- Jargon-buster overview
- A-Z glossary of general photographic terms
- A-Z glossary of lighting terms
- A-Z glossary of miscellaneous photographic terms
A list of the most common, day-to-day photographic terms you'll encounter, and what they mean.
These terms are listed in alphabetical order for ease of viewing or locating a particular term.
A-Z of general photographic terms
Angle/field of view is the width of view produced by lenses and is measured in degrees. Wide-angle lenses naturally have a wider field of view while telephoto lenses have a narrower field of view. One way photographers can extend this is by shooting panoramic images made up of a series of upright images that are merged together in post-processing.
Aperture is an adjustable opening inside lenses where the size can be changed to control the amount of light able to reach the camera sensor or film plane. Aperture is measured in f-stops, eg. f/2.8 and f/11 and the chosen setting also controls depth-of-field.
Autofocus modes are used to focus lenses on different types of subjects effectively; Single Shot is for shooting static subjects while Continuous is used for moving subjects. For the latter, when the shutter button is halfway depressed, the lens will continuously focus on the subject until the shutter button is fully depressed to take a shot. Other autofocus modes include tracking, which tracks moving subjects in the frame, even if they move and the camera remains fixed, while Eye AF detects eyes.
Bokeh refers to the quality of background blur when shooting at wide apertures to obtain a shallow depth-of-field to isolate the subject. Read our beginner's guide to creating a bokeh effect.
Bracketing is a technique where you take shots at different exposure settings to ensure that one of the images has a correct exposure. It’s also an essential element of HDR photography where a series of bracketed exposures are taken at two-stop increments and then blended together in post-processing to maintain detail throughout the scene.
Bulb is a mode within Manual mode where you can take manually timed exposures longer than 30 seconds using a shutter remote to manually open and close the shutter. When shooting in Bulb you’ll need to use a stopwatch, although some cameras show an on-screen timer and some can be set to shoot exposures longer than 30 seconds.
Camera shake is camera movement that’s captured during slow shutter speeds or those that aren’t fast enough to support the focal length of the lens being used. This movement is captured as a shaky-looking blur in images.
Chimping simply refers to reviewing images on the camera LCD screen after they’ve been taken.
Clipping is when detail is lost to pure black or pure white in either the shadows or highlights. In this situation, highlights are often referred to as blown while shadows are referred to as being clipped.
Colour cast is a colour that’s present across a whole image and is usually the result of shooting with the incorrect white balance settings for the light source or lighting conditions. Colour casts can also be present in processed images if the photographer doesn’t have a calibrated monitor and makes colour adjustments to their images.
Depth-of-field is the depth of sharpness, from front to back, within photos. This is controlled by the point of focus and the aperture used eg. f/1.8 will produce a shallow depth-of-of-field whereas f/16 will produce a large depth-of-field. Learn more with our beginner's guide to depth-of-field.
Exposure is the combination and balance of ISO, aperture and shutter speed to take a photo. Shutter speed and aperture control the amount of light that can reach the sensor, while ISO controls the sensitivity of the sensor to light.
Exposure modes are different shooting modes that allow you to take control of all or some exposure settings; in manual mode you control ISO, aperture and shutter speed; in aperture priority you control ISO and aperture while the camera takes care of shutter speed and in shutter priority you control ISO and shutter speed while the camera controls the aperture.
Exposure compensation is used to manually override/control the exposure set by the camera when shooting with shutter and aperture priority. Positive exposure compensation lightens exposure and negative exposure compensation darkens exposure.
EV or exposure value refers to the combination of aperture and shutter speed at different settings to produce the same exposure. For example, 1/125 sec at f/5.6 is the same exposure value as 1/15 sec at f/16.
EVF is the electronic viewfinder you find on mirrorless cameras to create a viewable digital/electronic image. DSLRs use an optical viewfinder where the image created by the lens is projected up to the viewfinder using a mirror and pentaprism.
Focal length is a measure of how much a lens focuses light to determine how wide or narrow the field of view is, as well as how large a subject appears in the frame. Common focal lengths include 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 135mm, 200mm, 400mm and many more.
Frame is the image you see in the viewfinder or on the camera’s LCD screen, including the black edges. The term is also used to describe the act of shooting eg. ‘firing off a few frames’. The size and shape of the frame differ from camera to camera and is often dictated by the format/size of the sensor.
Histogram is a graph that shows the brightness levels and tonal range in photos. The graph ranges from black or shadows on the left, through to mid-tones in the centre, to whites or highlights on the right. If the left or right side of the graph is touching the edge of the frame the image is suffering from clipping. In most situations, ensuring highlight detail has been maintained is most important.
Learn more on how to read a histogram with our guide.
Hyperfocal distance is a method of maximising depth-of-field by focusing at the optimal distance for the aperture being used. Older manual lenses have a hyperfocal distance scale printed onto the lens, while for modern lenses a hyperfocal distance calculator can be used to find the optimal focusing distance.
ISO stands for International Standards organisation and refers to the sensitivity of the camera sensor or film to light. Lower ISO levels are less sensitive to light, while higher settings are more sensitive, but the trade-off is that as settings are increased more noise is introduced to images; low ISO levels produce the best image quality and higher settings, particularly above ISO 1600, produce reduced image quality. Learn more with our beginner's guide to ISO.
Light meters come in two flavours, reflective meters built into cameras and incident meters which are handheld meters that read the light falling onto the subject or scene rather than reflecting from it. Both allow you to calculate the correct exposure. For in-camera light meters, there are three main modes; Spot, which reads light from a small area of the frame, typically around the active focus point for a precise reading; Centre weighted reads light from the central area of the frame and Evaluative divides the frame into segments and calculates exposure based on light read from these segments.
Noise is what occurs when the ISO is increased and diminishes image quality. Luminance noise is the grainy appearance you see at higher ISO levels, while colour noise is the coloured flecks and dots that also appear at higher settings.
Prime lenses are lenses that have a fixed focal length, so a 50mm f/1.8 lens is a prime lens. These lenses typically have faster maximum apertures than zoom lenses, which means the aperture can open wider to let more light pass through the lens as well as creating a shallower depth-of-field.
Shutter speed is the time the shutter curtain is held open to allow light to pass through to reach the camera sensor. Slow shutter speeds are typically used to capture blur, while faster shutter speeds are often used to freeze movement. Learn more with our beginner's guide to shutter speed.
Shutter remotes are used to fire the camera shutter when the camera is attached to a tripod without touching the camera itself. Doing so can cause camera shake, even with a camera attached to a tripod, when shooting at or below 1/15th sec. They’re also essential when shooting in Bulb mode.
Stops refer to full or standard ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings. ISO 100, 200, 400, and 800 etc. are all stops, as are 1 sec, 1/2 sec, 1/4 and 1/8 sec. Stops typically double, but the exception is the aperture where things are a little more confusing. Here you might have f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11 and f/16. A stop of any of the three is equal in exposure value to the others, so if you increase ISO by a stop, you could decrease aperture or shutter speed by a stop to achieve the same exposure value.
Wide open means setting the aperture to the largest settings possible. So, on some lenses that might be f/1.4, while on others it could be f/2.8, f/4 or even f/5.6.
Zoom lenses are lenses that have a variable focal range making them extremely convenient for many photographers. Zoom lenses are available at a wide range of focal ranges including 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and 100-400mm.
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles