detail in the shadows or highlights due to being overly dark or bright, making it look flat and lacking depth. It can also refer to a loss of detail in an image caused by compression when saving it in a file format such as JPEG.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of shallow depth of field. Photo: WildMedia / Shutterstock 

D

Depth of Field / DoF

The distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a photo that appear acceptably sharp. A shallow DoF means only part of the image will be in focus, while a large DoF means a large part of the image will be in focus.

Diffraction

An optical phenomenon that occurs when light bends and spreads out as it passes through small openings or around sharp edges, such as the aperture in a camera lens. This can result in softening of image details and decrease in overall image quality, especially at smaller apertures.

Digital Image File

A file format used to store digital images, most commonly in JPEG or JPG format. They are compressed files that maintain image quality while reducing file size for easier storage and sharing. Other common formats include PNG, TIFF, and RAW.

Digital Zoom

Unlike optical zoom, which uses the camera’s lens to physically zoom in on a subject, digital zoom simulates this effect by cropping and enlarging a portion of the image. This process can lead to a reduction in image quality, as it essentially stretches the pixels. However, it can be a handy feature for getting a closer look at your subject without having to move, especially when higher resolution cameras are used where the loss in detail might be less noticeable. It’s a useful tool for framing your shot just the way you want it, right from your camera or device, allowing for creative flexibility even after the photo has been taken.

DNG / Digital Negative

A digital photo format developed by Adobe Systems, designed to store raw image data from cameras. It is compatible with a wide range of software and allows for greater flexibility and manipulation of the original data compared to other common formats such as JPEG or TIFF. DNG files can be converted back into various other formats with minimal loss of quality, making it popular among professional photographers.

Double Exposure

A technique where two images are combined onto a single frame, resulting in a composite image. This can be achieved by either exposing the same frame of film twice with different images or digitally blending two separate photos together. Double exposure can create unique and creative effects by combining different elements from multiple images into one.

DPI / Dots Per Inch

Dots per inch (dpi) refers to the number of dots that can fit into a linear space of one inch. It is commonly used in printing and displaying digital images. A higher dpi results in a sharper image, while a lower dpi may lead to pixelation or blurriness. For web use, 72 dpi is considered standard, but for printed images, a higher dpi such as 300 dpi is recommended to maintain image quality.

DSLR / Digital Single Lens Reflex

A type of digital camera that uses a mirror mechanism to reflect light from the lens into an optical viewfinder, allowing for precise framing and focusing. DSLRs are often preferred by professional photographers due to their versatility, high image quality, and ability to interchange lenses.

Dynamic Range

The range of tones, from light to dark, that a camera or image sensor can capture. A larger dynamic range means the camera has the ability to capture more detail in both highlights and shadows. This is important for shooting in challenging lighting conditions, as it allows for greater flexibility in post-processing and achieving accurate exposure.

E

Effective Pixels

The number of pixels on a camera’s sensor that are used to capture an image. This may be different from the total number of pixels in the sensor, as some may be used for other functions like autofocus or noise reduction. It is an important factor in determining the overall image quality of a camera.

Electronic Viewfinder / EVF

A digital display that replaces the traditional optical viewfinder on a camera, allowing the photographer to see exactly what the sensor sees. It can provide a more accurate representation of exposure and framing, but may have some lag compared to an optical viewfinder.

Evaluative Metering Mode

A metering mode on a camera that uses the entire frame to determine the exposure for a photo. It takes into account multiple areas of the scene and calculates an average exposure based on those readings. This is useful for scenes with high contrast, as it can help balance out the exposure between bright and dark areas.

EXIF Data / Exchangeable Image File Data

Information about the camera settings and other data that is stored within an image file. This can be useful for analyzing and improving photography techniques, as well as organizing and categorizing images.

Exposure

The amount of light that reaches your camera sensor or film. It’s determined by the combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Proper exposure is critical for creating a photograph that is neither too bright (overexposed) nor too dark (underexposed).

Exposure Compensation

A feature on cameras that allows you to adjust the exposure settings beyond what the camera’s automatic mode has chosen. It can be used to brighten or darken an image, and is helpful for fine-tuning exposure in tricky lighting situations.

Exposure Triangle

The relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, which together control the exposure of a photo. Adjusting one setting will affect the others, requiring careful balancing to achieve proper exposure.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of an SLR camera. Photo: Ground Picture / Shutterstock

F

F Stop

A measurement of the size of the aperture in a camera lens. It affects the amount of light that enters the camera and therefore plays a significant role in exposure. The lower the f-stop number, the larger the aperture and more light will be allowed into the camera.

Fast Lens

A lens with a wide maximum aperture, typically f/2.8 or wider. These lenses allow for more light to enter the camera and are useful in low-light situations, as well as for creating shallow depth of field.

Fill Light

Additional light used to reduce the contrast in a scene. It can be natural or artificial and is often used in portrait photography to soften shadows and create an even lighting across the subject’s face.

Filter

A piece of glass or other material that is placed in front of a camera lens to change or enhance the appearance of an image. Filters can be used for color correction, reducing glare, creating special effects, and more.

Firmware

A type of software specific to a particular device, in this case a camera. It controls the operation and functionality of the camera’s hardware components. Manufacturers may release firmware updates to fix bugs or add new features to cameras.

Fisheye Lens

A wide-angle lens that produces a distorted, curved effect on images. It can create unique and creative perspectives, but may not be suitable for all types of photography.

Flash

A light source used to illuminate a scene or subject in low light situations. It can also be used creatively to add an extra element to a photo, such as freezing motion or adding catchlights. (Also see Speedlight and Off-Camera Flash)

Flash Sync

The synchronization of the camera’s shutter speed with the firing of a flash. It ensures that the flash fires at the correct time to properly expose the image.

Flat Light

Lighting conditions where there is little contrast or shadows, resulting in a somewhat dull and flat-looking image. It can be caused by overcast skies or even lighting from artificial sources.

Focal Length

The distance between the camera’s lens and its focal point when focused on a subject. It affects the angle of view and magnification of a photo, with shorter focal lengths creating wider angles and longer focal lengths producing tighter shots.

Focus Modes

The different ways in which a camera can focus on a subject. Common modes include Single-Servo AF (focuses once when the shutter button is pressed halfway), Continuous-Servo AF (continuously adjusts focus until the photo is taken), and Manual Focus (allows for complete control over focusing using the lens ring).

Focus Stacking

A technique where multiple images are taken at different focus points and then combined into one final image with an extended depth of field. This can be useful for macro photography or situations where a shallow depth of field is desired but not achievable in one shot.

Framing

The process of composing a photograph by using elements in the scene to create a frame around the subject. This can add depth and context to an image, as well as draw attention to the main subject.

Front Lighting

When the main source of light is in front of the subject, casting light directly on their face or scene. This can create a strong and dramatic lighting effect, but can also result in harsh shadows.

Full Frame

A digital camera sensor that is the same size as a 35mm film frame. This allows for wider angles of view and higher resolution images, but can also be more expensive and larger in size compared to cameras with smaller sensors.

A cheetah sitting atop a termite mound during sunrise in the savannah.

An example of golden hour light. Photo: Dr Ajay Kumar Singh / Shutterstock

G

GAS / Gear Acquisition Syndrome

A humorous term used to describe the urge to buy more and more photography equipment, often more than one might actually need.

Geotagging

The process of adding location data to a photo, usually through the use of GPS technology. This can be helpful for organizing and categorizing photos, as well as providing context and information about where an image was taken.

Glass

A slang term for a lens. Photographers may refer to their lenses as “glass” due to the fact that most lenses are made with glass elements.

Golden Hour

The period of time just after sunrise or before sunset when the natural light is soft and golden, creating a warm and flattering glow on subjects. This is often considered the best time for outdoor photography due to the beautiful lighting.

Grain

The visible texture or noise in an image, often caused by shooting at a high ISO or using certain film types. Grain can add character and artistic elements to photos, but may also be undesirable in some cases.

Gray Card

A neutral gray card used to help establish correct exposure and white balance in photography. It reflects a known amount of light and can be used as a reference point for setting the camera’s exposure.

Black and white photo of two jellyfish with delicate tentacles floating against a light background.

An example of high key. Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

H

Hard Light

Lighting conditions where there is a high contrast between light and shadow, resulting in harsh and defined shadows. It can be caused by direct sunlight or artificial lighting.

Recommended Reading: Our tutorial on photographing in harsh light >>

HDR / High Dynamic Range

A technique where multiple images are taken at different exposures and then combined in post-processing to create a final image with a wider range of tones and details. This can be useful for capturing scenes with extreme contrast.

High Key

A style of photography where the majority of tones in an image are bright and light. It creates a clean and airy feel, and is often used in fashion or product photography.

Recommended Reading: Our tutorial on high key photography >>

Histogram

A graphical representation of the tones and brightness levels in an image. It can be used to evaluate exposure and make adjustments accordingly.

Hot Shoe

A mount on top of a camera where external flashes, lights, or other accessories can be attached. This allows for greater flexibility and control over lighting in photography.

Hyperfocal Distance

The distance at which a lens should be focused in order to achieve the maximum depth of field possible. This is useful for landscape photography where a large depth of field is desired.

I

Image Stabilization

A technology in cameras and lenses that helps reduce camera shake and blur, resulting in sharper images. It can be especially helpful when shooting handheld or in low light situations.

Interchangable Lens

A type of camera that allows for lenses to be changed and swapped, offering more versatility for different types of photography. This includes DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

ISO

A measurement of the sensitivity of a camera’s sensor to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera will be and therefore able to capture images in low light conditions. However, a high ISO can also introduce noise or grain into photos.

J

JPEG

A common file format for saving digital images, known for its compression capabilities that reduce the file size while retaining image quality, making it ideal for web use where file size and download speed are key considerations. However, JPEG is a lossy format, meaning some image data is discarded during compression and cannot be retrieved later. Despite the fact that some quality is lost during the compression process to achieve smaller sizes, the flexibility and practicality of JPEG have solidified its position as a staple in digital imaging. JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which is the name of the committee that created this widely used digital image format. (See Digital File Format).

K

Kelvin Scale

A temperature scale used to measure the color of light. In photography, it is often used to adjust white balance and achieve natural-looking colors in photos.

Key Light

The main source of light in a scene or photograph. It is usually the most powerful and sets the overall lighting tone for the image.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of leading lines. Photo: Nature_Photography_143 / Shutterstock

L

Lag Time

The delay between pressing the shutter button and the camera actually taking the photo. This can be an important factor for capturing fast-moving subjects or in situations where timing is crucial.

LCD / Liquid Crystal Display

A type of electronic display used in digital cameras to preview and review photos. It utilizes liquid crystals to create images and can also display camera settings and menus.

Leading Lines

Visual elements such as roads, paths, or structures that lead the viewer’s eye towards a specific point in an image. This can create a sense of depth and guide the viewer through the photo.

Lens Calibration

A process of adjusting the focus of a lens to ensure it is accurate and precise. This may be necessary if a lens is consistently producing out-of-focus images.

Lens Flare

The effect of light scattering within a camera lens, resulting in bright and sometimes colorful spots or streaks in an image. While often seen as a flaw, lens flare can also add artistic elements to photos.

Lens Hood

A detachable accessory that attaches to the front of a lens to block unwanted light and reduce glare or lens flares. It also provides some protection for the front of the lens.

Light Meter

A device used to measure how much light is in a scene and determine proper exposure settings for a camera. Some modern cameras have built-in light meters, but external ones can also be used for more accuracy and control.

Long Exposure

A technique where the camera’s shutter is left open for an extended period of time, resulting in a blurred effect on moving subjects and capturing light trails. It can be used creatively to create dreamy or dramatic images.

Low Key

A style of photography where the majority of tones in an image are dark and moody. It is often used in portrait or fine art photography to create a sense of mystery or drama.

Recommended Reading: Our tutorial on low key photography >>

Lossy

A type of compression that results in a loss of image quality. This is commonly used for JPEG images, where some data is discarded to reduce file size.

Lossless

A type of compression that maintains the full quality of an image without any data loss. This may result in larger file sizes compared to lossy compression methods.

Luminosity

The brightness or intensity of light in an image. In post-processing, photographers may adjust the luminosity levels to enhance certain parts of the image.

A solitary mushroom illuminated against a dark background, emerging next to a moss-covered tree bark.

An example of low key. Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

M

Macro Lens

A type of lens specifically designed for close-up photography, allowing for sharp and detailed images of small subjects. It can also be used for creative shots with a shallow depth of field.

Macro Photography

The art of capturing small objects or details up close using a macro lens. It can reveal intricate textures and patterns that are often overlooked by the naked eye.

Recommended Reading: 25 Creative Macro Photography Ideas >>

Manual Mode

A setting on a camera where the photographer has full control over all exposure settings, including shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. This allows for precise adjustments and creative experimentation. (Also see Camera Mode)

Megapixel

A unit of measurement for the resolution of digital images. It refers to one million pixels and is often used to describe the quality of a camera’s sensor or the size of an image.

Memory Card

A small electronic storage device that is used to store photos and other data in cameras. Different types of memory cards include SD, CF, and XQD, with varying storage capacities and speeds.

Metadata

Information embedded in digital images that provides details such as camera settings, date and time of capture, and copyright information. This data can be useful for organizing and managing large collections of photos.

Metering

This term refers to the process through which a camera determines the correct exposure for a photograph. It does this by measuring the amount of light in the scene and calculating the best-fit exposure value based on the photographer’s chosen settings. The metering mode selected can greatly impact how bright or dark the image appears, making it a crucial aspect of the art and science of photography.

  • Evaluative Metering (Canon) / Matrix Metering (Nikon): This is the default and most commonly used metering mode. The camera assesses the light in several parts of the image and provides the best guess for the correct exposure based on the overall tone.
  • Partial Metering (Canon) / Center-Weighted Metering (Nikon): This metering mode measures the light in the center of the frame and ignores much of the border. It’s useful when you have a subject in the middle of the frame and don’t want the background to influence the exposure setting.
  • Spot Metering (Canon & Nikon): Spot metering measures only a small area of the frame. In Canon, it’s around 3.5% of the frame, and in Nikon, it’s about 1.5%. This mode is useful when photographing a specific element of the scene, such as a bird in the sky.
  • Center-Weighted Metering (Canon) / Average Metering (Nikon): This mode takes an average reading from the entire scene, but with a greater emphasis on the center area. It’s useful for general photography.

Mirrorless Cameras

A type of camera that uses electronic viewfinders instead of traditional mirrors and optical viewfinders. This allows for a smaller and lighter body compared to DSLR cameras.

Monochrome

Refers to black and white images or those with only a single hue. It can add a sense of timelessness and drama to photographs, as well as emphasize texture and contrast.

Monopod

A single-legged support used to stabilize a camera and reduce camera shake. It is less stable than a tripod but more portable and easier to set up.

Recommended Reading: Our top picks for best  monopods >>

N

Neutral Density Filter / ND Filter

A filter that reduces the amount of light entering the camera, allowing for longer exposures without overexposure. It is commonly used in landscape photography to capture motion blur or smooth out water.

Nifty Fifty

Refers to a 50mm lens, which is loved by photographers for its versatility and the high quality of images it produces. It’s often seen as an essential lens in a photographer’s kit due to its natural perspective, comparable to the human eye.

Noise

Random variations in brightness or color in digital images, often seen as grainy or speckled areas. Higher ISO settings and low-light conditions can increase noise in photos, but it can also be creatively used in certain styles of photography.

Noise Reduction

A process used to reduce or remove the digital noise in an image, which can result in a grainy or speckled appearance. This is particularly useful for high ISO images.

O

Off-Camera Flash

A flash unit that is not attached directly to the camera, allowing for more control and creativity with lighting. It can be triggered wirelessly or connected via a cord.

Overexposure

When a photo is captured with too much light, resulting in areas of the image being overly bright and lacking detail. It can be corrected in post-processing to some extent but should generally be avoided for best results.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of a wide angle perspective. Photo: COLOMBO NICOLA / Shutterstock

P

Panning

A technique where the camera is moved in sync with a moving subject to create a sense of motion in an image. It requires practice and experimentation to achieve desired results.

Panorama

A technique where multiple images are stitched together to create one wide and panoramic photo. It can capture stunning landscapes and cityscapes that cannot fit in a single frame.

Parallax

The effect where an object appears to shift its position when viewed from different angles. This can be a challenge when using viewfinders on cameras, as the image may not be framed exactly as it appears through the lens.

Perspective

The angle and distance from which a photo is taken, affecting the perceived size and relationship between objects in the scene. It can be manipulated through lens choice, camera position, and composition to create different effects.

  • Wide-Angle: Lenses with a short focal length (typically 35mm or less) that capture a wider field of view than human vision. They are commonly used in landscape and architectural photography to emphasize space and depth.
  • Standard/Normal: Lenses with a focal length close to 50mm, similar to the human eye’s perspective. They produce images that closely match what we see.
  • Telephoto: Lenses with a long focal length (typically 70mm or more) that magnify distant objects, making them appear closer. They are commonly used in sports and wildlife photography.

Pixel

The smallest unit of a digital image, represented by a single point of color. The more pixels in an image, the higher its resolution and potential for detail.

PPI / Pixels Per Inch

A measure of image resolution, specifically the number of pixels that fit in a linear inch. Higher PPI allows for more detail and better print quality.

PNG / Portable Network Graphic

An image format that supports lossless compression, meaning no quality is lost when the file size is reduced. It’s useful for images with text or sharp lines and edges. PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics, an image format designed for transferring photos over the Internet.

Polarizing Filter

A filter that reduces glare and reflections on non-metallic surfaces, such as water or glass. It can also enhance color saturation and contrast in photos.

Post-Processing

Editing and enhancing photos after they have been taken to achieve a specific look or correct any imperfections

Prime Lens

A lens with a fixed focal length, meaning it cannot zoom in or out. They are generally sharper and have larger maximum apertures than zoom lenses.

Program Mode

An automatic mode on cameras that controls aperture and shutter speed based on the scene’s lighting conditions. It allows for some user input but still automates many settings. (Also see Camera Mode)

Prosumer camera

A type of camera that falls between consumer-level and professional-level cameras. It offers more advanced features than a point-and-shoot camera, but may be more affordable than a high-end DSLR.

Pixel Peeping

The act of zooming in very closely on an image to examine the details at the pixel level. Photographers who are “pixel peepers” are often concerned about the sharpness, noise, and overall quality of their images to a very high degree.

Point and Shoot Camera

A type of compact camera that is designed for simple and automatic operation. These cameras typically have smaller sensors and fixed lenses, making them more affordable and portable.

Polarizing Filter / Polarizer

An accessory that attaches to the front of a lens and helps to reduce glare and reflections, as well as enhance colors. It can be rotated to adjust the amount of polarization in an image.

Q

Quick breather before moving on…

R

RAW

A file format that contains all the unprocessed data captured by a camera’s sensor, providing the most flexibility and control in post-processing. RAW is an acronym that doesn’t exactly stand for anything specific in photography, but simply refers to the raw, unprocessed data captured by a camera’s sensor. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a film negative, offering the highest level of quality and flexibility for post-processing. With RAW files, photographers have complete control over adjustments like exposure, white balance, and more, without compromising on image quality. It’s a format that promises the freedom to bring a photographic vision to life in its purest form. It requires specialized software, such as Lightroom or Photoshop, to edit and convert into a more common format like JPEG. (See also Digital Image File)

Rear-Curtain Sync

A flash technique where the flash fires at the end of an exposure, resulting in a motion blur effect before the subject is frozen by the flash.

Red Eye

The effect where a subject’s eyes appear red in photos, caused by light from a flash reflecting off the retina. It can be avoided or corrected using various techniques and tools.

Reflector

A tool used to reflect light onto a subject, often used in portrait and product photography to fill in shadows and create more flattering lighting.

Resolution

The number of pixels in an image, often expressed as the width and height in pixels. Higher resolution images have more detail and can be printed at larger sizes without losing quality.

Retouching

The process of altering and improving images in post-processing, often used for cosmetic purposes or to fix imperfections.

RGB

The primary colors of light – Red, Green, and Blue – used to create all colors in digital displays. Images are typically stored and edited in this color mode. This color model is crucial because it mimics the way our human eyes perceive colors by mixing these three hues in various intensities. In the world of digital photography and screens, every color we see is a combination of red, green, and blue light. The RGB color model is used across digital displays, cameras, and even web design, allowing for a wide spectrum of colors. By adjusting the intensity of each color from 0 to 255, it’s possible to create over 16 million different color combinations, enabling our digital devices to display images in vivid detail and rich colors. Understanding RGB is fundamental for photographers and anyone involved in digital imaging, as it affects everything from capturing photos to the final image display on screens.

Rule of Thirds

A compositional guideline where the frame is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, creating intersecting points that are ideal for placing key elements in a photo. It can help create balance and visual interest in images.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of high saturation. Photo: Creative Travel Projects / Shutterstock

S

Saturation

The intensity of color in an image, ranging from dull and muted to vibrant and bold. Increasing saturation can result in more vibrant colors, while decreasing it can create a more subdued and muted look.

SD Card

A type of storage media used in consumer-level cameras that offers high storage capacity and fast read/write speeds. It is a smaller and more affordable option compared to CF cards, but may not be as durable.

Shutter Speed

A camera setting that controls how long the shutter remains open, allowing light to enter and expose the sensor. It affects motion blur, with faster shutter speeds freezing action, and slower speeds showing movement.

Shutter Priority Mode

A semi-automatic mode on cameras where the user sets the desired shutter speed, and the camera determines the appropriate aperture for proper exposure. It is useful for capturing motion or freezing action. (Also see Camera Mode)

Sidelight

A lighting condition where the main source of light is coming from the side of the subject. It can create more depth and texture in an image, but may also result in harsh shadows.

Silhouette

An image where the subject is seen as a dark shape against a bright background, often used to create dramatic or artistic photos.

Single Shot AF

A focusing mode on cameras where the focus is locked after pressing the shutter button halfway, and remains fixed until the photo is taken. It’s useful for still subjects but may not work well for moving subjects.

SLR / Single Lens Reflex Camera

A type of camera that uses a mirror and prism system to reflect light from the lens into an optical viewfinder, allowing the photographer to see exactly what the lens sees. It also offers interchangeable lenses for versatility in shooting different subjects and styles.

Snoot

A real piece of equipment, even though the name sounds slangy. It’s a tube or similar object that fits over a light source (like a flash) to direct the light in a narrow beam, used to highlight specific parts of the scene or create dramatic lighting effects.

Soft Light

A type of lighting that creates soft, diffused shadows with gradual transitions between light and dark areas, often used for portraits and still life photography.

Softbox

A tool used in photography to diffuse and soften artificial lighting. It’s typically made of translucent fabric stretched over a frame and placed in front of lights to create more natural-looking light on the subject.

Speedlight

A type of external flash that can be mounted on the camera or used off-camera. They are smaller and more portable than studio strobes, making them a popular choice for event and portrait photography.

Spot Metering Mode

A metering mode on cameras where the exposure is based on a small, specific area of the frame, often the center. It can be useful for ensuring proper exposure in challenging lighting situations or when photographing a subject with extreme contrast.

Spray and Pray

Taking a lot of shots very quickly without worrying too much about composition or settings, hoping that one of the shots turns out well. It’s often used in fast-paced environments.

sRGB

The most common color space used for digital images, designed for standard display on monitors and the web. It has a smaller color gamut than other color spaces but is more universally compatible. (Also see RGB and CMYK)

Stabilization

A feature in camera lenses or bodies that helps reduce blur caused by camera shake, allowing for sharper images.

Stitching

The process of combining multiple images into one panoramic or wide-angle photo. It can be done manually or using specialized software.

Stop

A unit of measurement to express changes in exposure. Each full stop represents a doubling or halving of the amount of light that enters the camera, affecting the brightness and overall exposure of an image.

Sync Speed

The fastest shutter speed that can be used when using flash photography to avoid a black bar appearing in the photo. It varies depending on the camera and flash setup.

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

A telephoto zoom lens. Photo: Badass artists / Shutterstock

T

Tack Sharp

A compliment for a photo that is extremely clear and detailed, with crisp, sharp focus. It’s something many photographers strive for, especially in portraits and macro photography.

Telephoto

A lens with a longer focal length, typically used for capturing distant subjects. It has a narrower field of view and can create a compressed perspective in photos.

Tethered Shooting

A technique where a camera is connected to a computer or device, allowing for images to be immediately transferred and viewed on a larger screen. It’s often used in studio settings for precise control

TIFF / Tag Image File Format

An image file format that supports lossless compression, meaning no quality is lost when the file size is reduced. It’s useful for high-quality images and printing. TIFF is a comprehensive and flexible format for storing images. It’s like a powerhouse in the world of photography and digital imaging, supporting both lossless and lossy compression. (See also Digital Image File)

Tilt-Shift

A type of lens or technique that allows photographers to control the plane of focus and create a miniature effect in images.

Time-Lapse

A photography technique where frames are taken at regular intervals and then stitched together to create a video that shows the passage of time. It’s often used in nature or architectural photography.

Tonal Range

The range of tones from light to dark in an image. A photo with a wide tonal range has both bright and dark areas, while a low tonal range photo may have mostly mid-tones.

Tripod

A three-legged stand used to support a camera for stability and reduce camera shake. It’s essential for capturing sharp and steady photos, particularly when using longer shutter speeds or telephoto lenses.

Recommended Reading: Our top picks for best  tripods >>

U

Underexposure

When an image is too dark because not enough light entered the camera. It can be corrected in post-processing, but can also result in a loss of detail and quality.

UV Filter / Ultraviolet Filter

A clear filter that attaches to the front of a lens to protect it from scratches and dust. It also helps to reduce haze and improve contrast in certain lighting conditions.

V

Vibrance

A type of color adjustment that increases the saturation of muted colors, while protecting skin tones and avoiding over-saturation. It can be a more subtle way to enhance colors compared to traditional saturation adjustments.

Vignetting

A darkening around the edges of an image, often caused by using wide aperture settings or certain lens types. It can be used creatively to draw attention to the subject or reduced in post-processing.

Viewfinder

An optical or electronic device used for composing and framing a photo before taking it. It’s typically located at the top of the camera body and allows the photographer to see what will be captured in the final image. 

Close-up of a carnivorous pitcher plant with prey inside its trap.

An example of slow shutter speed creating soft, blurred water. Photo: Nature_Photography_143 / Shutterstock

W

White Balance

A setting on cameras that adjusts the colors of an image to appear more natural under different lighting conditions. It ensures that whites appear white, regardless of the color temperature of the light source.

Wide-Angle

A lens with a shorter focal length, typically used for capturing a wider field of view. It can create dramatic perspectives and is often used by landscape photographers or architectural photographers.

Watermark

A visible mark or logo that is placed on an image to protect it from unauthorized use. This can be done through software or with a physical stamp.

X

X-Sync

The synchronization speed at which your camera can use a flash without causing any shutter curtain shadows in the image. It’s the fastest shutter speed you can use while still allowing the entire film or sensor to be exposed to the flash at once.

Y

YCbCr

It stands for Luminance (Y) and Chrominance (Cb and Cr) and refers to a color space used in video and digital photography. It separates the brightness and color components of an image, allowing for more efficient compression.

Z

Zone System

A method of controlling exposure and developing techniques in black and white photography. It divides the tonal range into different zones, allowing for more precise control over the final image.

Zoom Lens

A type of lens that allows for variable focal lengths, allowing photographers to zoom in or out on their subject without physically moving closer or further away. It offers versatility in shooting different types of subjects and compositions.

 

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Jaymi Heimbuch

Author

Jaymi Heimbuch is a wildlife conservation photographer, photo editor, and instructor. She is the founder of Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy ®, and is the host of Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. Her photography and writing have appeared in outlets such as National Wildlife, Audubon, BBC Wildlife, and National Geographic. She is Senior Photo Editor of Ranger Rick magazine.

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