A-Z photography glossary

Victorian photography studio

Photography is full of strange and seemingly meaningless terms and phrases that can baffle even experienced photographers. So if you’ve been wondering what flat and cold means among many other things, this glossary is exactly what you’ve been looking for. This list is in no way definitive, but it will be a useful resource for beginners and more experienced photographers alike.

Photography Glossary

Angle of view is the width of view produced by a lens and is measured in degrees. Wide-angle lenses have a larger field of view than telephoto lenses.

Aperture is an adjustable opening inside the lens whose size can be changed to control the amount of light reaching the camera sensor. The size of opening is calibrated in f/stops or f/numbers eg. f/5.6.

Aperture-priority (A or Av) mode allows you to select a lens aperture (f/number) while the camera sets a corresponding shutter speed for correct exposure.

Autofocus is a mode where the camera focuses for you – just depress the shutter button halfway.

Autofocus modes are designed for use when shooting either static or moving subjects. Single shot is best used for static or slow moving subjects. Once you’ve pressed the shutter button halfway, focus is locked. Continuous focus will continually focus on moving subjects as you track them with the lens while the shutter button depressed halfway.

Big stopper is a 10 stop ND filter. These filters block 10 stops of light, which means you can shoot exposures around 30 seconds long in bright sunshine. In lower light conditions exposures can be as long as minutes. This can be great for landscape, seascape and architecture photography.

Cable release is a camera attachment that allows you to take shots without touching the camera. It’s useful to combat camera shake when the camera is attached to a tripod and you’re shooting at slow shutter speeds.

Camera shake is movement blur that occurs when the camera is moved, even fractionally during an exposure. As a rule-of-thumb, if you’re shooting at 1/15sec or slower you’ll need to use a cable release.

Camera body denotes the main part of a camera, without a lens attached.

Centre-weighted metering reads light in the centre of the frame, and fades out towards the edges. See also Multi-segment and Spot metering.

Cold usually refers to a scene or an image that has a bluish or cyan colour cast. Conversely, if a scene contains a red or yellow cast it would be referred to as ‘warm’.Cold blue light after sunset at Holkham Beach in Norfolk, UK. This period of time is sometimes called ‘blue hour’, although it doesn’t last for an hour.

Colour cast is an unwanted blanket of colour over an image. It’s often caused by using the incorrect white balance setting.

Composition refers to the way objects in an image are positioned in relation to one another. The most common compositional devices for helping to give your images visual balance are the rule-of-thirds, lead-in lines and foreground interest.

CSC or compact system camera refers to a small and lightweight camera that uses interchangeable lenses. These camera are most often mirrorless, so they use and electronic rather than an optical viewfinder. Some CSCs have no viewfinder at all and the LCD screen is used to compose shots – just like a compact camera.

Continuous autofocus – see Autofocus mode.

Depth-of-field is the amount of the image that is sharp, or the depth of sharpness from the front of the image to the back. It’s governed by the aperture in use and the distance between the camera and the subject that you’ve focused on.

D-pad is short for directional pad. It’s a thumb-controlled device often found on the back of cameras. They’re most often used to set focus points and navigate through menus. See also Wheel.

DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. ‘Reflex’ refers to the mirror inside the camera that flips up during exposure to allow light to reach the camera sensor, and then back down to reflect an image up to the viewfinder.

Exposure is the combination of the ISO, shutter speed and aperture used when taking a photograph. Shutter speed and aperture control the amount of light that can reach the sensor, while ISO controls the sensitivity of the sensor to light. When the combination is good, it’s referred to as a ‘correct exposure’.

Exposure modes are settings that can be used to make the camera behave in different ways. The modes in include Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Program and Auto. There are also scene modes that are designed to automatically select the correct settings for a number of different subjects.

Exposure compensation allows you to manually override the camera’s exposure when shutting in the semi-automatic shooting modes Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority.

EVF stands for electronic viewfinder. This is an LCD screen within the camera that’s viewed like a traditional viewfinder to compose shots. Exposure settings, menus, images and much more can also be displayed on an EVF.

Fill-in flash is used to help fill shadow areas with light. It’s particularly useful for outdoor portraits on bright days, but can be used effectively in different conditions for a range of subjects.

Flare refers to the way that direct light enters the lens at an angle, creating bright halos and areas of haze in images.

Flat is a term used to describe images lacking in contrast. Another common term for this is ‘muddy’.

Focal length is a measure of how strongly a lens focuses or diffuses light, which determines how close or far away your subject appears in a picture. A 200mm lens will make the subject appear closer than a 50mm lens.

Focus points are small points that can be seen in the camera’s viewfinder, which are used by its autofocus system. They can be set manually or you can leave your camera to choose the one it thinks is best for the subject – often the object closest to the camera.

Foreground interest is a compositional term. It refers to an object in the foreground area of a photo that fills empty space and acts as a ‘stepping stone’ to help lead the viewer into the shot. It can also provide a sense of scale and distance, inviting viewers to compare the size of objects close to the camera with those further away.

Frame is used to describe to the scene depicted in the viewfinder, including the black edges. The size and shape of the frame differs from camera to camera.

Histogram is a graph that shows the brightness levels contained within photo. The chart ranges from blacks or shadows on the left, through mid-tones in the centre, to whites or highlights on the right. A well-exposed shot usually covers shadows through to highlights, but if there’s a high proportion of black or white in the scene the histogram will be bunched up on one side.

ISO stands for International Standards Organisation, and refers to sensitivity of the camera sensor to light. With higher ISO settings less light is required to make an exposure. Conversely, the lower the ISO the more light you need. Low ISO settings deliver finer quality results than high settings eg. ISO 100 will produce better – less noisy – results than ISO 3200.

JPEG is the most common image format used in photography. JPEGs take all the information from a shot and compresses it down into a manageable file size. This file type is convenient because the camera processes the file automatically for you, but you don’t have as much control and exposure latitude as you would with a RAW file.

Lead-in lines are naturally occurring linear elements within a scene that can be positioned to lead the eye from the lower portion of the frame towards the focal point. In landscape photography rivers, streams, walls roads and rocks etc. could all create lead-in lines. They’re a successful device because they draw the viewer into the photo, and direct attention the main point of interest.

Little stopper is an ND filter that blocks six stops of light from entering the lens. It’s the same as a big stopper, but less dense, so it doesn’t result in such long exposures.

Metering modes refer to the way the camera will read light levels in a scene to calculate a correct exposure. Also see Multi-segment, Spot metering and Centre-weighted..

Manual focus refers to the process of using the lens focus ring to change focus, and your eye to judge sharpness. Modern autofocus systems are incredibly accurate, but there are times when manual focus reins supreme.

Multi-segment metering is also known as Evaluative and Matrix. It takes a number of light readings from different parts of the frame, and calculates exposure based on light and dark parts of the scene.

ND grad is an abbreviated form of ‘graduated neutral density filter’. These glass or resin filters come in sheet form and are dropped into a filter holder that attaches to the front of lenses. They’re available in light blocking densities of 1,2 and 3 stops at the top of the filter, and graduate to no effect at the bottom. This allows you to expose for both a bright sky and a darker foreground in a single shot.

Noise is a phenomenon that’s most commonly associated with high ISO settings. There are two types of noise. Luminance noise is grain, while colour or chroma noise is visible as flecks of colour. These days the average DSLR or CSC can shoot at ISO levels above 3200 without noise being too much of a problem.

Point-and-shoot is a term that refers to a fully automated camera setting. All the photographer has to do to take a picture is point the camera at the subject and release the shutter.

Post-processing refers to any changes you apply to images after shooting. Changing any settings in RAW conversion software or Photoshop would constitute post-processing.

Program (P) refers to a shooting mode where the camera automatically selects a shutter speed and aperture combination for you, while you retain control over other settings. While results in this mode are generally very good, but it can seriously limit your creativity because you can’t control depth-of-field or motion blur for instance.

RAW is an image format that’s like a ‘digital negative’. It can cope with more extensive adjustments than a JPEG file. RAW files require extra post-processing using special software because the camera doesn’t apply any automatic processing.

Reflector is a photographer’s accessory that comes in white, silver or gold. Thay’re used to reflect light onto a subject to lighten darkareas. If light is coming from one side of your subject, a reflector can be positioned opposite to lighten, or fill-in, any shadows.

Self-timer is a mode that delays the camera from taking a shot for a fixed period of time after you’ve released the shutter button. This is useful if you want to get in the shot yourself, or if you don’t have a cable release to fire the shutter remotely.

Shutter refers to the small mechanical curtain inside the camera that controls the length of time the sensor is exposed to light entering the lens. On some cameras it can open for as little as 1/8000sec (a very fast shutter speed). Bulb or ‘B’ is a setting that allows the shutter to be kept open indefinitely, as long as you use a cable rlease or wireless remote to ‘lock’ it open. In this mode you have to manually time exposure.

Shutter-priority (S or Tv) is an exposure mode where you select the shutter speed, while the camera automatically sets a corresponding aperture for a correct exposure. This mode is useful for shooting fast-moving subjects.

Single shot See Autofocus mode.

Snapshot is a term that refers to a photograph taken without any thought to composition. It comes from haphazardly taking a shot from the hip with a gun. We call taking a photo taking a shot, so it makes sense.

Spot metering mode takes a light reading from a very small area of the frame allowing you to obtain a very precise light reading.

Viewfinder is the small window located on the back of most cameras that you can look through to compose shots and focus on the subject. Optical viewfinders show a small amount of exposure information, while electronic viewfinders can display much more.

Viewpoint is the height/direction/angle you shoot your subject from.

White balance is setting that controls the way your camera represents white objects under different lighting conditions (eg. Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Kelvin and Auto). The human eye can automatically adjust to the colour temperature of different light sources. However, cameras rely on either Auto white balance or one of the other manual preset options.

Wheel – Some DSLRs have a wheel on the back for navigating menus, and/or changing some settings. Also see D-pad.

Zoom lens is a lens with a variable focal length. This is usually changed by rotating the zoom ring on the body of the lens.

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