Skip to main content
Report this ad

See also:

Updated: Glossary of basic photography terms for beginners

 A man walks through the early morning mist on Hampstead Heath September 30, 2011 in London, England. (click on image to see entire photo)
A man walks through the early morning mist on Hampstead Heath September 30, 2011 in London, England. (click on image to see entire photo)
Dan Kittwood / Getty Images

This photography glossary is provided for beginning photographers who need a quick definitions reference while reading photography articles by Buddy Ray or other contributing photography writers. Serious amateurs and professional photographers around the Louisville metropolitan area should already know these basic terms and definitions like the back of their hands. Beginners will need to get a good grasp of these terms in order to take their photography interests to the next level.

Action. See Motion.

Adjustable Camera. A camera that allows the user to manually adjust the aperture opening (f/stops), shutter speed, and possibly, other camera features.

Angle of View. The scene as viewed through the camera lens.

Aperture. The opening in a lens that controls the amount of light that passes into a camera. The size of the lens opening is referred to as the f-number or f-stop. Adjustable lenses use a diaphragm that allows the user to change the aperture openings through a range of incremental sizes known as f-stops. Examples: f/2, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/16. Each f-stop opening either doubles, or cuts in half, a specific amount of light that enters the camera striking the film or digital sensor.

Aperture Priority. A camera feature that lets the user select a desired aperture size while the camera automatically sets the shutter speed for proper exposure. When the aperture is changed, or the light level changes, the shutter speed automatically adjusts accordingly.

Autofocus. A lens feature that automatically focuses on the subject or scene.

Available light - See Light.


Background. The part of a scene that appears behind the main subject of the photograph and farthest away from the camera or viewer.

Back Light. See Lighting.

Black and White. A photograph or image made up of black, white and gray tones.

Bounce Lighting. Flash or other light bounced off of a wall, ceiling, or reflector to effectively enlarge the source and provide a softer and more natural effect.

Bracketing. The process of taking several exposures of a scene, in succession, with incremental changes in aperture and/or shutter speed in order to compare a range of results using the same composition.

Burst Mode. A camera feature that allows consecutive photographs to be taken by depressng the shutter button only once.


Camera. A photographic component device composed of a light-tight camera body; a light-capturing system (film or digital sensor); a lens to focus the light onto the light-capturing system; a shutter to control the amount of time light strikes the light-capturing system; a shutter release button; and a viewfinder through which the photographer looks to compose the image.

  • Single-lens Reflex (SLR/DSLR). A camera which allows the photographer to view the actual scene directly through the camera lens that will take the photograph. An SLR offers a photographer superior control over the photographic shooting experience.
  • Point and Shoot. A compact camera where the photographer looks through a viewing lens and not the lens that will actually take the photograph. The actual picture taken will be slightly different than what is observed through a point and shoot viewing lens. These cameras are usually equipped with a few automatic features and a zoom lens.

Camera Angle. Various positions of camera placement relative to the subject's position. i.e. high, low, left, right, eye level, waist level, ground level, etc.

Candid Photographs. Unposed photographs of subjects during activity, most frequently taken without the subject's knowledge.

Close-up. A photograph taken with a camera held close to the subject.

Color Temperature. The measure of color quality of a source of light, expressed in degrees Kelvin.

  • Warm colors - yellows, oranges, reds and other earthy colors
  • Cool colors - In contrast to warm earthy colors, the cool colors include shades of blue, silver, gray, purple and others.

Composition. The photographer's visual arrangement of the subject and surrounding elements in a photograph as seen through the viewfinder.

Contrast. The brightness range of the subject or the scene lighting.

  • High contrast scene - has a narrow range of brightness
  • Low contrast scene - has a wide range of brightness

Crop. To use only a part of a photographic image by cutting out the portion not wanted.


Daylight. Sunlight that is either direct, as on a clear day, or diffused through clouds on an overcast day.

Definition. The clarity of detail and edge sharpness in a photograph.

Depth of Field. The range of acceptably sharp focus between the nearest and the farthest objects in a photograph. Depth of field is controlled by the aperture f-stop selection, and influenced by a particular lens focal length.

Diaphragm. The movable element in the aperture that opens and closes to specific sizes, or f-stops.

DSLR. Digital Single-Lens Reflex. See Camera.


Electronic Flash. A compact, portable light source, providing light equivalent to the color temperature of daylight.

Enlargement. A printed photograph that's larger than the original image size. The term enlargement is commonly used to reference photographs printed 5 x 7 inches and larger.

Existing Light. See Light.

Exposure. The total amount of light allowed through a lens and onto a camera’s sensor. The aperture controls a specific amount of light, and the shutter controls the amount of time that the light is allowed to pass through. The aperture and shutter working together controls exposure.

  • Overexposure - A condition in which too much light reaches the digital camera sensor, creating a photograph that appears too light and washed out
  • Underexposure - A condition in which too little light reaches the digital camera sensor producing a dark and muddy-looking print.
  • Normal or Correct - The straight aperture and shutter speed exposure combination based on a simple light measurement by the camera's light meter. This may be just a starting point, however, depending on the scene's lighting, and the photographer's creative vision.

Exposure Meter. A device that measures light for the purpose of exposure.

  • Reflective meter - Measures light reflected from the subject back to the camera; measured from camera position.
  • Incident meter - Measures light falling upon the subject; measured at the subject’s position.
  • Spot meter - Measures reflected light from a very narrow angle of view, commonly one degree or less.

Exposure Setting. The aperture and shutter speed combination settings for a specific scene.


F/stop / F-number. The ratio between the diameter of the aperture opening and the focal length of the lens. See Aperture.

Field of View. The photographer's eyesight view of a scene.

Fill Light. See Lighting.

Filter. A optical accessory used to remove or transmit light characteristics; cover and protect the front elements of a lens; and in photo-software applications, dramatically modify the appearance of a photograph.

Flash. See Electronic flash.

Focal Length. The distance from the optical center of a lens to the sharp image behind the lens that is formed on the sensor (measured in millimeters) when the lens is focused on infinity. The focal length of a lens determines the subject image size that the lens forms on the sensor and the field of view.

Focus. A lens function that brings a scene or image into sharpness through the movement of optical lens elements inside the barrel of a lens.

  • Manual focus - The photographer must manually turn a focusing ring, usually located around the end of the lens barrel.
  • Fixed focus - The focus is permanently set by the manufacturer and no focus adjustments are available to the photographer.
  • Auto focus - Focusing is acheived through one of several types of autofocusing arrangements. Typically, autofocus is established after the photographer lightly depresses the shutter button prior to taking the picture.

Foreground. The part of the scene or space in a photograph that appears closest to the camera or nearest the viewer.

Front light.See Lighting.


Highlights. The lightest areas of an image.

Hotshoe. A live electrical contact inside a holder on top of a camera that's used to mount and fire an electronic flash.


Image. A ,photograph. Also, a physical likeness or representation.

ISO. A measurement of sensitivity to light. (ie. ISO 100, 200, 400 800, 1600, etc). The lower the ISO number, the more light is needed to produce the normal photograph.


Lens. The part of a camera, either built-in or added interchangeably, that gathers light rays from a scene and focuses the image sharply onto a camera’s film or digital sensor.

  • Fast lens - one with a large maximum aperture. Example: f/1.8 or f/2.0
  • Slow lens - one with a small maximum aperture. Example: f/4 or f/5.6
  • Wide-angle lens - one with a field of view wider than
  • Telephoto lens - one
  • Zoom lens - See Zoom Lens
  • Fisheye lens - an extreme wide-angle lens with an angle of view of about 180 degrees. Fisheye lenses produce round images.

Lens speed. Refers to the widest aperture opening on a lens, which is an indicator of how effective the lens will perform under low lighting levels.

Light. The energy that makes photography possible. Light rays travel in straight lines.

  • Daylight - Light provided by the sun.
  • Existing light/Available light - Any light falling on the subject that is not provided by the photographer, indoors or outdoors.
  • Tungsten light - Artificial light from regular room lamps and ceiling lighting fixtures except fluorescent light.
  • Florescent light - Artificial light that lacks sufficient amounts of red thus producing an off-color renditions.
  • Window light - Soft and natural indirect daylight passing through a window, ideally located on the north side of a building.
  • Hard light- Light produced by a light source that is smaller in size relative to the subject. Produces distinct shadows and bright highlights. For example, the sun on a clear day produces hard lighting due to its apparent small size relative to subject matter on earth.
  • Soft light- Light produced by a light source that is larger in size relative to the subject. Produces soft shadows and soft highlights. For example, the sun shining through clouds on an overcast day produces a broad source of soft lighting.

Light Meter. A device, typically built into a camera, that’s used to measure light falling on or reflecting from a subject in a photographic scene. High-end, light meters used at the professional level are usually separate, handheld units.

  • Incident meter - measures light falling upon a subject, and is measured at the subject position.
  • Reflective meter - measures light from a subject or scene that's reflected back to camera position.
  • Spot meter - measures reflected light from a very narrow angle of view, commonly one degree or less.

Lighting. The way light is used. The illumination falling on a subject recognized by the amount, type, direction, pattern, and/or quality of the light source.

  • Front-lighting - Light striking the subject from the direction of the camera position.
  • Back-lighting - Light striking the subject from the direction opposite camera position.
  • Side-lighting - Light striking the subject from the left or right side relative to camera position.
  • Top-lighting - Light striking the subject from directly above.
  • Bottom-lighting - Light striking the subject from below.
  • Fill-lighting - Light that illuminates shadows cast by a main light.

Light source. The sun, window light, candle light, or one of several different types of artificial sources, including but not limited to, electronic flash, room lamps, street lights, flashlights, computer monitors, etc.


Macro.- See Close-up.

Megapixel. A million pixels. The number of megapixels for a digital camera represents the resolution of the digital camera's sensor. For example, a digital camera rated at 5 megapixels contains a 5 megapixel sensor.

Release. A written document that gives the photographer a level of authorization to use the subject's image in commercial or non-commercial applications. Releases may not be required for certain editorial use.

Monochrome. See Black and White

Monopod. A one-legged supporting stand used to hold a camera steady, and often used by professionals to help steady large telephoto lenses.

Motion. Movement in the photographic scene as viewed through the camera lens.


Noise. Pixel variations that cause color distortion, most visible in photographs shot at high ISO numbers.


Overexposure. See Exposure.


Panorama. A view of a scene that’s much broader than a regular camera lens is able to produce.

Perspective. The spatial relationships and relative sizes of objects in a photograph. Perspective changes only when camera position changes

Photograph. A record of a physical scene, event, person or object that is created with a camera.

Pixel. A picture element. The smallest unit of a digital image, which are normally invisible to the naked eye..

Pixelated. A condition in a digital photograph where individual pixels become clearly discernible.

Primary Colors. Red, blue and green.

Print. A hard copy of a photograph.

Program Exposure. See Exposure.


Refraction. The bending of light rays by the glass elements inside a lens so that they converge and focus on a single plane in side the camera's film or digital sensor.

Resolution. The number of pixels in a image, expressed as ____ x ____ (ie. 1200 x 1870). The higher the resolution, the greater the amount of detail and quality in a photograph.


Scene. The place or environment viewed from camera position.

Sensor. A device located inside the camera body that converts an optical image into an electronic signal. Two main types used in digital cameras are the Charge-coupled device (CCD) and Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) active pixel sensors

Shadows. The dark areas of an image.

Shutter. The movable curtain, plate or other cover that opens and closes in order to control the amount of time that light enters the camera and strikes a digital sensor or film.

Shutter Button: A pushbutton, usually located on the top side of a camera, that triggers the shutter to open.

Shutter Priority. A camera feature that lets the user select a desired shutter speed while the camera automatically sets the aperture for proper exposure. When the shutter is changed, or the light level changes, the shutter speed automatically adjusts accordingly.

Shutter Speed. The variable speed at which the shutter opens and closes each time the shutter button is depressed.

Side Lighting. See Lighting.

SLR. Single-Lens Reflex. See Camera.

Soft focus. A soft, rather than hard and sharp, rendition of the edges and overall imagery in a photograph.

Specular Highlights. The brightess part of a highlight.

Stop. An alternate name for f-stop.

Still life. A photographic composition of inanimate objects composed of subject matter and supporting elements that reflect a certain unifying idea or theme.

Sunlight. See Daylight.


Telephoto Lens. See Lens

Tripod. A three-legged supporting stand used to hold a camera steady.

Tunsten Light. See Lighting


Underexposure. See Exposure.


Viewfinder. A window, built-in to a camera, that allows a photographer to frame and focus an image scene before taking the photograph. See Camera.


Warm Colors. See Color Temperature

White Balance. An electronic adjustment that ensures realistic white and color renditions in a photograph, based on the lighting environment. White balance must be changed depending on how a scene is lit. (ie. sunlight, tungsten lamps, florescent. etc.)

Wide-angle Lens. See Lens.


Zoom Lens. A lens that combines a whole range of focal lengths into one lens, keeping focus on the subject, while allowing the photographer to change the magnification of an image without changing lenses.

  • Optical zoom - The image naturally produced by the zoom lens optics inside the lens itself.
  • Digital zoom - Takes the image produced by the lens’s longest focal-length, and then enlarges the central portion of it making it appear to be longer than that offered by the lens alone.

Win a photo contest or learn trying


Report this ad