40 Common Photography Terms for Beginners

In Beginner Tips by Stefano CaioniLeave a Comment

Whether you are an amateur photographer or a professional shutterbug, you’ve definitely come across certain common photography terms and phrases that have often left you scratching your head.

Photography can be fun and exciting, but if you don’t know what these terms mean, you might have difficulty selecting the right camera or lens, reading your camera’s manual, setting your camera appropriately and getting the best shots.

The good news is that thanks to my experience, I’ve written this article to help you. This photography glossary defines some of the most common but technical terms you will find in the line of duty. Without wasting much time, read on and discover what these photography terms for beginners represent.

1. Bokeh

Bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to adding haze or blur within the out of focus areas of an image, to make the photo more visually pleasing. Read more about bokeh here.

2. Aperture

Aperture is the size of the adjustable opening of the lens, which determines how much light passes to the digital sensor. It works the same way the pupil of the eye opens and closes, allowing light to enter depending on the brightness of the room. Aperture is measured in f-stops.

3. Depth of Field

Depth of Field or DoF is the distance of the area in focus between the closest and farthest objects within an image. A shallow depth of field is where the least amount of the scene is in focus, while a large DoF is where more of the image is in focus.

4. ISO

ISO or International Standards Organization is a rating that indicates how sensitive the digital sensor is to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive the sensor. A higher ISO allows photographers to shoot in low light and vice versa.

5. RAW

RAW is a file format for saving images to a digital memory card. As the name implies, this file format is the unedited or unprocessed version of an image that gives photographers more editing flexibility.

6. Shutter Speed

The shutter speed refers to the length of time (in fractions per second) a camera takes to record an image. Essentially, it is the time the shutter of the camera stays open.

7. Viewfinder

The viewfinder is the hole used to view the entire frame of the subject you want to photograph. In essence, it allows you to see the actual view before taking a photo.

8. Burst Mode

Burst Mode or Continuous Shooting Mode is a method that allows you to capture several photos in quick succession with, a single press of the shutter release button.

9. Aspect Ratio

The Aspect Ratio is the height and width ratio of the image captured and produced by the camera.

10. Micro Four Thirds

Micro Four Thirds (MFT) is a sensor system designed by Olympus and Panasonic for the development of mirrorless cameras. MFT sensors are significantly smaller than full-frame and APS-C sensors, and it gives a lens a crop factor of 2x, meaning a 300mm lens is effectively a 600mm.

11. Full Frame

A full-frame camera is one that has a sensor roughly the same size as the old 35mm film, measuring 36mm x24mm

12. APS-C

Advanced Photo System type C (APS-C) is a digital image sensor format found in most DSLRs. The sensor is 50% smaller than a standard 35mm frame, and it has a 1.5x magnification factor.

13. Exposure

Exposure refers to the volume of light that strikes the digital sensor through the lens. It determines how bright or dark the photograph is. A very bright photo is said to be overexposed while a very dark photo is considered underexposed.

14. Focal Length

The focal length is the distance in millimeters between the center of the lens and the point of focus inside the lens (the image it forms on the film). In essence, the focal length refers to how zoomed in your image will appear.

15. Long Exposure

Long exposure is a photography technique that involves using long-duration shutter speed to capture still images in low light.

16. Metering

Metering is the process of calculating the amount of exposure required. Notably, most digital cameras consist of a built-in light meter that calculates the amount of exposure, based on existing light conditions.

17. Noise

Noise or dark current is a photography term that describes the little flecks that appear in an image when a pixel does not collect enough light.

18. Time Lapse

Time-lapse is a series of photographs of the same image captured at different time intervals

19. Shutter Release

The shutter release is the button you press to take a photo

20. White Balance

White balance is the process of adjusting color settings so that images look more natural. The setting eliminates unrealistic color casts, making sure that objects in an image appear as original as possible.

21. Manual Focus

Manual focus is an option that allows you to adjust the focus of the camera lens by hand, according to your preference

22. Auto Focus

Auto Focus or AF is a feature that automatically adjusts the lens to focus on a subject without your intervention

23. Zoom Lens

This is a type of lens that has different focal lengths, allowing you to change perspective easily. You can zoom in or out from 18mm to 300mm depending on the camera.

24. Prime Lens

This is a type of lens that has a fixed focal length, such as 35mm and the infamous 50mm camera lenses. Prime lenses cannot zoom in or out, meaning that you have to change position in order to get closer to, or farther from your object.

25. FishEye Lens

It is an ultra-wide-angle lens that produces images with a very strong visual distortion (panoramic images), due to the angle of view being wider than the sensor.

26. Telephoto Lens

In photography, a telephoto lens is a type of lens that has a narrow-angle of view, long focal length and a shallow depth of field. Telephoto lenses are ideal for capturing distant subjects like sports and wildlife events.

27. Tilt-Shift Lens

A tilt-shift lens is a type of lens in which the user can tilt the optics in a wide range of directions, in relation to the image sensor. It allows for realignment of the plane of focus, thus eliminating parallax error.

28. Image Stabilization (IS)

Image stabilization is a method of reducing blurring and the effects of camera movement or shaking, when not using a tripod

29. Mirrorless

This is a type of camera that does not require a reflex mirror to reflect light to the optical viewfinder. Instead, it comes with an electronic viewfinder, and the imaging sensor is exposed to light throughout.

30. DSLR

A DSLR is a Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera that uses one lens for focusing, viewing, light metering and capturing images. DSLRs are an upgrade of the SLR, given that they provide more versatility as far as capturing digital images are concerned.

31. Medium Format

Medium Format is a type of film format in still photography that is larger than the traditional 35mm film frame, but smaller than the 4×5’ format.

32. Dynamic Range

The dynamic range refers to the difference between the darkest and lightest areas of an image. It measures the range of brightness and tonality in a digital image.

33. Back Button Focus

Back button focus is a shooting technique that helps users to assign a different focus button on the back of the camera, other than the shutter release button. This removes the focus actuation from the shutter release button, thus allowing for faster focusing. Essentially, you can use the new button to lock your focus and press the shutter release to take your photo.

34. Bulb

The bulb is a setting that allows you to keep the shutter open and achieve shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds, as long as your finger is on the shutter release button. This comes in handy when capturing long exposure photos.

35. Focus Stacking

Focus stacking, or focal plane merging is a photography technique that combines multiple images taken at different focus distances, resulting in an image with a greater DoF. Essentially, this technique allows you to take multiple photos of the same subject, at different focal points. You can then align the focused part of each image to come up with one final, focused image.

36. Bracketing

Bracketing is a technique that entails taking a series of images at different exposures, particularly when creating HDR images. This concept comes in handy in night photography, and in difficult lighting situations.

37. Golden Hour

The Golden Hour is a photography term that describes the period just before the sun goes down and 15 minutes after the sun has set. During this period, the sun produces a warm, glowing effect allowing you to shoot stunning images.

38. Blue Hour

Blue hour refers to the time before sunrise in the morning and minutes after sunset in the evening when the sun is located at a specific level below the horizon

39. Polarizing Filter

An adjustable filter placed on the front element of the lens to absorb glares and eliminate reflections.


40. Neutral Density Filter

A neutral density filter works in a similar manner to a polarizing filter. However, in this case, the filter limits the amount of light striking the film or sensor, by absorbing all visible wavelengths.

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