Photo Terms Glossary (Terms A – L)

It can sometimes seem that photography has a language of its own. Use this post as your quick-reference guide to common photography terms.

A Terms

AF – The abbreviation for “Autofocus”

AF LOCK – A lock placed on the autofocus function of the camera. Many photographers use this to lock in on the subject in order to adjust the composition / background.

AMBIENT LIGHT – Pre-existing light surrounding a subject, that has not had any additional supply from the photographer. Sometimes referred to as “available light” or existing light”

ANGLE OF VIEW – The amount of the view that is available through the lens. It is determined by the focal length of the lens and the size of the film or image sensor. It is also known as “field of view” (FOV) or “angle of the field of view”.

ANTI – SHAKE – A camera’s technology and ability to combat unstable shooting environments in efforts to reduce image blur.

APERATURE – A hole in the lens that allows light to pass to trigger the image sensor or film. The size is measured by “F-Numbers”.

AUTOEXPOSURE – A camera’s ability to automatically set the shutter speed and aperture based on the camera’s exposure meter readings.

B Terms

B&W – Black and white. Sometimes written BW or B/W.

BACKGROUND – The farthest point of the scene from the viewer, appears behind the foreground.

BACKLIGHTING – Light that purposefully appears behind a subject. This results in a darker front view of the subject with the appearance of “rim of light” around the subject’s edges.

BALANCE – A sense of equilibrium and harmony in the frame that is created by the different subjects, sizes, shapes, lines and colors.

BLUR – The result of movement when the shot was taken, either done by the camera or the subject. It can be controlled by the photographer in order to establish a specific feeling of motion within the image.

BOKEH (boke) – The quality of area out of focus in an photograph, particularly points of light.

BOUNCE FLASH – Illumination of a subject where the illumination flash is first reflected off a surface.

BRIGHTNESS – The light intensity in a scene. Extremes such as pure white has maximum brightness while the opposite, pure black has the minimum.

BURST RATE – The number of images per minute a camera is able to capture. Delays may occur due to the device’s ability to save between shots.

C Terms

CAMERA ANGLE – The relative position of the camera compared the the focal point or subject. Sometimes referred to as “shooting angle” or “view point”.

CENTER OF INTEREST – A specific feature of the image that draws the viewer’s attention. Also known as “center of focus”.

COLOR TEMPERATURE – The scientific way to define the light spectrum measured in degrees Kelvin (°K). Three standard color temperatures are typically used by photographers: Daylight (5500 degrees K), Incandescent – Tungsten (3200 degrees K) and Photo Lamps (3400 degrees K). 

COMPOSITION – How elements of the frame are arranged to create the photograph.

CONTRAST – There are two types of contrast that can be defined within an image 1) The difference between highlights and shadows 2) The difference in brightness or light striking the focal point or subject.

CROPPING – The edition by removal of parts of an image to adjust and improve a photograph’s composition. It can also be used to refer to a photographer adjusting their positioning prior to taking the shot to eliminate any editing of the image.

D Terms 

DARKROOM – The spaced used for developing film photography. A room kept in total darkness in order to control light exposure for film developing.

DEPTH OF FIELD  The amount, range, of the frame that is in focus and can be recreated in an acceptable quality. It is created by lens aperture and the extension of the focus in front of and behind the established focal area.

DIFFUSING – The moderation of light by reflecting it or using a translucent material to create a softer light.

DISTORTION – The adjusting of proportions of a subject or object arrangements. There are two primary types of distortions – barrel and pincushion.

E Terms

ED – Extra Low Dispersion, often present on specific brands of cameras including Nikon.

EFFECTIVE FOCAL LENGTH (EFL) – The equivalent focal length of a digital camera’s lens as if it were to be used as a 35 mm camera.

ELECTRONIC FLASH (EF) – Artificial light that is a brief burst and approximately the same color as daylight.

ELECTRONIC NOISE – The presence of a grainy look on a digital image that is caused by specks of color being captured when they shouldn’t. It can often be reduced or eliminated by activating the camera’s “noise reduction” feature.

ELEMENT – A single lens that makes up a compound lens.

ENHANCEMENT – An improvement. It is often done using a digital editing tool such as Adobe Photoshop and may include adjustments in color, brightness, contrast and additional features.

ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER (EVF) – A digital camera’s display screen that provides a through-the-lens viewing experience for the photographer.

EXPOSURE – The amount of light that is allowed to impact a camera’s film or image sensor. It is controlled by a combination of shutter speed and aperture to determine how much light will be permitted in.

EXPOSURE METER – A tool used to measure the amount of light in a specific area or reflected off a specific object. It is usually given in shutter speed and apertures that would allow the photographer to capture an acceptably good image. Sometimes referred to as a light meter.

F Terms

f-NUMBER – The measurement used to dictate aperture and  refers to the size of the aperture  in relation to the focal length. A smaller number indicates a larger diameter.

f -STOP – Lens aperture calibrated to an f-number.

FILTER – A tool that changes the appearance of a scene by playing with color or density. On a camera, it is a transparent piece of tinted glass, plastic or gelatin. During digital photo edition, a filter can be applied to change part or all of an image.

FISHEYE – An lense that is extremely wide angle and creates a distorted image.

FLASH – A short, sudden burst of light that provides brief illumination to the scene in order to highlight specific features.

FOCUS – The focal point of the lens. It can be defined by light, a sharply defined object and/or the entirety of an image that is sharp and “in focus”.

FRAME – The edges / bounderies of an image. It can be created by the camera’s viewfinder, area on a fil and/or a specific element of an image (doorway, picture frame, etc.).

G Terms 

GOLDEN HOUR – The time before or after the sun sets. The light and colors are usually more intense and can add unique depth to portraits and landscape shots.

GRADATION – The range of contrast between light and dark tones within an image.

GRAYSCALE – The monochromatic shade range in a black and white image.

H Terms 

HIGH CONTRAST – An image with a wide density range that has high contrast.

HIGH RESOLUTION – Image that have a excellent quality and can be easily reproduced in a high quality print.

I Terms 

IMAGE SENSOR – The part of a digital camera that record the frame being photographed in a similar way to which film was used in a traditional camera. Also referred to as an just “sensor” this part varies from a traditional camera in the sense that it does not store the image, it transfers it to the digital camera’s media storage unit.

IMAGE STABILIZATION – The feature in an camera that reduces the effect of camera shake to prevent image blur particularly at slow shutter speeds. Also known as “IS” or “Vibration Reduction”/”VR”.

ISO – A digital camera’s sensitivity setting designated by the International Organization for Standardization, in traditional cameras this was the film speed.

K Terms

KEY LIGHT – Sometimes referred to as “main light” it is the primary source of light in a scene, usually in a studio setting. It is typically the brightest light on the subject and the one that has the greatest influence on the image.

L Terms

LATITUDE – The range of brightness that can be recorded in a single image before it becomes washed out or overpowered by shadows.

LENS – a single piece of glass that has one or more curved surface that collects and focuses rays of light to form an image.

LENS SPEED: The widest aperture a lens can be set at. A lens with a fast – wider – aperture transmits more light than a slow lens speed.

LIGHTBOX – A enclosed space that contains a white-light behind a translucent piece of glass or plastic that allows transparencies or negatives to be laid out and viewed.

LIGHT TENT – A translucent pieces of fabric that is used to surround a subject to reduce reflections and surface reflections.


Photo credit Zorah Olivia


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