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Photography Jargon Explained in Simple Language

Terms used in photography can often confuse a beginner photographer. Here is a list of most commonly used photographic jargon, with as simple easy to understand explanations. 

photography jargon
photography jargon

As you advance in your photographic career, a thorough understanding of these terms is necessary in order to understand properly what others say and to communicate effectively with fellow photographers.

Ambient light

Also referred to as available light, is the light that is occurring in the scene without adding any flash or light modifiers. 


APS-C is abbreviation for Advanced Photo System type-C (APS-C). It is an image sensor format approximately equivalent in size to the Advanced Photo System "classic" size negatives which were 25.1 × 16.7 mm with an aspect ratio 3:2. Remember it is only an approximation and actual sensor sizes vary slightly between various manufacturers.


Adobe Camera Raw


Aperture is a set of metal blades that control the amount of light entering a lens (same as Diaphragm). Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’ for example f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6,f/8,f/22 etc. The aperture that you set impacts the size of that hole.  The larger the hole the more light that gets in and the smaller the hole the less light passes through.

Moving from one f stop to the next (depending upon the direction you shift) either doubles or halves the amount of light passing through.

What confuses beginners a lot is the way f stops and their respective sizes are related. Large apertures (bigger opening - which allows more light to pass through) are denoted by small f stops and smaller apertures (smaller opening – which allows less light to pass through) are denoted by large f stops. So in practice f/2.8 is a much larger aperture than f/22. This takes some time to get used to.


AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) is a file-based format for digital recording and playback of high-definition video developed jointly by Sony and Panasonic.

AF Sensor

A sensor used in achieving auto focus.


It is used to described the quality out of focus areas in a scene. Bokeh mainly occurs when shooting at wide open apertures with small light sources present in the background, far in the distance.


Temporary storge of data before the images are written to the memory card.

Blown out 

Having perfectly white areas in a picture with no details (highlights that are off the chart on the right side of the histogram). 

Bridge Camera

Describes a camera that fits between a compact and a DSLR. Also known as prosumer camera.


Used on a tripod. Performs similar functions as a pan and tilt head but uses a central ball as a pivot to allow for camera movements.

Battery Grip

A device that attaches to the base of a DSLR. The battery grip not only provides better grip for vertical shooting, but uses extra batteries to supply power to the camera when the camera battery dies down. In some cases, it helps to increase the frames per second firing rate.

Burst Mode

A camera mode that allows continuous firing.

Barrel Distortion

The outward bulging of straight lines in the center of the frame due to lens imperfection.


Refers to binary digit – the smallest unit of computer data, either 0 or 1.

Bit Depth

A measure of the number of possible colours/tones in an image. Our images are basically formed using the three primary colours (also known as channels) red, green and blue. Jpeg files are 8 bits per channel (which is the same thing as 24 bit. When we say 24 bit, we should not say “per channel”. Raw files can be 12 bits per channel or 14 bits per channel, that is 36 bit or 42 bit respectively.


A method of taking three or more shots in succession (using different exposures), with  a hope that at least one of them will be accurate. We also bracket when shooting for HDR imaging. Bracketing could also be for White Balance and ISO.


“B” Mode on your camera where the shutter remains opened as long as the button or cable release (remote trigger) is pressed.


The act of continuously shooting, reviewing, deleting, shooting again and continuing the sequence.


Having no detail in the shadow or black areas of a picture.

Camera shake 

Image blur caused due to camera movement during an exposure.

Camera resolution

Expressed in megapixels is the dimensions your camera’s sensor is capable of capturing. Generally the large the number, the larger the file size and larger the prints you can produce from it without loss of quality.


Types of imaging sensors. CCD stands for Charged Coupled Device . CMOS stands for complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor.

Compact Camera

Describes a small, point and shoot type of camera.

Center Weighted Meter

One of the in built exposure meter that places greater emphasis on the central area of the frame. The user generally has the choice of selecting the area (8,12,20 mm circle at the center).

Circular Polarizer (CPL)

A polarizing filter designed to be used with digital cameras (as well as certain film cameras). A CPL prevents secondary polarization of light at the reflex mirror, thereby preventing exposure/focusing error.

Contrast Detection AF

A system of auto focusing wherein the camera uses contrast as the basis of evaluating correct focus.

Chromatic Aberration

The inability of all the primary colors (Red, Green and Blue) to focus on the same plane. This manifests itself in the form of colour fringing at the edges and id most noticeable against high contrast elements in the picture.


Overexposing of highlights. Underexposing of shadows.

Crop Factor

A factor by which the focal length of a lens needs to be multiplied toget the equivalent focal length of a full frame 35mm sensor.

Close up filter

A magnifying glass that is attached to the front of a lens to make the lens focus closer. The magnifications are described by the term dioptre. Eg. +1, +2, +3 etc.


Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black. These are the colours used in books/magazine printing.

Colour temperature

A measure of the colour of light.

Circles of confusion

Objects outside the depth of field of an image that the human eye can determine as “out of focus”.

Dust bunnies

Dark spots that appear on the image, caused by bits of dust on the digital camera sensor.


Digital single lens reflex camera. an interchangeable lens camera that uses a reflex mirror for viewing.


Set of metal blades that control the amount of light entering a lens (same as aperture)

Depth of Field

The zone of sharpness in a photo.

DOF Preview Button

A button on the camera that allows you to visually check the depth of field.

Dynamic Range

The range of brightness that can be captured by a film or digital imaging sensor. This range is much lower than the dynamic range of our eyes.

Digital zoom

In camera electronic enlargement of the central area of a frame. Use of digital zoom should be avoided if high image quality is required. The same effect can be achieved during post processing, by cropping an area and enlarging it.


Dots per inch, a measure of print resolution


1. A camera filter that softens an image (generally used with portraits)
2. Any material that softens the light from a hard source like the sun or a flash gun. Placed between the light source and the subject.

Exposure Meter

A light meter that recommends the aperture and shutter speed for a given lighting condition. An exposure meter can be built into the camera or can be an external hand held variety. To use any light meter, you first need to set the ISO sensitivity.


Short form of electronic view finder.


Exposure Value is a number that represents an amount of light and the various different combinations of aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings that can create the same exposure effect.

Evaluative meter

One of the in built exposure meter that divides the frame into various segments and based on thousands of preset exposures built into the camera’s memory, selects a suitable exposure depending on the lighting conditions and the set ISO sensitivity. Also known as segmented matrix meter.

Exposure compensation 

Usually used when shooting in semi automatic modes like Aperture Priority, Shutter priority and Program Shift. Exposure compensation is represented by a little +/- button on the camera and lets photographers modify the exposure (under expose or over expose a scene).


The total amount of light reaching the digital sensor. It is controlled by setting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Edge transfer

Expresses how well defined the shadow edges are. Where the light turns into the shadow, the edge transfer is how quickly it goes from dark to light.

Fast glass 

Refers to a lens with a very large maximum aperture such as f1.8 or f1.2. The larger the maximum aperture the faster the lens.


F-stop is a measure of the aperture opening in the lens defined by dividing the focal length of the lens by the aperture diameter. Sequence of f-stops are multiples of the square root of 2 (1.414…): 1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, etc. each F-stop lets in double or half the amount of light depending on which direction you shift.

Frame Rate

A measure of how many frames a camera can fire in one second.


Image degrading, unwanted reflection of light within the lens.

Full Frame

Denotes a camera/imaging sensor that is the same size as a 35mm film (24 x 36mm)

Focal Plane

Describes the location of the film/imaging sensor within the camera.

Focal Plane Shutter

A type of shutter used in SLRs/DSLRs. This shutter is placed in front of the film/sensor.

Flash sync 

The fastest shutter speed at which the camera's electronic shutter and flash is able to work in perfect synchronization.

Flash and drag 

Using flash in combination with slow shutter speeds to capture the ambient light present in the scene.

Focal Length

In a simple convex lens (a magnifying glass for example) and with light coming from infinity the distance between the vertical centre of the lens and the pint where the light rays meet. Focal length tells us how much of the scene will be covered by the lens and what the magnification will be.


A downloadable software offered by the camera manufacturer. Generally used to upgrade/improve on a camera’s performance.


As applicable to a camera) a thin glass/plastic or gelatin placed in front fo the lens to modify the colour/quality/quantity of light entering the lens.

Fill light

Fill light is the light source that is secondary to the mail light. It is used to “fill” in the shadows to a desired degree.


Lenses used for photography. Example What glass do you own.

Grip and grin 

Term used to describe a quick photoshoot


Light modifier used to block unwanted or stray light from falling onto the subject.

Golden hour

The hour right before sunset or right after sunrise.

Hyperfocal distance

Is the focusing distance that produces the the maximum amount of depth of field at any given aperture setting.


A standard for video compression


In terms of computers , the physical elements that make up a computer system.

Hard light 

harsh or undiffused light such as produced by bright sunlight, a small speedlight, or an on-camera flash. It produces harsh shadows with well defined edges.

HDR Imaging

High dynamic range imaging. A technique of extending the dynamic range beyond the normal capacity of the imaging sensor. Three (or more) shots are taken from various areas of the scene (one from the shadows, one from the highlights and one from the mid tones) and then combined in a computer program to create a picture with good detail in shadows as well as highlights. HDR technique is used when the lighting contrast is very high.


A graph showing the distribution of tones in an image. The horizontal axis shows the gradation of tones from the darkest to the left, to the brightest to the right. The vertical axis shows how many pixels are there in any particular tone.


Hue, Saturation, Brightness. The standard colour model for adjusting colour in image editing programs.


A device that allows you to automatically take pictures at fixed intervals.


Image stabilizer, a feature that eliminates/ reduces the effect of hand shake.


ISO stands for International Standards Organization and represents the sensitivity of the digital camera’s  sensor to light. The lower the number (eg. ISO 100), the less sensitive the sensor is to light and the higher the number (ISO 3200) the more sensitive the sensor is to light.


Interchangeable lens compact camera. describes a mirror less digital camera with interchangeable lenses.

Incident Light Meter

A hand held light meter that reads the amount of light incident to (falling on) the subject.


As related to digital imaging, the act of introducing new elements (pixels) in an image.


Joint Photographic Experts Group, a compressed (data losing) file format.


Another way to describe the effects of hand shake.


A unit of measurement of color temperature based on absolute zero. Allows you to adjust the color manually by degrees kelvin. The lower numbers represent warmer colors like orange (eg. tungsten light) and the higher numbers represent cooler colors (eg. light during overcast sky). 

Lateral CA

Chromatic aberration in which all the colours are in focus in the same plane but are not placed along the optical axis.

Longitudinal CA

Chromatic aberration in which different colours do not focus at the same point.

Leaf shutter

A type of shutter used in rangefinder cameras. Situated between the lens elements.

Linear Polariser (PL)

A polarizing filter designed to be used with film cameras that do not use a light splitter in the exposure metering system.

Live View

A camera feature that allows the LCD to be used as a viewfinder.

Light meter 

A device that measures the amount of light in a scene. Your digital camera has one built in.

Lighting pattern

Lighting pattern is the way the light falls on the subject. A particular pattern of light and shadow that is created.

Lighting ratio

Lighting ratio is a comparison between the intensity (brightness) of the main light and the fill light and thus expresses the contrast difference of the lit and shadow sides of the subject.


Liquid Crystal Display, the display monitor at the rear of digital cameras.


Brightness of colour, without considering  hue or saturation.

Lens flare

Hazy effect or artifacts caused when the light source hits the lens directly.


An option while saving TIFF files, LZW compresses the file size without loss of data. LZW actually stands for Lempel – Ziv – Welch, the names of three persons who devised it.

Main light or key light:

Main light or key light: is the main light source for a photograph producing the pattern of light on the subject with the most intensity. It could be the sun, a studio strobe, a flash, or a reflector.

Micro Four Thirds

A sensor format jointly created by Kodak, Olympus and Panasonic. Sensor size approx 13x17mm.


A common multi-media format for saving movies and other video films.

Macro lens

A special lens designed for life size 1:1 photography.

Memory Card

The removable module within a digital camera, that stores the images.

Mid Tone

Average tone, neither too dark or too light; an in between tone.

Nifty 50

A 50mm prime lens.


The digital equivalent of film grain, noise is caused mainly due to underexposure.

Normal Lens

A lens having a focal length equivalent to the diagonal of the given format.

ND filter 

Neutral density filter which is designed to go in front of the lens to block out some of the light entering the camera.

Optical Viewfinder

The normal viewing device in a camera, through which you view and frame a subject. It used optical glass as opposed to  electronic viewfinder that uses electronic circuitry to boost the information within.


short form for photographer.

Pixel peeper

Someone who spends too much time viewing images at 100% size in the screen.


The act of using a slow shutter speed, and moving the camera in the same direction as a moving subject, during the exposure to create a sharp subject and a blurred background. 

Pan and Tilt Head

A camera support used along with a tripod, that allows the camera to be tilted (up/down) and panned sideways. It is different from a ball head in that it uses separate levers to control the pan and tilt.

Perspective Control /Tilt-Shift Lens

A special lens designed for correcting perspective distortion.


A filter that cuts off polarized light from entering the lens. This filter, when used correctly, has the ability to darken blue sky, cut reflections from water, glass, painted metal,wood.

Phase Detection AF

A method of auto-focusing that splits the image in two and compares the images for similar light intensity patterns


The size relationship between the foreground , mid ground and background objects in a photo.

Pin Cushion Distortion

The inward pulling of straight lines in the centre of the frame due to lens imperfection.

Prosumer Camera

Same as bridge camera

Partial Metering

Found mostly in canon cameras, roughly 10 – 15 % of the frame is measured in the center.


The building block of any digital image. The smallest unit of any digital imag. Short form of picture element.

Plug In

A software designed to supplement a computer program’s performance or features. Generally created by third parties.


Pixels per inch. A measure of image resolution (applies to images on the computer screen).

Prime or fixed lens 

Any lens that has a fixed focal length and does not zoom.


Refers to the data received directly from the imaging sensor, without any image parameters applied to it.


Reflector is a device that is used to reflect light back towards the subject.

Reflected Light Meter

A light meter that reads the amount of light reflected from a subject. Light meters built into cameras are reflected light meters.


The primary colours (Red, Green and Blue) of the additive colour system.


Redundant array of independent disks. A stack of hard disks functioning as one.


Any material that can reflect some light back onto a subject.


The act of increasing or decreasing the resolution of an image by interpolation.

Remote trigger or digital cable release

A device that allows the camera to be fired without pressing the button or touching the camera.

Remote flash trigger

A device used to fire speedlights off camera wirelessly. 

Rear shutter curtain sync

By default most cameras are set to front curtain sync which means that the flash fires at the beginning of the exposure. By setting to rear shutter curtain sync it fires the flash at the end of the exposure.

Spray and pray 

Shoot as many images as possible within the time available without giving utmost attention to every shot and hoping you got something good in the process.


A self portrait.


Straight out of camera, no post processing or editing done.

Stopping down

The act of closing down the aperture to a smaller opening.  Example going from f2.8 to f4.


Image sensor, digital equivalent of film

Spot Meter

One of the built in exposure meter that reads a very small area of the frame (typically 3 – 5%) external hand held 1 degree spot meters are also available.

Shutter speed

The amount of time the shutter remains open during an exposure.

Speedlight / Speedlite 

Portable flash which can be attached to your camera’s hot shoe, or stand alone and triggered remotely.


A type of light modifier generally used with studio.

Soft light 

Diffused light that produces soft shadows with soft edges and lower contrast.


A computer program that instructs a computer what to do, when to do and how to do.


A translucent device used to diffuse and soften the light.

Shutter lag

The slight delay from the time you press the shutter button to the time it actually opens.

Subtractive lighting 

Process of taking away of light from a scene by using scrims or gobos to create a desired affect.


Tagged image file format , a lossless file format

Telephoto Lens

A lens having an angle of view narrower than that of a normal lens.


A lens that fits in between the camera body and the main lens, its job is to increase the focal length, thereby offering a larger image.


Stands for Through The Lens, refers to the metering system in regards to flash exposure. 


A light modifier in the shape of an umbrella


Used by Nikon - Stands for vibration reduction, a feature that eliminates / reduces the effect of hand shake.

Wide open 

Using your lens at the widest aperture setting.

White Balance

A process of getting rid of colour casts. White objects should appear white in prints (there could be several reasons why that may not be so). Once white objects appear white, all other colours appear without any colour casts.

Wide Angle Lens

A lens having an angle of view greater (wider) than that of a normal lens.

X Sync Speed

Shutter speeds compatible with electronic flash.

Zoom lens

A lens having multiple focal lengths.

Related Reading

  1. What does Ø Symbol on Lenses Mean?
  2. What is Focal Plane Mark and How to Use it
  3. How to Use Old Film Camera Lenses on Your DSLR
  4. What is a Fast Lens?
  5. Making Sense of the Odd Progression of the F-Stop Scale?

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