Learning photography is not just learning a new skill… it’s also learning a new language.  Understanding photography terminology, from ambient light to optical viewfinders, helps you become a better photographer and grow your skill.  Here’s our ultimate list of photography terms!

Basic Photography Terms – The Fundamentals of Photography Terminology


Photography is the art or practice that involves taking photographs, either digitally or using film.  The word in Greek means “drawing with light,” where photos means light and graphe means drawing.  Many important photography terms you’ll see defined here have to do with light!


Aperture is one of the first photography terms that come to mind when talking about photography terminology. Aperture refers to the opening at the back of a camera lens.  It also refers to the size of that opening. The size is expressed numerically and represented as f2.8 or f/2.8.

They control how much more or less light enters the camera as well as depth of field in a picture. Aperture is one of the three elements of the exposure triangle.

Circle of Confusion

The circle of confusion describes the largest blurry part of one single image, which is almost similar to the focus. The greater the distance of unfocused areas from the focused element in a picture, the broader the blur in your blurry image.

Aperture is the lens opening that lets in light


Composition is how you control the elements in your picture.  Common composition terms are below.

  • Filling the Frame. Filling the frame means composing close in around your subject in the picture to control or eliminate distracting background elements in the image.
  • Framing.  Framing involves using existing “frames” in your subject to control your viewer’s human eye and draw it to your subject in the photo. Picture frames can be natural, such trees or flowers, or man-made, such as windows or doorways.
  • Leading Lines is using natural or manmade lines in a scene to control the viewer’s human eye toward your subject in the picture.  The lines in a picture can be things such as roads, fences, walls, or trees.
  • Negative Space.  The unoccupied space around the subject in your image.
  • Rule of Thirds.  Imagine that you divide within the photo frame into thirds horizontally and vertically.  Place your subject where one set of vertical and horizontal parallel lines intersect in the picture to create more visual interest.  That’s the rule of thirds!
  • Symmetry in photography is when both halves of the image have the same “weight,” or the patterns are repeated on both halves of the image.  Symmetry in a picture can be vertical, horizontal, or radial. 

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is a macro photography shooting technique that requires multiple pictures, where various portions of the subject are in focus. When stitched through post-processing, it will give the subject in the picture a full focus. 

It helps professional photographers create a deeper depth of field in their picture without the need to use small aperture sizes. Other than creating a deeper depth of field in a photo, focus stacking helps control and retain the blurred background of an image with a large aperture, while keeping the subject in sharp focus. 

Forced Perspective 

Forced perspective is a photography technique to control angular size by moving two or more subjects closer or farther away in a photo. Acting like an optical illusion, this technique tricks the human visual perception by scaling subjects in a photo. By doing this, you can either make a subject or object in your photo appear in a different size than reality. 

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Depth of field

Depth of Field is one of the most important concepts in photography. While your camera lens can focus on one distance, there’s still a distance between the nearest and furthest point in an image that remains sharp.

Hence, the depth of field refers to how much of your scene is in focus in a photo from front to back. You can have a deep or shallow depth of field. To get a shallow depth of field for your photo, you’ll need a low f-stop like f/1.4 or f/5.6. Landscapes often have a large depth of field.

Aperture controls how large depth of field is. You can control and calculate the depth of field based on focal length, the distance to subject, the acceptable circle of confusion size, and aperture. Photographers often shorten the depth of field to DOF or DoF.


Exposure refers to the total amount of light entering the camera, essentially how bright your image is. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (the exposure triangle) control the exposure.

The photography term Exposure Triangle describes the interaction of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to control exposure, meaning how bright or dark your photo is.

Exposure Value

Exposure value is a standard measurement where higher exposure values are brighter, and lower exposure values are darker. The best exposure value is a simple way to control aperture and shutter speed (two elements of the exposure triangle) and combine them to a single value. 


F-stops are the numerical expression of the size of the lens aperture. This is expressed as a f/1.8, f/4 or f1.8, f4, etc.


ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. ISO stands for International Standards Organization and it’s expressed as a whole number like ISO 100. Usually, ISO 100 is the starting ISO. Like aperture and shutter speed, ISO is part of the exposure triangle.

The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the device is to light, making your photograph brighter. For example, setting a high ISO like 6400 means the sensor becomes very sensitive to light. However, with a higher ISO, the more noise or grain in your photo.

Shutter and Shutter Speed

The shutter is a curtain-like device that covers the image sensor. When triggered, the shutter is open and then it closes, letting light into the camera while the shutter is open so the sensor can record an image, depending on the shutter speed.

Shutter speed is often abbreviated as SS. Shutter speed describes how fast the physical curtain of the shutter is open and closed. Shutter speed is another element of the exposure triangle. Shutter speed is expressed as fractions of a second or in whole seconds. An example of shutter speed could be 1/1000, 1/500, or 5 seconds.  


A measurement of light in photography that is either double or half of the amount of light.

Common Camera Related Photography Terms

360-degree camera

This is also called an omnidirectional camera. Its field of view is equal to 360 degrees. Most of these bodies actually capture two 180 degree images and then stitch them together, digitally, to create a seamless photo.

360-Degree Image 

Photo by Elio Santos on Unsplash

Aperture Priority

Aperture priority, similar to shutter priority, is a camera mode where the photographer chooses the size of the lens aperture and the device sets SS and ISO.


The Advanced Photo System type C is an image sensor format roughly the same size with classic negatives of 25.1 x 16.7 mm. This is the usual crop factor of entry-level and mid-range cameras. Other cameras like Nikon “DX” cameras have a 1.5x crop factor.


The Advanced Photo System type H is also an image sensor format, with a size between APS-C and full-frame. The original Canon 1D line introduced this image format with a crop factor of 1.3x.

Camera Modes

Different methods of controlling exposure. Most DSLRs offer modes like automatic mode, manual mode, shutter priority, aperture priority or program.

Advanced photographers tend to stick to manual or aperture priority mode because they provide full control over the aperture. 


Crop sensor refers to a camera with a smaller sensor size when compared to a full-frame camera. The field of view is smaller, or “cropped.”  If you do use a camera with a crop-sensor, be sure to take in the crop factor when you attach your lenses. Compact cameras usually have smaller sensors

Crop Factor

Crop factor is the ratio of a camera sensor’s size to a 35mm film frame. A crop factor determines a lens’ effective focal length as well as comparing lenses between DSLRs. Crop factors describe the difference between your camera sensor size and the traditional 35mm film frame. 

Digital photography

The practice of photography using digital technology.  Digital photography is the standard these days, so most articles on the craft are discussing digital instead of film.


A small knob on the camera that adjusts the viewfinder’s sharpness.  This only controls the viewfinder, not the focus or sharpness of the lens itself.


DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex. A single-lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses that allow light to pass. A digital single-lens reflex camera is named for the way the original image is reflected in the viewfinder using a mirror and prism. Non-digital cameras are simply SLRs.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is the difference between the brightest and darkest tones in a photograph, usually pure black and white.  Each camera and image sensor will have different dynamic ranges.  


The maximum number of frames, or pictures, a camera can shoot per second. It’s often shortened to FPS.  


This is the physical size of the imaging sensors of cameras. A digital camera with a image sensor roughly equivalent to a 35mm frame of film.

Hot shoe

Hot shoe is the bracket on the top of the camera that connects the flash to your camera.  A hot shoe provides power to let the camera fire the burst of light.  A cold shoe, on the other hand, is a bracket that doesn’t provide an active connection.  


The LCD screen or liquid-crystal display is the small LCD screen on the back of your camera used to view the menu or images.

Light Meter

A light meter is a device that measures how much light is in a scene.  Most modern cameras have a built-in light meter.  External meters are also used for flash photography.

Medium or Large Frame Format

These are cameras with a bigger digital sensor and format than a full frame. They are popular for film cameras or commercial photography.


The unit of measurement used to describe the size of a camera sensor in a digital camera. A megapixel contains 1 million pixels. Megapixel is one factor of photo quality since a high megapixel count can provide you with additional image details. 

Mirrorless Cameras

A digital camera with interchangeable lenses.  Mirrorless cameras don’t use a mirror in its optical path, relying on an electronic viewfinder instead like micro four thirds cameras.


In photography terms, this is a camera without interchangeable lenses.  Their lenses may zoom or the camera body can have digital zoom abilities.  A phone camera is a common type of point-and-shoot camera.

Program Mode

A shooting mode where the camera selects your aperture and SS but allows you to control ISO and other advanced features.


The rangefinder measures the distance from the camera to an object. In this way, you can calculate the actual distance and adjust the focus to capture sharp pictures.


Resolution is the dimensions your camera’s imaging sensor can capture.  Resolution is expressed in megapixels.  It is part of what affects the image quality of the pictures a camera can produce.

When post-processing, the resolution gives you room to tweak around. A higher resolution helps with cropping and printing large images. 


The image camera sensor is the device in your camera that captures how much light passes to record an image onto your memory card. The camera sensor replaces film in a digital camera.

Shutter Priority Mode

Similar to aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode is a semi-automatic shooting mode where you program the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the f-stop and ISO accordingly.

Twin Lens Reflex

Twin Lens Reflex is a type of vintage camera that contains two separate lenses. The lenses come with the same focal length, although the top one is normally darker. The top lens lets you manual focus and compose an image, while the bottom one is for the actual process of taking the shot. 


The window in your camera that lets you view the scene. While some digital cameras don’t have one, most DSLR bodies and mirrorless cameras use a viewfinder. In mirrorless cameras, you see a video playback from an electronic viewfinder.

Photography Terms about Lenses


Lens distortion refers to an image quality issue that distorts the elements in a photo. It creates curved lines where straight lines should be, for example.  

Barrel distortion appears as straight lines bending outward from the center. Pincushion distortion has straight lines bending inward. Most distortion can be corrected in post-processing.


A “fast” lens is one with a relatively large maximum aperture, usually f4, f2.8, or wider than f/2.8.

Fish-eye Lens

A fisheye lens has an ultra-wide field of view, like 12mm.  Its construction gives a really unique visual distortion, said to replicate how a fish would see a scene from underwater.  The photography angle of view is usually 100-180 degrees.

Common Photography Terms: Fish-eye lens

Focal Length

The focal length of the lens tells us the angle of view, or how much of the scene will be captured. In photography, it describes the distance in millimeters between the lens and the image camera sensor when the model is in focus. 

Smaller lengths, such as 24mm, provide a wider field. A longer focal length, such as 400mm, provides a narrower field.

This signifies the angle of view or how much you can capture an image. The focal length also relates to the magnification or how large elements will appear. For example, a 70mm lens can produce pictures that appear more zoomed-in than a 50mm lens.


A slang word for lens.  

Kit Lens

An entry-level lens, called a kit lens because they often come as part of a “kit” with a camera body and other accessories.

What's a Lens Hood?

Lens Hood

A collar that locks onto the end of your lens to prevent glare or protect the front glass element.

Macro Lens

A macro lens is a lens that lets you take close up photography.  A true macro lens has a magnification aspect ratio of at least 1:1 ratio, and a closer focusing distance than a standard lens.  But they work for all different kinds of photography, not just macro work!

Maximum Aperture

The widest opening of a lens.  Expressed as an f-stop, like f/1.4 or f4.

Nifty Fifty

A 50mm standard lens with a wide aperture.

Prime Lens

A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length.  Prime lenses cannot zoom.


Spherical lenses have the same curve across the entire image surface.  Spherical designs are usually more simple and more cheaply produced.  Conversely, aspherical lenses have a complex surface that changes in certain parts to manual focus the amount of low light better.  They are usually high quality with better color and high contrast.

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Standard Lenses

Standard lenses provide an angle of view similar to what we see as humans.  They are usually 50-60mm on a full-frame camera.

Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens is what we call any lenses between 70-200mm.  A telephoto lens in cameras allow the photographer to get in close on a model.  Focal lengths greater than 200mm are often called “supertelephotos.”

Tilt-shift Lens

These specialty lenses allow the photographer to tile or shift the optics.  They change the plane of sharp focus, simulating photographing from a different camera position.  Tilt-shift lenses are more popular than any other lenses like prime or wide-angle lenses with real estate and architectural and landscape photographers.

Wide-Angle Lens

A wide-angle lens has a focal length of less than 50mm. The focal length of wide-angle lenses is then smaller than the focal length of a normal lens.

Variable Aperture

A lens whose maximum opening changes as the focal length of time changes. Measured in f-stops, such as f3.5-5.

Vibration Reduction

Also known as image stabilization.  Vibration reduction is a technology built into some camera lenses (or digital cameras) to compensate for camera shake.  Different manufacturers use different photography terms to identify their proprietary software, that’s why you might know this as image stabilization.

Zoom Lens

A zoom lens has a range of variable focal length, such as 24-70mm.  With a zoom lens, you can “zoom” in. Zoom lenses allow you to get closer to your model without physically changing your shooting position.

Learning about photography terms

Photography Terms About Taking Pictures (Slang and Jargon)

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio refers to the ratio of the width to the height of both your camera sensor or film and eventually, the aspect ratio of the photograph and print.

Aspect ratio is usually written as two numbers with a colon between them, such as an aspect ratio of 3:2 or an aspect ratio of 5:4. For example, the most used type of aspect ratio for photography are 3:2, 4:3 ratio, and 16:9 ratio. 

Back Button Focus

Often written as BBF, the back button focus enables you to define a different button for focusing and a different one for shutter release.  The photographer has changed the settings so a button is pressed at the back of the body to acquire and lock focus instead of the trigger on the top of her camera. Click here to learn more about BBF!


Bracketing is the process of shooting multiple pictures in a row using different exposure settings. This is perfect for landscape photography to take three or more shots. For example, shoot underexposed, properly exposed to light, and overexposed pictures that you can merge to achieve an evenly exposed image. 

Exposure bracketing is the most common type of bracketing, where you can use different levels of shutter speed with multiple brightness levels. Some Nikon, Canon, and cameras from other brands include a camera setting called AEB or Auto Exposure Bracketing, which automatically clicks a series of photos in various light camera settings. 


Parts of an image that have no tonal range or color left to them, so that they appear pure white.  Photographers will also say “blow your highlights.”  


Translation of a Japanese word for blur.  In photography terms, bokeh refers to the out-of-focus areas or out-of-focus point of light in a picture’s background as well as the other creamy blurriness in a background.  

What is the definition of Bokeh?


The bulb mode enables you to keep the shutter open for a certain period as long as you press down the shutter release button. Photographers normally use bulb mode together with a remote shutter release, a device that allows capturing long exposure. 

Burst Mode

Setting the camera to burst mode allows the device to capture pictures as long as shutter button is pressed and held down. The burst speed depends on your device’s allowable frames per second. A higher FPS is used to capture more images quickly after one another. 


Short for constructive criticism.  The photographer usually asks for CC in a social media post, meaning he’d like feedback on how to improve the photograph.


Slang for constantly reviewing your multiple images on the back of your camera.  It got it’s name because in the early days of digital cameras, photographers would look at every frame and make “Ooo-oo-ooo” noises, like a member of the chimp family. 


Clipped areas are the parts of an image where you have no information.  These areas are all white or all black with no tonality.  They are also called “blown out” when referring to highlights.

Color Space

A specific organization and range of colors.  Cameras, printers and softwares all use use different color spaces.  Common color spaces include RGB, sRGB, CMYK, or AdobeRGB.


Contrast pertains to the difference between the light and dark portions of an image. A flat photo contains more balanced tones, while a high contrast image features bright whites and deep blacks.

Expose to the Left or Right

Deliberately underexposing your image so you don’t overexpose your highlights.  You can also expose to the right side, meaning you overexpose so you don’t lose detail in your shadows (dark areas).

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is a technique (and camera feature) that allows the photographer to override exposure settings chosen by the camera.

Exposure compensation is a way to tell the camera to make an image lighter or darker. To make an image lighter or darker on your camera, you need to know that the exposure compensation button is usually represented by a +/- symbol.

You can use exposure compensation on some automatic and semi-automatic modes like aperture priority. For example, when doing landscape photography, there’s a chance part of the sky is too bright. In this case, you can make the camera shoot a darker image when you manually set negative exposure compensation. 

File Format

The image file format in which an image is saved, like RAW files or JPEG. While JPEG (joint photographic experts group) is the most common and default file format for photography, other file format types include RAW files, TIFF, Digital Negative (DNG) and PNG. 

Many photographers prefer to use RAW because it gives more control over photo editing and post-processing. RAW files are named RAW because they’re an image file that’s unprocessed. RAW file tend to have a bigger file size.

Focus Point and Focal Point

These important photography terms are often used interchangeably even though they don’t mean the exact thing.  Focus describes both the image quality of sharpness or crispness of your model, as in “are her eyes in focus?” You need to know that focus can also mean “focal point.”

The photography term focal point describes the physical “point” you can use on your camera to direct focus.  It can also be used to describe the point of interest in your photo.  Have you gone cross-eyed yet?  No?  Good!  Keep reading!

Focus modes

How your camera is auto-focusing.  Different camera brands like Nikon and Canon have different terms for these modes. For example, what Canon calls one shot, Nikon calls it Single Shot or AF-S. Most cameras have several modes:

  • One Shot (Canon) or Single Shot (AF-S in Nikon) – the cameras acquire and lock focus when you press the shutter half-way.
  • Continuous focus, AF-C (Nikon) or Al Servo AF (Canon) – the cameras will continue to acquire focus on your main object as long as the shutter is pressed halfway down.  If the model moves while you have the shutter button pressed halfway, the camera will continuously reacquire focus.
  • Automatic autofocus – a new focusing mode where the camera jumps between one shot and continuous shooting focus, depending on the situation.


This photography term is short for ‘goes before optics’. It is a piece of hard material like steel, stencil, or glass for blocking stray light. You can use a gobo to control the shape of the light and form shadows. 

Golden Hour and Blue Hour

The hour after sunrise or before sunset. Named for the pretty golden light that makes an image glowy and soft. Landscape photographers often chase the golden hour because of the sun’s low light angle. 

Blue hour is the hour before sunrise or one hour after sunset.  Named for the pretty blue tones the sun makes in the sky while it’s below the horizon.  The best light only lasts about 30 minutes, though.

Golden hour gives you a beautiful glow and soft light.


Standard award photos, named for two people holding an award and shaking hands.  Photographers also use the term step-and-repeat.  Usually pictures of multiple people on the same background using the same pose, such as school photos or daddy-daughter dances.


A graphical representation of tonal value in an image. The left side represents the shadows or blacks, while the right side features the highlights or whites. The middle part signifies the mid-tones.  


Short for high dynamic range. High dynamic range is a technique of combining photos (three or more, usually) with different dynamic ranges into one, to have a single high dynamic range image with a greater range of tones from light to dark. The goal of the high dynamic range technique is more and more saturated color in HDR images.

Long Exposure

Leaving your shutter open longer to achieve the correct exposure, often with a shutter speed of 2 seconds or a shutter speed as long as several hours.  Long exposure is used to blur water or clouds, shoot starry skies, or create light and motion trails. 

Depending on the available light, combining a slow shutter speed and high aperture often results in a long exposure time. The shutter speed range for a long exposure is flexible as the shutter speed depends on how blurry you want the fast-moving objects to appear in the blurry image as the shutter opens and closes.

It’s ideal to use a tripod when practicing long exposure photography with a slow shutter speed. 

Manual Mode

Manual Mode is one of the main camera settings. It gives you full control over everything: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Manual Mode gives you not only maximum control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO but over the look of your image. Most photographers use manual mode when they think they better judge the frame than the camera can.


A digital image contains more information embedded in its file. Metadata refers to the image data included with a photograph about its ownership, rights, and administration. 

Metadata is often confused with EXIF data, which contains information about how the photograph was shot, such as when it was taken, what lens and camera were used, shutter speed and ISO, f-stop, color space, and more. EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image Format.


Using your camera’s light meter to see the amount of light is in your scene. The metering mode suggests a correct exposure by combining ISO, shutter speed and aperture. A DSLR camera often has different metering system modes, as follows:

  • Center-weighted metering – With center-weighted metering, the camera uses the light meter and evaluates the middle of your scene for its light and ignores the corners.
  • Matrix metering (Evaluative) – Matrix metering is a metering method that breaks the frame into zones and analyzes them collectively to determine camera settings.
  • Spot metering – Spot metering is a type of light metering where the camera uses a small portion of your frame, or a spot (your focal point), to meter from.


Short for off-camera flash.  The technique of using speedlights or strobes not attached to cameras as the source of light in your digital image.

Opening Up

Opening up means decreasing the f-number or f-stops. A large aperture has a low f-number, which lets in more light.


A photography technique using slow shutter speeds and moving the camera with your moving subject as it tracks across the frame.  Panning creates motion blur in the background with slower shutter speed while keeping the moving subject relatively sharp.


Slang for a photographer.  May also see it written as ‘tog.  We’re a lazy bunch.

Pixel Peeping

Enlarging your image so much via a computer that you can see the individual pixels.


Using third-party apps (software) to process and change your image.  

Depth of field and focus in photos


RAW is a file type that contains unprocessed pixel data, offering you flexibility during post-processing. Likewise, you can tweak or edit RAW files during post-processing and then export it to another file type format. If you want to retain the higher image quality version of your pictures, it would be best to shoot in the RAW file type.

Sharp or Sharpness

How “in focus,” or crisp, elements of your image are.  

Shutter lag

The time between when you physically trigger the shutter and when it actually opens and closes.  If there’s a delay, the shutter is said to be lagging, or slow to fire.


Short for straight-out-of-camera.  An image that hasn’t had any post-processing or photo editing techniques applied to it.

Spray and Pray

Holding down the shutter and shooting a lot of frames at one time with the hopes that one is in focus.  It can also mean shooting a lot of images at an event with the hope that someone buys one later.  

Stopping down

Stopping down means increasing the number of f-stop, reducing the amount of light entering the lens. The higher the number, the smaller the aperture. Making your aperture narrower, such as moving from f/2.8 to f/5.6. to allow more low light into your lens. 

Sunny 16 Rule

Back in the early days of film, many types of camera didn’t have an on-board light meter.  Setting exposure was often a guessing game for photographers unless you had an external meter.  So they developed photography rules to help guide exposure.  The rules are similar but adjust for the low light conditions.  

The Sunny 16 rule says that on sunny days if you set the aperture to f16, your shutter speed (SS) should be the reciprocal of your ISO for a subject in direct sunlight.  The derivatives of the sunny 16 rule are below.  For each rule, the recommended f-stop should allow you to set SS with a reciprocal ISO.  Settings might be f16, 1/500 SS, ISO 500, for example.

  • Snowy 22 Rule: If the sun is shining over a snowy landscape, you can use f/22. Using f/22 will help you get proper exposure.
  • Looney 11 Rule: For astrophotos and proper exposure of the moon’s surface, use f11.  
  • Overcast 8 Rule: For overcast days, use f/8.  Other than f/8, you can try f/5.6 to set the exposure for rainy or dark and gloomy days.

Time Lapse

A time-lapse is a popular photography technique that captures a series of pictures of the same subject at different times. Time-lapse enables you to stitch images together and create a short video that speeds up movement in the scene. 

Instead of choosing a single frame with the best light, time-lapse lets you merge the photos and show the change in light. 

White Balance

Commonly abbreviated as WB, white balance refers to the temperature of the light in your image. You can manually set the white balance to produce warmer (more yellow) images or cooler (more blue) images. Using the right white balance setting can make all the things that appear white in real life appear white in the image.

There are several common white balance modes. Each white balance mode corresponds to a color temperature of the light described.

  • Automatic
  • Kelvin (this is color temperature scale, allowing you to choose what temperature to shoot at)
  • Incandescent
  • Daylight
  • Flash
  • Tungsten
  • Shade
  • Cloudy

Wide Open

Shooting wide open means using the widest and fastest aperture.

Common Photography Terms for Problems

Camera Shake

Camera shake is a term used to describe what happens when your camera or movement accidentally shakes the device when shooting. Camera shake when you’re holding the camera often causes blur in your images.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is common image quality and color issue. It refers to small amounts of discoloration at the edges of parts of your image. Chromatic aberration is also called colored fringing.  


Fringing is a type of chromatic aberration where a violet ghost-like element appears on an image. It usually occurs when the lens cannot bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane, resulting in digital noise in dark portions of the image. 

Lens Flare

Scattered light across your image, usually from having light that’s too bright coming directly into your lens. It’s also described as haze or misshapen shapes that appear in an image. Lens flare is sometimes intentionally introduced for artistic effect.

Ghosting is a specific type of lens flare where small, translucent shapes appear in your photograph.


Strange wavy looking patterns in your photograph, usually the result of fabrics with small, repetitive details such as polka dots, stripes, or checks.  

Motion Blur

Blur resulting from your subject moving too fast for the camera to record its action.

Noise or Grain

Visual distortion in your image.  It looks like tiny specks.  Photographers also call this characteristic “grain.” Higher ISO settings result in more noise.

Overexposed/Under Exposed

An image that is too exposed to light or too bright is overexposed.  An image that is too dark is underexposed.

Red Eye

The red-eye effect occurs when the eyes of the subject mirror the light back to the camera. This usually happens due to dim lighting or the use of flash at night. 

When the light hits the eyes, a person’s pupils widen, letting the retina detect the light and convert it into electronic pulses that form visual images in the brain. It also illuminates the blood supply at the back of the eyes, producing the red color you see when you take photos.  


The darkening of a photograph at the corners.  Vignetting can be a natural phenomenon of your lens or intentionally introduced via post-production.

Photography Definitions of Other Equipment

Extension Tubes

Hollow tubes that snap between your camera and lens to decrease the minimum focusing distance of your lens, allowing you to get your lens closer to your subject for macro photography work.


Glass discs or squares that attach to the end of your lens to change the light coming into the camera.  Different filters change the light in different ways.

  • A polarizing filter is the most common and useful filter type as it reduces glare and reflections and increases the saturation of colors.
  • Warming filters make your images warmer.
  • Neutral Density filters or ND filter work like sunglasses for you lens and block part of the light coming through it.
  • Graduated Neutral Density filters have shading that only covers part of the lens.  They are used for keeping parts of an image dark while letting light expose other parts of your scene.
  • UV or haze filters help eliminate haze in your scene or protect your lens element from UV rays.


Any short-duration external lighting.  Flash can be both a speedlight (small, battery-powered flash that mounts to the top of your camera) or a studio strobe (a larger more powerful light source that requires an external power source.

Flash Sync

Once you enable the flash, it goes off when you shoot an image. Flash sync helps you control the flash’s timing, so you have a choice with flash sync if you want the flash to go off at the end of the process.

Gray Card

A card or disc colored 18 percent gray.  Used for setting exposure or auto white balance.

Trigger Release

A remote or cable release that lets you take an image without pushing the actual button on the camera to shutter release.


Any device that reflects light back into the scene.


A device that snaps between your lens and camera to increase the working focal lengths of the lens.  

Common Lighting Photography Terms


The existing light in your scene.  

Hard Light and Soft Light

Specular light that produces very distinct shadows.  The transition between shadows and the bright portions of your digital photo is very harsh.  Hard light creates lots of contrast.

Soft light, on the other hand, has a large transition area between light and dark.  Soft light is very diffused and has less light contrast.  

High Key or Low Key

Hey key are bright images with bright tones with few to no shadows.  Low key are images with darker tones, more shadows, and deep blacks.  These photographs have very minimal amounts of mid-tones or whites.


Also known as high-speed sync.  HSS is a flash mode that shoots small, intermittent bursts of flash so you can shoot the flash at longer shutter speeds.

Key or Main light

The main light in a scene illuminating your subject.  A fill light is a second light commonly used to fill in shadows.

Maximum Sync Speed

The fastest speed at which you can set your shutter before it fires too quickly to allow the flash to fully fire.  Usually around 1/200 to 1/250.

Lighting pattern

Using artificial lights in a specific way to create a specific effect.  Rembrandt lighting, clamshell lighting, and butterfly lighting are all examples of lighting patterns.

Lighting ratio

How much different light sources in your scene contribute to the overall amount of light.


Accessories that modify the light from speedlights, strobes, or other light source.  Types of modifiers include umbrellas, softboxes, octoboxes, snoots, beauty dishes, scrims and grids.  Scrims are large, translucent panels that diffuse the light.  They are often used in natural light photography.  

Rear curtain sync

Setting your flash to fire at the end of a long exposure instead of the beginning.  The flash will fire right before the rear curtain of your shutter closes.  The technique is commonly used to put the motion trail behind the subject in long exposures.


Short for through-the-lens.  Usually used as a term describing a technology of your flash and camera that measures the light coming in through the lens and sets the flash power to fire accordingly for a properly exposed image. Learn how to use TTL Flash correctly!


Photography terminology is a language unto its own.  Understanding these photography terms like depth of field, exposure compensation, aspect ratios, flash sync, and camera shake helps you master the skill and improve your body of work!  Happy clicking!

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