JnR Photography
Written By:
Jeff

Terms For Photography: Photography Terms You Need To Know

Published On:
June 1, 2022
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There’s nothing worse than reading or being in the middle of a conversation, and someone drops a term, and you have no idea what they’re talking about. So, seeing as you’re passionate about photography, what do you do in those situations? Do you agree with the person and nod - or do you ask them what it means?

I would agree, nod along, take a mental note of the term, and look it up later. But that’s just me.

I have created this article to help you in these types of situations. This article will include terms for photography and a brief explanation of what it means. Be sure to read it in its entirety - I have linked some deeper dive articles within some of the terms to help better explain how that aspect affects your work!

Let’s learn some photography terms, so you’re not wondering what they mean and how they affect your photos!

Without babbling on anymore - let’s dive right in!
                                                   

How Each Photography Term Will Be Structured

To better understand the layout and structure of this article, I thought it would only be fitting to include how each term will be explained.

Each term will include:

  • The term (heading)
  • How it’s pronounced (if it applies)
  • How others might use it in a sentence
  • How that term affects your images

Pretty simple right?  We will start with some of the most commonly used photography terms and move on to less common (more complex) terms later in the article.

Exposure

terms for photography

You may have heard someone say, “check your exposure; it seems a bit off,” - or, “ perfect exposure, great work!”.

They’re speaking directly to the way the image was lit.

Exposure refers to the way that light falls or shapes an image.  If an image is too dark, you’d want to increase your exposure or make your image brighter.  If your photo is too bright, you’d want to lower its exposure or darken the image.

terms for photography

“Perfect” or correct exposure is achieved by balancing three critical aspects of every camera - aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  If you don’t know what those terms mean, continue reading!

Tip: There’s an exposure meter on all modern DSLR/mirrorless cameras. Generally speaking, you want the pointer arrow to land in the middle (at zero) - your image is then properly exposed (at least for the setting you have set).

The Exposure Triangle

terms for photography

You may have heard someone use this term when talking about how an image is lit.  

If the lighting in an image is ‘off’ or not quite right - someone may have said, “learn the exposure triangle and how it affects your image” - or “the exposure triangle is essential.  Learn it, and it will make your image so much better.”

Assuming the image in question has bad lighting - they’re correct!

You see, the exposure triangle is just that - a triangle.  Which consists of three different parts (think of the three tips of a triangle).  These three parts include:

terms for photography

These three aspects are the basis of everything film/photography.  Each of the three aspects can be controlled separately but must be balanced to get the correct exposure (lighting).

When you change one aspect (such as aperture), you will most likely have to change another element (like shutter speed or ISO) to compensate for that change.  It’s an actual balancing act that takes time and repetition to master.

terms for photography

But no need to worry - you’ll learn all of this over time.  Just remember, the exposure triangle is the balance of the three fundamentals of photography, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Naturally, it affects your image's exposure (or lighting).

Aperture

terms for photography

It would only be fitting to include the three fundamental terms of photography, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Let’s start with Aperture.

You may have heard someone say, “increase or lower your aperture” - or, “you want that nice bokeh, lower your aperture.”

They’re referring to a lens setting.

terms for photography

On every DSLR camera - there is an aperture setting. It opens and closes your lens. If you look through the front of your lens with a low aperture number, you can see straight through the lens. If you have a high aperture number, you’ll see a small hole in the center where aperture blades are blocking most of the opening.

This is controlled on your camera, usually by a wheel (or touch screen on some cameras like Canon).

An F-number represents aperture. For example, F/1.8 is an aperture value - as well as F/22. The smaller the number, the larger the opening (in your lens) and vice-versa.

terms for photography

It affects your images by adding or removing light (the more significant the opening, the more light you will have, or vice-versa) - and bokeh plays a large part.  The more ‘open’ your lens is (, the lower the F-number) - the more bokeh you will have.

I have included a video to explain this aspect better. However, it’s also best to experiment with this setting over time to fully understand its importance in photography and videography.

It affects your images by adding or removing light (the more significant the opening, the more light you will have, or vice-versa) - and bokeh plays a large part.  The more ‘open’ your lens is (, the lower the F-number) - the more bokeh you will have.

I have included a video to explain this aspect better. However, it’s also best to experiment with this setting over time to fully understand its importance in photography and videography.

Shutter Speed

terms for photography

Shutter speed is the second term in the exposure triangle.

You may have heard someone say, “you need to increase your shutter speed to capture all of that movement correctly,” - or “lower the shutter speed to increase exposure.”

They’re referring to a camera setting.

Shutter speed is the speed at which your camera’s shutter releases.  Your camera’s shutter can be found when changing your lens.  If you’re using a classic DSLR - it’s what’s behind the mirror.   You won't see it on a mirrorless camera if the shutter doesn’t close to protect your sensor when the lens is off (Sony Mirrorless doesn’t do this).

terms for photography

But, your camera will open and close the shutter at the speed you set it in your camera.  This is represented by a whole or fractional number value such as 1/250, 1/1000, or even 1/1.

These fractions are how many fractions of a single second your camera’s sensor is exposed to light.  For example: if your camera’s shutter speed is set to 1/250 - your camera’s sensor (when the shutter opens) is exposed to light for 1/250th of a single second.  

Faster shutter speeds allow you to capture speedier movement.  While slower shutter speeds let in more ambient light, increasing exposure.

Faster shutter speeds (smaller fractions) will let in less light (lowering your exposure), while more significant fractions will allow more light (increasing your exposure). So you will get darker images with a faster shutter speed - and brighter images with slower speeds.

ISO

terms for photography

The last photography term in the exposure triangle is ISO.

This can be pronounced in either “eye-so” or by saying the actual letters (I-S-O).  Either way is the correct way to say it, and they both mean the same thing.

You may have heard someone say, “increase your shutter speed, then increase your ISO,” or, “your image has a lot of noise; check your ISO, lower it if you can.”

They’re referring to a camera setting.

terms for photography

ISO can usually be adjusted with a wheel on the back of your camera.  If not, you should be able to find it with your manufacturer's menus easily.

ISO is the easiest of the three aspects to understand.  It’s essentially a setting that artificially increases exposure within your image.  This includes all forms of light (including flash).

It does this by sending more voltage to the sensor.  This makes the sensor more sensitive to light - which then increases the exposure of your image. Unfortunately, you can only increase exposure with ISO; you aren’t able to lower it (some mirrorless cameras allow you to go below the ISO standard of 100).

terms for photography

With that being said - when you use ISO to increase exposure (such as inside a dark room) - you will be introducing digital noise to your image (grainy in the dark areas of the image).

This is a term/setting used very sparingly - remember, a little can go a long way.

F-Stops

terms for photography

A couple of terms ago, we talked about aperture.

F stops are the numerical values of your aperture setting.

You may have heard some ask, “what f stop were you shooting at” or, “Shot with a Canon 35mm 1.8”.

The F stops or numerical value relates directly to the lens itself.

An excellent example of an F stop represented on a lens is what’s written on the lens's barrel.  For example - a 24-70mm lens may have “24-70mm F/2.8” written on the actual lens.

terms for photography

F stops are the numerical value of each ‘stop’ of the aperture blades when opening or closing your lens.  In basic terms, the lower the F stop number, the more ‘open’ your lens is. Conversely, the more ‘open your lens is - the more light will hit your camera sensor.

For example, an image taken with an F stop of 1.8 will result in a brighter (and more bokeh) image than an F stop of 8.  This is because the aperture blades are opened far wider at 1.8 than at 8 - again, allowing more light to pass through the lens and hit your camera's sensor.

terms for photography

We will touch a bit more about the photography term ‘bokeh’ in a little bit…  but just remember that F stops are just a numerical representation of your aperture setting. So the lower the aperture number, the brighter your image will be.

So, the next time someone asks you what your f stop was (or refers to F stops in general) - just refer to what your aperture setting was set to.

F-Stops

terms for photography

Some terms for photography are pretty self-explanatory, and focal length may be one of those terms for you.

If not - don’t worry.  It’s straightforward to understand.

You may have heard someone ask, “what focal length were you using?” or, “what’s the best focal length for portrait photography?”.

It’s the numerical value of your lens. For example, are you using a 35mm lens? The focal length of your lens is 35mm. Simple, right?

terms for photography

Diving a little deeper into this photography term - focal length is the distance the focal point of your lens is (physically) from the camera's sensor.

Refer to the image above. For example, if you place a 35mm lens on your camera and start taking photos with it… the point of convergence of that lens is physically sitting 35 mm away from your camera's sensor. 

Different focal lengths sit further or closer away from your sensor - and, as you would imagine, give different ‘looks’ as a result.

Depth Of Field

terms for photography

Depth of field is a photography term widely used when referring to ‘bokeh’ or blurry background.

Everyday use of this term is “the depth of field is razor-thin” or “that lens has an incredibly shallow depth of field at f/1.8”.

This refers to how shallow the focus plane is in your image at a particular aperture setting.

If that last sentence confused you, don’t let it.  Let me explain.

Depth of field is directly related to your aperture setting (or F stop).  As you lower your F stops, your lens’s aperture blades open wider, letting in more light.

terms for photography

As you do this, your depth of field begins to shrink. As a result, more and more of the background becomes blurry while the object closest to the camera (that you’re focusing on) remains in focus.

A shallow depth of field refers to an image with a very blurry background (with the subject remaining in focus).  This is obtained using a significantly lower F stop.

Take note: the lower your aperture - the harder it becomes to focus on your subject in its entirety. It can also be challenging to obtain a sharp image with longer focal lengths and a wide aperture setting. Getting better and understanding this comes with time and practice.

If you take anything from this section, take this: depth of field refers to how much of the image is in focus versus how much is out of focus.  Tie that with the intensity of that difference.  Very blurry images have a shallow/narrow depth of field - while wide/ very in-focus images have vast depths of field (like most cell phone pictures).

Prime Lens

terms for photography

This is a common question among new photographers - and the term prime lens comes up quite often.

You may have heard someone say, “get a prime lens; they’re great!” or, “what is a prime lens?”.

Don’t worry - it’s super easy to understand.

Generally speaking, there are two different lenses for a professional camera.  You have:

  • Zoom Lenses
  • Prime Lenses
terms for photography

Seeing as zoom lenses are pretty self-explanatory - we won't go into detail with that.

A prime lens is the complete opposite. Zoom lenses zoom while prime lenses don’t. THey’re fixed focal length lenses that do not zoom. An example would be a 35mm f/1.8. It’s set at 35mm - nothing more.

There are many reasons photographers cherish photographers who love prime lenses…  some of those are sharper images, less moving parts (or points of failure), lower aperture values…  and so forth.  

terms for photography

We won’t go into much more detail than that in this article.  I have a dedicated article for that in the works as I type this!

A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens that does not zoom.

Priority Modes

The term ‘priority’ or ‘priority modes’ is something you may have heard when searching for terms for photography…  believe it or not, they’re modes that you can set on most DSLR and mirrorless cameras today.

These priority modes include:

  • Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Priority

We will talk about each of these modes in the next couple of sections.  Just know that the priority modes are modes that are set within your camera.

Aperture Priority Mode

Remember when we talked about aperture earlier and how it affects your exposure and the bokeh/depth of field in your image?  Well - this is no different…  but the camera will do some of the heavy lifting for you.

That heavy lifting is the other settings on the camera.  Those are shutter speed and ISO.

There may be times when you want to maintain the same aperture for exposure or depth of field reasons, and maybe in the middle of a busy photo session, and you trust your camera enough to decide on the shutter speed and ISO settings.

This is when aperture priority mode would come into play.

You can set this (usually) with a wheel on the top of the camera, much like setting the camera into manual mode.

Once you’re in aperture priority mode, you have to set your aperture to what you want and start shooting.  Your camera will make all of the other settings adjustments for you.  This is great for hectic photo sessions where you don't have time to worry about the different settings on your camera.  You just want to go out there and shoot.

Just be aware that all cameras make these adjustments differently.  And some of them make the adjustments better than others. So I suggest testing this mode out before don’t anything significant in it.

Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter priority mode is the same as aperture priority - the only difference is that you want the shutter speed to stay the same, and the camera can change the other settings (aperture and ISO).

I enjoyed using this when taking photos of fast-moving objects/people.  I knew what shutter speed I needed to get a clean shot - I then allowed the camera to make all of the other adjustments.  

I used this mode for dancers and animals (sometimes) - such as dogs or wildlife.

Much like aperture priority - some cameras do this better than others.  Please test this mode out before using it during anything significant.

Shoot In RAW

terms for photography

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “shoot only in RAW” or, “make sure you shoot in RAW to allow for as much editing potential as possible.”

They’re referring to a type of setting on your camera.

RAW isn’t an acronym. Instead, RAW is a photography term used by both users and manufacturers to represent completely unprocessed images or videos captured by your camera.

Let’s take .jpg files, for example.  JPG files are images taken by your camera and processed by the camera to produce these images.  They’re fully processed, compressed, and exported to the card, all within the camera.

terms for photography

On the other hand, RAW files are captured by your camera and sent straight to your camera's memory card.  All of the data captured is written into each file - with nothing altered.  This allows editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to interpret this data - enabling you to alter them as you see fit.  

There is no processing done to RAW images by your camera - there is only capturing that data and writing to your memory card.

Shooting in RAW is highly beneficial, allowing you to change various aspects of the image while editing.  These aspects include white balance, overall exposure, highlights, shadows, and everything else.  RAW photos are why a professional camera will consistently outperform a camera that doesn’t produce them.  It’s also why a professional camera is so expensive (other factors, too, like the camera sensor and processor).

Golden Hour

terms for photography

Moving a little away from camera terms - let’s take about Golden Hour when mentioned in photography.

When thinking of terms for photography, I know that you’ve heard someone take about Golden Hour.

They may have said, “only shoot at golden hour; it’s the best time for any session,” or, “I only shoot at Golden Hour; there isn’t a better time than that.”

terms for photography

What they’re referring to is a time of day.

Generally speaking - Golden Hour is the hour before the sun passes the plane of the horizon (in the morning or evening).

So many photographers and videographers love it because of the light.  The word ‘golden’ comes from the fact that the like itself passes and bends through the atmosphere at just the right angle to produce a golden tone.  

This is very different from the light produced at noon - which is white (no tone to it at all).

terms for photography

Another great thing about Golden Hour is that the light is falling on the landscape and your subject at an angle.  This creates depth and shape to your images.  Couple that with the color/vibe of the light itself, and you now have some of the best light of the day.

You will produce far better images during either morning or evening golden hours than any other part of the day (it’s a little debatable). In addition, your photos will instantly improve over any additional time of the day with no extra work.  

Blue Hour

photography terms

I’m sure you’ve heard someone mention Golden Hour - but what about Blue Hour? 

They may have said something like, “blue hour is so soft and beautiful,” or, “the ambiance created by blue hour is unique.”

They again are talking about a time of day.

Blue hour isn’t an hour.  I would say it’s more like 20 minutes.

photography terms

It’s right before the sun comes up and right after the sun goes down.  It creates some of the most beautiful blue tones across the landscape and the sky.

So many people love it because it not only produces natural images, the light itself is very soft on your subject. But, of course, this is only made better if there are clouds.

HSS

We’re now moving into more advanced terms in photography.

You may have heard someone talk about HSS - usually those referring to studio or shots with flash.

HSS stands for High-Speed Sync.

It’s referring to a setting on a camera flash.

Without getting into too much detail (I have an article in the works talking about everything you need to know) - HSS is a setting that allows your camera to capture a flash at nearly any shutter speed.

Without high-speed sync (and depending on the camera and the flash) - typically, you’re limited to a shutter speed of 1/250.  Anything faster than that, and either the camera won't allow it, or you will get bands/streaks of camera flash throughout your image (or no flash at all).

What high-speed sync does is ‘burst’ the scene with light. This could be 10-20 high-speed bursts of light in a second (you’d never see each shot). In that burst, your camera will take the image and be adequately lit.

It sounds excellent, and people love it - I don’t.  The main reason is - your flash (depending on the brand) - can lose between 50% and 70% of its flash power in HSS.  There are instances where I need all the flash power I purchased.

Some only shoot in HSS - others, like myself, never turn it on. So now, at least, you know what it means!

Long Exposure

photography terms

You may have heard of this photography term when looking at landscape photos.  

It’s also a term used in astrophotography as well.

Water will look ‘milky’ or ‘smooth’ when taking long exposure shots when taking landscape photos.  Long exposure in astrophotography is used to capture as much light as possible.

So, what is long exposure exactly, and how do you achieve these looks?  Well, it’s not as difficult as you may think.

photography terms

Long exposure is achieved by decreasing the shutter speed in your camera.

By decreasing the shutter speed on your camera, you’re allowing light to hit your camera sensor for longer. As a result, it captures everything within the time frame you set.  Long exposures over water give this ‘milky’ or ‘smooth’ look no different than if your shutter speed was too slow while taking a shot of moving subjects.  

The only difference is that everything other than the water remains still and doesn't move.

photography terms

The challenge with using long exposure is figuring out how long your shutter should be open to achieve the look you want to achieve.

Most modern cameras will allow you to keep the shutter open for 30 seconds by default.  Anything beyond 30 seconds requires you to have another setting active.  For example, Sony cameras need you to activate bulb mode - you’re then able to open the shutter for as long as you want.

photography terms

The other obstacle is battling the brightness of an image when taking landscapes during the day.  The slower your shutter speed - the brighter your image will be. So if you want a 30-second long exposure over water - and it’s sunny out already - you’ll need an ND filter for your camera.  You can find more information about ND filters here.

Long exposure photography is a fun and very creative way to capture landscapes (and other forms of photography) - and a complete necessity when doing astrophotography.

Camera Bracketing

photography terms

Camera bracketing is a photography term used by HDR photographers (for the most part).

There are many uses of HDR photography, including real estate photography, landscapes, and even portrait photography (gritty/grunge).

You may have heard someone say, “I used five brackets to create this image” or, “how many brackets are enough for an acceptable HDR image?”.

Well - they’re referring to a camera setting in your camera - or if you don’t have the location itself, you can bracket manually.

photography terms

Camera bracketing takes a series of photos with slightly different exposures for each image.  An example would be - a five bracket may include -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 - these are exposure readouts seen on your exposure meter.

On a Sony camera, you can set it to take just that.  A single image will be taken at each exposure setting (2 stops underexposed, one-stop underexposed, properly exposed, one-stop overexposed, and two stops overexposed).  You can then take these images into Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop and merge them.

The idea behind the process is to preserve as much of the highlights in the image (when underexposed), get as much detail out of the shadows (when over-exposed), and keep the image somewhat natural with the properly exposed image. 

photography terms

If your camera doesn’t have bracketing mode - you can take each of these images manually and merge them in Lightroom or Photoshop to achieve the same look.

The only thing to remember from this term for photography is that bracketing is generally used for HDR images.  Taking images at different exposures and merging those images to create an HDR image.

Ambient Light

photography terms

Ambient light is a photography term used by pretty much all photographers.

I often use it when referring to my flash photography - I’ll explain why I would here in a minute.

But, you may have heard someone use this term like, “slow your shutter speed to allow more ambient light in” or “that ambient light balance is perfect.”

Ambient light is basically ‘natural light.’  Not necessarily ‘natural’ as in actual sunlight - but continuous light illuminating a room or your environment.  This could include lights from a bulb, the sun, or both!

It’s essentially the light that is shaping your environment.

photography terms

The times that you may hear it is when using flash to illuminate your subjects.  Flash photography is a balance between illuminating your subject while allowing enough ambient light and flash to create a beautiful image.

Slowing down your shutter speed when using flash (or any photography mode) - will allow more ambient light.  

Think of ambient light as continuous light - or light that you may have to deal with (and not necessarily able to eliminate).

Flambient

photography terms

Flambient is a term used almost exclusively in Real Estate Photography.

You may have heard someone say, “I shot this image using flambient - edited in lightroom and photoshop.”

The technique can be challenging, but it is pretty easy to explain and understand the thought and how it works.

Flambient is an acronym or combination of two separate words - flash and ambient.

To properly execute a flambient image - you will need to take an ambient (non-flash) image while taking one (or more) flash images. 

photography terms

You would then take those images into photoshop and blend them.

Flambient is used for quite a few different reasons (over HDR).  For starters - anything (such as walls) hit with pure white light will reflect its natural color (eliminates color casts).  Another is believable ‘window pulls’ (when you can see out of the window).  Lastly, you can eliminate many shadows in an image while photographing a home with the lights off (a significant advantage).

I plan to do a series of articles dedicated to this topic (real estate photography could be a website all on its own).  

I will leave this section at that.  Just know, flambient is a photography term used by real estate photographers that blend an ambient shot and a series of flashed images to create some of the best-looking real estate images out there.

That Will About Do It (For Now)

Well, there you have it!  I will continue to add to this list as I think about or come across more terms for photography.  If anything, I will be adding more advanced terms, so be sure to check back from time to time if you’re interested in learning new interesting terms for photography.

Check out some of our other articles, such as 25 photography exercises for beginners, How to make more for each photoshoot using ShootProof, and Sony A7iii vs Canon EoS R.

Now you have a little bit more knowledge of photography and understand what some of these photography terms mean!

Until next time, keep shooting and creating!!!

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About The Author

Jeff

2022 marks our fourth year in business and my 8th year in photography. I have learned so much about not only photography, running a business, and everything web-related... I've learned so much about myself. Truly determining my passions and constantly learning and improving has gotten me to where I am today.

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