Common terms in photography every beginner should know


Photography Published: 29 August 2019

Just as any other highly developed discipline, photography has a unique set of words that build up the jargon. Today we want to share with you some of the most common words, and we’ll try to explain it in the best possible way we can! With these brief photography glossary, you’ll feel more comfortable when talking or reading about photography, especially in forums and workshops.

Aperture: This is one of the principal building blocks behind exposure and one of the most abstract things to understand in photography. Aperture expresses itself in f-stops or f-values and can be read like this “f/5.6” or this “f/2.8” and even this “f/16”. At first, it always seems hard, but as long as you remember that these all are mathematical fractions, then you’ll have a better time remembering which value is smaller than others and vice versa. This value depends entirely on the lens and not the camera.

Bokeh: This is one of the most desired features in photography, and refers to the way a section of the photograph blurs out due to focus. It has a strong relationship with aperture, and in recent years more and more people have come to accept that bokeh can’t be measured in “amounts” but in “visual quality”. A nice way for perceiving the relationship between aperture and bokeh is simply by placing one of your own fingers close to your eyes and focusing your stare on it. Can you see how everything else blurs out? That is basically how aperture produces bokeh.


Chimping: This refers to the constant habit of looking to the camera’s LCD screen immediately after taking every single photograph. This is something highly common with digital photography thanks to the ability of immediately being able to watch a photograph, but it can lead to missing some other great shots.

Crop: You can crop either on camera or in post-processing, and it simply refers to the act of framing a scene or re-framing it in the case of post-processing.

Depth of Field: Also known simply as DoF, is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects that are in sharp focus in your camera. Having shallow depths of field result in highly noticeable bokeh, and deeper depths of field depict focus throughout the whole image.


Dynamic Range: This is quite abstract, but it refers to the total amount of stops of light a sensor can handle. Alright, it is still quite dull, but a nice perspective is to compare it with our own human eyes. We humans are on average able to handle 20 stops of light, really expensive cameras are able to handle up to 15 nowadays. Pro tip, when investing in a camera, look for the dynamic range rather than the megapixels.


Focal Length: This is the proper way to measure a lens, and it comes in millimeters. Anything below 50mm is considered to be wide, and anything further from 50mm is tele. 50mm refers to “normal” since it is the most alike length to the human eyes.


Full-frame: This refers to a sensor that has the same size of a single 35mm film frame. Remember those pieces of negative from the analog photography days? Well, that is a 35mm frame.


Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS): This is quite funny, and we all photographers have suffered it a little bit at some point. It is simply the crave or need of getting more and more gear (cameras, flashes, lenses, bags, straps, you name it).


High-Key: This is a creative technique, and it happens when a photographer decides to create an image with extreme amounts of brightness. These photos can be extremely white, depicting just a hint of the object or subject, and they are quite hard to achieve in a pleasing way.


Histogram: This is one of the best tools we have in digital photography, it is a visual interpretation of all the light registered by our camera, and it splits in 255 bars or channels that reproduce a nice and smooth histogram. Learning how to read them takes a bit of time, but is the best way for knowing how your photograph has being exposed.


Hot Shoe: Have you ever seen a clip-like piece of an electronic metal component at the top of your camera? Well, that is the hot-shoe, and it serves as the communication hub between your camera and other devices like remote triggers and flashes.


ISO: Perhaps the easiest to understand building-block from exposure. ISO controls how the sensor inside your camera behaves in relation to the light. The higher the number, the more sensitive to light it becomes. This is extremely practical for low light situations, but don’t rush into it! This comes with a mighty price, as you increase the sensitivity, you also increase the amount of noise your camera will show in a photograph. This is achieved via electricity, so the more sensitive you make it, the more static it will have, hence the amount of noise. Cameras have evolved quite impressively, and noise is almost unnoticeable at ISO values as high as 1600, but before going nuts with it, test your camera and see how further can you crank up that ISO.


Lens Hood: Have you ever seen those nice things photographers attach to the front of their lenses? Well, these are called lens hoods, and all camera manufacturers should sell lenses with them. Every single lens has been engineered to render light in a specific way, and hoods have been designed to go along with these lenses, so shame on those who sell them separately. Avoid generic hoods since they won’t create the proper correction for your lens.


Long Exposure: This refers to the act of taking a slow photograph, anything with a shutter speed longer than 1 second is considered to be a long exposure. You think that 1 second is fast don’t you? In photography, 1 second is almost an eternity.


Low-Key: this is the exact opposite of high-key, it is a very dark photograph that has been created like this intentionally (or at least that is what we expect).


Nifty Fifty: For some amazing reason, certain camera manufacturers have built some cheap yet powerful 50mm lenses. Canon and Nikon to be precise, and they are more or less within the $100 range, and they are an amazing early upgrade in photography.


Prime: Any lens that hasn’t the ability of zooming in and out is a prime lens, and they come with fixed focal lengths like 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm.


Shutter Speed: The last but not the least exposure building block, but perhaps the most fun to work with. Shutter speed controls the amount of time your camera is open to receive and register light. This enables photographers to both freeze motion and register movement in ways that are simply impossible for our human eyes to record. Anything between 1/60 to 1/250 of a second will be useful for regular photographs, anything below will start depicting huge amounts of motion, and higher values will freeze movement, but will start to look darker if you don’t have the proper lighting and lenses.


Stop: This is the standard measurement for light. Exposure is measured in this value, and all the aforementioned building blocks (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) work around stops of light.


Telephoto: This refers to any lens that goes beyond 50mm, some of them can be extremely big, and are usually used in wild-life photography and sports, or any other circumstance in which getting physically close is nearly impossible to achieve.


Uncle Bob: Pretty much a soft insult or derogatory name used by professional or semi-professional photographers to refer to casual users with huge cameras getting inside their frames. This happens a lot in weddings and other social events in which the main hosts have hired a photographer and have to deal with these characters.


Vignette: A slight gradient bordering the photograph. Excessive use of it will look funny, and slight can be almost unnoticed. Good vignetting has to have purpose, and there is not an exact recipe for handling it properly.


White balance: This feature refers to the way your camera will register light’s temperature, and it spans from cold to warm. This is measured in Kelvin degrees, but we won’t go into further details about but the following: Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight, , Flash, Cloudy and Shade. They all have precise kelvin values that span between 2,500 K to 10,000 K. The true power of white balance happens in post-production when developing our raw files. By adjusting this you can create a completely different moods for your photos from dark and spooky to cozy and romantic simply by sliding the temperature. Hence the importance of shooting in raw, because as long as you have the raw file, you can leave the WB in your camera in Auto mode, and you shouldn’t worry too much about it.


Wide Angle: If anything above 50mm is considered to be a telephoto, anything below 50mm is considered to be wide angle. There are mid-wide lenses (24mm~35mm), which distort reality in beautiful ways, and they are highly popular in street photography and photojournalism. And there are some heavy wide angle lenses (anything below 18mm) which are best used in small places in order to capture everything going on inside of them.


There are many other words that build up the slang, and we highly encourage you to read more about them. Please share some of the ones you have heard and have no clue about, or just toss around the ones you use the most!