Common Photography Terms Explained

Are you wondering what aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and other photography terms mean? This guide got you covered!

If you are new to photography, you might be unfamiliar with all the jargon and slang in the industry. You probably also wish to speak “photography” so you can hold a conversation with professionals and seem like one yourself. 

Fortunately, that’s what this guide is all about.

I compiled some of the most common photography terms and less popular slang in one place. Hopefully, this article helps you have a better grasp of the industry language.

Without any further ado, let’s dive right in!

Common Photography Terms for Cameras

SLR Camera

SLR stands for single-lens reflex. It is a type of camera that uses a mirror and prism to reflect light passing through the sensor. This light goes towards the viewfinder, which allows you to see exactly what you will capture. But once you release the shutter, the mirror flips up to let light into the sensor, consequently exposing the film and taking the picture.

SLRs are also known as analog or film cameras.

DSLR Camera

A DSLR is a digital single-lens reflex camera. It works exactly as SLRs, with a mirror and prism that reflects light towards the viewfinder. But instead of using a film, it captures photos digitally and saves them on a memory card.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II DSLR Camera

Mirrorless Camera

A mirrorless camera lacks the mirror found in SLRs and DSLRs, making it lighter and more compact. It also doesn’t have an optical viewfinder, which reflects light before capturing an image. Instead, it features an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a digital screen to display the scene in front of you.

Sony α7R IV Full-frame Mirrorless Camera

Point-and-Shoot Camera

A point-and-shoot camera, also known as a compact camera, features a small sensor and fixed lens. This lens is not interchangeable, meaning you cannot switch between different lenses, unlike DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

On a more positive note, it is a considerably smaller and lighter camera.

Canon PowerShot G7X Mark III Camera

TLR Camera

TLR refers to a twin-lens reflex vintage camera. It features two separate lenses with the same focal length. The top lens is part of the viewfinder system, enabling you to focus and compose the scene. Meanwhile, the bottom lens takes the photograph. 

Large Format Camera

A large format camera captures an image on a 4×5 inches or 8×10 inches sheet film. It has the largest possible sensor and resolution in analog photography. It is an ideal choice for capturing architecture, conceptual artwork, and environmental portraits due to its flexibility.

Medium Format Camera

Medium format cameras record images on a media larger than 36×24 mm but smaller than 4×5 inches. They can either be analog or digital.

Analog types use a 120 film size.

HOLGA 120GCFN Camera

Meanwhile, digital ones have a digital imaging sensor, which mimics that size.

Fujifilm GFX 50R Mirrorless Camera

Most medium format cameras are modular with interchangeable lenses, viewfinders, grips, backs, and more. A notable example of this type of camera is a Polaroid. 


CMOS stands for complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor, a type of imaging sensor. It is the most common sensor today and is present among modern cameras like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

It is an electronic chip that converts photons into electrons to process photos digitally. It also runs at a significantly low voltage, which consumes less power than CCD sensors.


CCD, or charged couple device, refers to an integrated circuit found on a silicon surface. This circuit creates light-sensitive elements known as pixels, which, in turn, are transformed into a digital copy of an image.

Cameras with CCDs have to use the whole surface of the sensor when capturing an image. They consume more energy and time than CMOS sensors. They also restrict you from accessing the pixels individually.

Full Frame

Full frame describes a sensor that is roughly the size of a 35 mm analog camera. It has an exact size of 36×24 mm.

Full frame cameras allow more light in the sensor due to its larger surface area. Thus, they offer higher image quality and resolution and better low-light performance than smaller sensor formats.


Advanced Photo System Type C, also known as APS-C, is an image sensor format. It features a 25.1×16.7 mm sensor size with an aspect ratio of 3:2.

APS-C cameras are often called crop cameras due to the crop factor they offer. In simple terms, the crop factor refers to the ratio of the sensor size to 35 mm or a full-frame sensor. It is the standard used to measure the equivalent focal length of a lens. 

APS-C sensor gives lenses a crop factor of 1.5-1.6x. So if you use a 50mm lens, you can expect to receive a field of view equivalent to a 75 or 80mm lens. 


APS-H stands for Advanced Photo System type H. It is another image sensor format with a size between full-frame and APS-C sensors. It also offers a crop factor of 1.3x, which transforms a 50mm lens to 65mm.

Canon specifically used this sensor size on their older digital cameras, such as the original Canon 1D line.

Micro Four Thirds

Micro Four Thirds, also called MFT or M4/3, can describe a sensor format or a lens mount.

An MFT sensor measures 18×13.5 mm, with a crop factor of 2x and an aspect ratio of 4:3.

Meanwhile, the MFT mount was initially exclusive to Olympus and Panasonic cameras. However, other manufacturers, notably Blackmagic and DJI, also use it today.

Panasonic LUMIX GH5M2 Mirrorless Camera

Low-Pass Filter

A low-pass filter, or anti-aliasing or blur filter, reduces the amount of high-frequency light entering the sensor. Thus, it can help eliminate the problem of moiré or wavy patterns (more on this later!) in photos.


A viewfinder is a part of the camera that displays a preview of the scene you will capture. There are two types of the viewfinder—optical and digital.

Optical viewfinders allow you to see exactly what the lens sees, owing to the mirror and prism reflecting the light. They are found in DSLR cameras.

In contrast, digital viewfinders are standard in mirrorless cameras, which lack a mirror inside their bodies. They also offer an accurate display of the scene in front of you.


A liquid-crystal display, or LCD, is a screen on the back of a camera. It provides an electronic preview of your captured images and allows you to view menus and settings.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range refers to the degree of light or brightness that an image sensor can capture. The higher the dynamic range, the more flexible the camera is. It can help retain details in the shadows (blacks) and highlights (whites) of an image when editing.


Resolution refers to the amount of detail an image has. A higher resolution means the photo offers more detail and a larger surface area, which comes in handy when cropping or editing. It is measured in various ways but the most common unit used is pixels and megapixels.


The shutter is a part of the camera that enables light to enter and hit the sensor for a determined period. It comes in various mechanisms, including central shutter, electronic shutter, or leaf shutter.

Photography Terms for Camera Settings


ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. It describes how sensitive the image sensor is to light. It is one of the three primary settings that control the exposure of a photo; the other two are f/stop and shutter speed.

A higher ISO number means the sensor is more sensitive to light. Thus, it enables you to capture photos in low-light situations. However, it also introduces noise or grain in the image, which affects its overall quality.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed refers to the length of time the sensor is open or exposed to light. It is usually expressed as a fraction of a second, such as 1/200 or 1/1000. If the shutter is open for longer than a second, it is displayed as 1” or longer.

A slower shutter speed can result in the visible blurring of a photo, especially if you are capturing fast-moving subjects.

Shutter Priority

Shutter priority is a camera setting mode usually denoted as S or Tv on the mode dial. It allows you to set the shutter speed independently. However, the camera automatically adjusts the aperture to ensure correct exposure.

Use shutter priority mode when you want to control how you capture motion in a scene. Some situations that can benefit from this mode include freezing fast-moving objects or shooting with creative motion blur.

Aperture Priority

Aperture Priority, also known as A or Av, is another camera setting mode. It lets you set the aperture as desired, while the shutter speed automatically changes for the proper exposure.

Use Av mode if you wish to achieve a fixed depth of field or try various apertures to understand their effect on an image.

Burst Mode

Burst mode, also known as continuous shooting mode, is a camera function that enables you to capture a number of photos in quick succession. The speed at which a camera takes these photos is expressed in frames per second or FPS.

Some cameras can only take 4 FPS, while higher-end models can capture 8+ FPS per burst.

A higher FPS is crucial for recording fast-moving subjects, which are common in action, sports, and wildlife photography.


Exposure refers to the amount of light that reaches the film or digital sensor when you capture a photo. To put it simply, it describes the overall brightness or darkness of an image.

When photographers say that a photo is “properly exposed,” they mean that it has the right amount of shadows (blacks) and highlights (whites). 

Exposure Value

Exposure value combines the aperture and shutter speed to a single value. It measures the exposure in an image and is displayed on a logarithmic scale. The left values refer to darker photos, while the right values are brighter.

Exposure Value Chart

0 EV is the brightness (luminance) of an image exposed at f/1.0, 1 second, and ISO 100. Any exposure setting with the same brightness as this—such as f/1.4, ½ second, and ISO 400—is also equivalent to 0 EV.

1 EV has twice the brightness, such as f/1.0, 1 second, and ISO 200. A higher exposure value is suitable for capturing scenes with bright and intense lighting. 

In contrast, -1 EV is half as bright. Lower exposure values are appropriate for shooting dimly lit and dark objects.

Exposure Compensation

When using some modes, the camera automatically calculates the settings for optimal exposure. However, the result is not always what the photographer wants.

Fortunately, exposure compensation enables you to adjust the exposure from the value selected by the camera. You can make your photos brighter or darker as desired.

Exposure Compensation Picture


Bulb mode allows you to keep the shutter open for longer than 30 seconds to achieve long exposures. You can do this by pressing the shutter button manually—which is hard—or using a remote shutter release. 

This camera setting is useful for astro and landscape photographers. 

White Balance

Although not visible to our eyes, every light source produces a different color temperature expressed in Kelvin (I’ll talk more about this term below). 

White balance or WB is a camera setting that controls how the camera captures different light colors. It helps reduce unwanted color casts, which make an image look unnatural.

Some WB settings include daylight, cloudy, tungsten, and fluorescent. Other cameras even allow you to set the color temperature manually.

Focus: One-Shot AF

As you can probably tell by its name, one-shot autofocus focuses on the subject once and stops. Photographers often use this AF setting when capturing static or non-moving objects. 

Focus: AF Servo

This autofocus function keeps a moving object in focus across the frame as long as you are pressing the shutter button.

Focus: AI Focus

Artificial Intelligence or AI Focus is a combination of the two previous AF modes. It focuses on the subject once, similar to One-Shot AF. But if the subject moves, this function tracks it to ensure focus.

Back Button Focus

The back button focus allows you to separate the focus and shutter release functions. Thus, you do not have to press the shutter button halfway down when focusing on an object. Instead, you can move the focus function on a different button, such as the dedicated AF-ON button found on most cameras. Doing so helps prevent refocusing when the subject is already focused.

Photography Terms for Lenses


Aperture refers to the opening of the camera lens, which controls the amount of light that passes to enter the camera. It is expressed in f-numbers or f-stops, such as f/2.8 or f/5.6, to determine the lens opening.

The lower the number (f/1.8), the larger or more open the aperture is. That means more light passes through the camera lens and the depth of field becomes shallower.

Consequently, a higher f-stop (f/11) means a smaller aperture. It enables less amount of light into the camera and a deeper depth of field.

In general, lenses with low f-stops are better in low-light shooting conditions. That is why they are usually more expensive.

1200px Lenses with Different Apertures

Focal Length

The focal length determines the angle of view of a lens or how much of the scene it captures. It also describes how large the subjects appear within the frame. It is expressed in millimeters (mm).

The longer the focal length of a lens, the narrower its angle of view and the larger the subjects are. An example of this is a 100mm lens.

In contrast, a shorter focal range, such as 20mm, shows a wider field of view. Thus, objects may seem smaller in the frame than what they look like in real life.

Prime Lens

Lenses can be categorized into either a prime or zoom lens.

Prime lenses feature a fixed focal length, such as 50mm. If you wish to change the angle of view, you have to physically move away or towards the subject. In short, you can’t change the focal length of the lens.

On the positive side, they are often compact and lightweight.

Zoom Lens

Zoom lenses, as their name suggests, allow you to zoom in and out of the subject quickly. They offer a variable focal length, like 24-70mm, to change the angle of view in seconds.

Although they are more versatile, these lenses are usually bulky and heavy.

Telephoto Lens

Lenses can also be categorized depending on their focal length.

Telephoto lenses have a focal length of 70mm to 200mm. They offer a narrow field of view where objects appear larger than what they seem in real life. Thus, they allow you to take photos from a distance.

These lenses are ideal for action, sports, portrait, and wildlife photography. 

Super Telephoto Lens

As you can tell by their name, super-telephoto lenses offer an even longer focal range than a standard telephoto lens.

They have at least 200mm focal length, suitable for capturing birds, wildlife, the moon, and other very distant subjects.

Wide-Angle Lens

Wide-angle lenses have a focal length of less than 35mm. They allow you to fit more elements into the frame, resulting in a broader perspective. They also make the objects seem smaller due to their wide angle of view.

These lenses are perfect for architecture, cityscape, and landscape photographers.

Fisheye Lens

Fisheye lenses are technically wide-angle lenses. However, they offer an even more short focal length ranging from 4.5mm to 16mm. This results in an extremely wide angle of view, intended to create a panoramic image. 

Standard Lens

Standard lenses fall in between telephoto and wide-angle lenses. They feature a focal range of 35mm to 70mm, which offers a field of view close to our non-peripheral vision. They also do not have distortion, making them ideal for portraiture and general photography.

Macro Lens

Macro lenses are special types of lenses suited for taking close-up images. They offer a maximum magnification ratio of 1:1 and a close focusing distance. That simply means that the camera captures the object similar or greater than its actual size in real life.

These lenses are suitable for taking pictures of food, flowers, insects, and other small subjects.

Tilt-Shift Lens

Tilt-shift lenses allow you to tilt and shift the camera’s angle of view, hence the name. These give you extensive control over the perspective and focus.

They are perfect for architectural photography, where you may want to keep the whole building in focus but the background blurry. Tilt-shift lenses can also create a miniature effect to make the scene look tiny from an elevated perspective.

Image Stabilization

Some lenses have built-in image stabilization. This technology corrects camera shake by compensating on pan and tilt movements. Thus, it makes shooting handheld or at slower shutter speeds easier.

However, image stabilization is not enough to reduce vibrations when shooting. You still have to use a tripod (more on this later), but you get to enjoy more creative possibilities. 

Lens Distortion

Lens distortion refers to an optical issue that bends straight lines and makes them appear curvy. It can appear in different ways:

  • Barrel distortion – This type of distortion causes straight lines to curve inwards, similar to the shape of a barrel.
  • Pincushion distortion – This one is the exact opposite of barrel distortion. Instead of curving inwards, straight lines turn outwards. 
  • Mustache distortion – This type of distortion is a combination of barrel and pincushion distortions. 
Types of Lens Distortion

Lens distortion is more common in zoom lenses, but it can also occur in some prime lenses, especially wide-angle ones.

Filter Thread Size

Filter thread refers to the diameter in front of the lens. Common sizes include 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm. However, lenses can have smaller and larger filter thread sizes.

These diameters determine the size of the accessories, such as filters or lens hood, that you can attach to the lenses.

Lens Filter

Lens filters have various purposes. Most types help reduce glare and reflections, while some can enhance colors. No matter the purpose, each one can affect the final look of the image. 

I’ll discuss more about the different types of filters later in this guide.

Lens Hood

A lens hood blocks the light coming from the sides of the lens. Thus, it can reduce unwanted reflections and flares. It’s a must-have accessory if you’re shooting towards the sun or in bright daylight.

Photography Terms for Other Camera Equipment


It is a device that produces a flash of artificial light to illuminate the scene. It can brighten the subject for only a short time (from 1/1000 to 1/200 of a second), hence the name.

A flash is one of the most popular camera accessories since it’s versatile, suitable for various conditions. It can either be built into the camera (built-in flash) or an external unit.

Remote Flash Trigger

A remote flash trigger, also known as a wireless trigger, helps the camera communicate with the flash unit at a distance. It allows the flash to fire via infra-red signals, even when it’s away from your camera.

It usually consists of a transmitter and a receiver. The former is usually attached to the camera via the hot shoe (more on this later!). Meanwhile, the latter is mounted on the flash.


A strobe is essentially a flash unit but with lightning-fast recycle times. This way, you don’t have to wait for the flash to cool down—you can use it many times in a row for illuminating the scene. 

A strobe also produces a brighter and more powerful light than a simple flashgun. It can even overpower the sun in outdoor scenes, suitable for achieving a specific lighting effect.

However, it is not as portable and can require a heavy battery pack or an AC power source. 

Hot Shoe

A hot shoe refers to the mounting plate on the top of a camera. It comprises an angled metal bracket with electrical metal contact points. These enable a flash unit and other compatible accessories to work with your camera.

Cold Shoe

Similar to a hot shoe, a cold shoe also features a metal bracket for mounting flash and other photography accessories. However, it doesn’t have any power or electrical connection on its own. It simply holds an off-camera flash unit for remote use.


A softbox describes an enclosure that you put around an artificial light source, such as a flash tube or halogen lamp. It has a reflective interior that diffuses the light for a soft and even illumination. It can also reduce harsh shadows when you use it properly.

The closer the softbox to the subject, the more natural-looking the light appears. It can even emulate window lighting. 

Such soft illumination is ideal for commercial, product, and portrait photography.

Neewer 24 inches Octagon Softbox


In photography, an umbrella refers to a type of lighting modifier. It spreads the light source over a large area to create soft illumination.

What makes an umbrella different from a softbox is its shape. A softbox comes in various shapes, but an umbrella is always circular. The latter is also easier to set up since you don’t have to enclose it around a lighting source.

Moreover, umbrellas are available in different variations. The first type is called a “shoot-through” because it features a white, transparent fabric. It creates a broader and softer light than a bare flash unit.

Neewer Reflector White Umbrella

Meanwhile, an umbrella with black backing is known as the reflective type. It can contain the light source more efficiently for more even illumination.

Neewer Reflector Black Silver Umbrella

Light Meter

A light meter is a handheld device that measures the amount of light present in a scene. It helps photographers determine the proper exposure needed, and consequently, the particular shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO to use. 

Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is attached in front of the lens to minimize reflections from lighting sources. It can also reduce glare while increasing color saturation in various subjects.

It is a popular tool among architecture, cityscape, and landscape photographers, who often shoots using natural lighting.

Neutral Density Filter

A neutral density (ND) filter limits the amount of light entering the lens and, consequently, the image sensor. It doesn’t affect the color, contrast, or sharpness of the photos. It simply allows you to control how much light is in the image for achieving creative results.

An ND filter comes in different types based on the amount of light it restricts. This amount is expressed in f-stops. For instance, a 1-stop ND filter reduces the amount of light by a stop and requires you to use a longer shutter speed. In simple terms, you can double the exposure time.

The larger the f-stop number, like f-10, the lesser light the filter lets in the sensor. So if you want to block out more light and shoot at slower shutter speeds, choose a filter with a higher f-stop, such as a 6-stop ND filter.

Below are the most common grades of ND filters.

  • ND0.3 or 1 stop – 2x shutter speed
  • ND0.6 or 2 stops – 4x shutter speed
  • ND0.9 or 3 stops – 8x shutter speed
  • ND1.8  or 6 stops – 64x shutter speed
  • ND3.0 or 10 stops – 1000x shutter speed

Finally, ND filters are available in individual pieces or a variable type. The former refers to individual pieces of filters that you attach in front of the lens. If you want to alter light levels, you need to change the filter every time. Meanwhile, the latter refers to a single filter that you can rotate to cover a range of f-stops.

K&F Concept Neutral Density Filter

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

A graduated neutral density filter is a type of neutral density filter. However, it features a gradient from dark to light that helps darken specific parts of the scene, such as the sky. It is especially handy for landscape photographers who want to shoot on bright days and high-contrast scenes.

Remote Trigger

A remote trigger is a handy device that enables you to take a photo without pressing the shutter button on your camera. It can connect to the camera via wire or infrared signals, such as Bluetooth.

Grey Card

A grey card is a tool that helps photographers adjust their exposure and white balance settings based on a reference point. The card uses the color “middle” grey to make it easier to understand the lighting solution and alter the camera settings accordingly.

Lightdow Grey Card

Extension Tubes

Extension tubes, also known as macro tubes, fit between the lens and the body of the camera. They can extend the zoomable area of the lenses, making subjects appear closer and larger. Thus, they can capture macro images without a dedicated macro lens.

They are usually available in x1, x2, or x3 options. An 80mm lens with an extension tube x3 is equivalent to a 240mm lens.


A teleconverter is a secondary lens that is attached between the primary lens and the body of the camera. It increases the effective focal length of the primary lens, typically ranging from 1.2x to 3.0x. For instance, a 100mm lens with a teleconverter x2 has an equivalent of a 200mm lens.

However, it usually results in decreased sharpness and reduced maximum aperture because less light enters the sensor.

Photography Terms for Lighting


In photography, Kelvin is the measurement used to determine the color temperature of light. It also determines the white balance or how the camera reflects the color of the light.

At lower Kelvin temperatures, the light turns red, orange, or yellow. Meanwhile, higher Kelvin values mean the bluer the light appears. 

Fstoppers White Balance Shooting in Kevin

Natural Light

Natural light refers to lighting that occurs naturally around us—the sun. So when you say natural light photography, it means using the sun as a light. However, this type of photography can be unpredictable because sunlight changes color over the day. Thus, it’s not easy to control how much or how little you want to illuminate the scene.

Artificial Light

In contrast, artificial light is any lighting source that doesn’t occur naturally. It includes flash, bulbs, indoor lighting, street lights, and any other man-made lighting.

Ambient Light

Ambient simply means available light or natural light. It refers to a lighting source that is naturally present in a scene without adding flashguns, softboxes, and other light modifiers. The sunlight coming from the windows and a lamp in a room can be considered ambient lighting.

Main or Key Light

The key light is the main source of lighting in the scene. It can be natural, like the sun, or artificial, such as a flash or a softbox.

Fill Light

Fill light is a photography term used for the secondary light source in the scene. It “fills” in the shadows produced by the main light, hence the name.


Backlight is the lighting source behind the subject in photography. It can come from the sun, a softbox, or a strobe.

Three-Point Lighting

Three-point lighting is a traditional photography and videography lighting technique, which involves three types of lighting—key, fill, and backlight. It aims to illuminate the subject evenly by placing light sources in three distinct positions. 

Three-Point Lighting Ilustration

High-Key Lighting

High-key lighting is a style of photography where you use a lot of light to create a very bright scene. It usually does not have dark tones and shadows. Thus, it gives a positive and upbeat feeling.

Low-Key Lighting

Low-key lighting is the opposite of high-key lighting. It uses a lot of darker tones, shadows, and contrast to evoke a dramatic or mysterious mood. The highlights in the scene are minimal and only appear to illuminate some parts of the subject.

Lighting Pattern

The lighting pattern describes the way light and shadow come into play on the subject’s face. Or, in simple terms, how lighting affects the shape of the shadow on the face.

Below are the four common lighting patterns:

  • Butterfly lighting
  • Loop lighting
  • Rembrandt lighting
  • Split lighting
Lighting Patterns

Hard Light

Hard light refers to harsh or undiffused light, which produces jarring shadows and contrast. It often comes from bright sunlight or a flash directly illuminated towards the subject.

Soft Light

Soft light is light that is diffused by a diffuser, reflector, or any surface. It can also appear on an overcast day when the sun is not as harsh. 


A reflector is a photography gear that bounces the light back into the subject or scene. It often results in a softer illumination. However, it doesn’t have to be a studio-grade reflector that you see in most studios. A plain foam board or white sheet can also act as a reflector.

Photography Terms for Techniques

Depth of Field

Depth of field, or DOF, refers to the distance between the closest and farthest area where objects are sharply in focus. 

A large DOF keeps most of the subjects in focus. In contrast, a narrow DOF can only display fewer objects in focus.

The depth of a field within an image is controlled by the lens aperture.

Depth of Field Illustration


Bokeh is a term often confused with depth of field. However, it describes the blur quality that you get from out-of-focus areas in an image.

Creating more bokeh requires using a large maximum aperture, longer focal lengths, or moving closer to the subject. Light will appear in circles due to the blade mechanism of the lens aperture.

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is a common photography technique where users capture images using varying focus points. They will then combine these photos in editing software to achieve a large DOF. The technique is popular among landscape and macro photographers.

Flash Sync

Flash synchronization, or simply flash sync, refers to coordinating the firing of a flash with the opening of the camera’s shutter. 


Bracketing involves capturing the same object several times while using different camera settings in each shot. It is a common technique used for HDR photography and is a feature in most modern cameras.

Photography Slang


Glass is a common alternative term for a lens. Fast glass refers to a lens with a large maximum aperture, such as f/1.4 or f/2.8. It is called as such because it allows more light into the sensor, enabling you to use faster shooting speeds, even in low-light situations.

Blown Out

Blown out refers to the maximum value for all color channels, which appears white even when the subject is not usually this color. In simple terms, it describes overexposed areas in an image.


Chimping is a slang term used for the habit of reviewing photos immediately after taking them. This habit is often frowned upon by professionals. That is because constantly looking at your LCD screen leads to you missing a beautiful scene in front of you.

Opening Up

When photographers say “open up,” they don’t want you to open your mouth. Instead, they refer to the practice of allowing more light into the sensor.

You can do this by decreasing the number of the f-stop, which results in a larger and more open aperture.

Stopping Down

Stopping down translates to increasing the f-stop or f-number. It results in a smaller aperture opening, which reduces the amount of light entering the lens. 


SOOC stands for Straight Out Of the Camera. It refers to a photo that hasn’t been edited on software.


A nifty-fifty describes a 50mm standard lens, which is versatile and can fit almost any scene.

Wide Open

Photographers shoot wide open when they are using the widest and fastest aperture, usually ranging from f/1.4 to f/2.8.


Selfie is slang for a self-portrait or taking pictures of yourself. 

Photography Terms for File Formats


JPEG, or JPG, is an abbreviation for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It refers to an image file that has been compressed and fully processed by your camera. Thus, it does not contain camera settings, such as color saturation, white balance, and tone curve, among many others.


RAW images include all unprocessed pixel data capture by the camera. They are uncompressed files, which allow you to edit camera settings during post-processing. However, since they retain all the photo information, they can take up more memory space than JPEG images.


DNG, also known as a digital negative, is an alternative to RAW image formats and a standard file used by Adobe. It stores generic and highly compatible image data that works in most cameras and computers. This is unlike RAW, which tends to have specific file formats based on the camera type and manufacturer.


EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File Format. It is a standard that records essential image data, such as camera exposure, date and time you captured the image, and GPS location, among many other things. This information is handy when organizing photos and searching for a particular file.


TIFF, or Tagged Image File Format, is a lossless file format commonly used when editing photos. It can contain layers from Photoshop and other compatible editors without losing any detail each time you save the photo. It also allows for various compression rates and bit depths. However, TIFF files can also be large.

Photography Terms for Problems


Underexposure describes an image or area of an image that appears darker than it should. It often suffers from loss of detail and contrast. And it is likely a result of not having enough light when you took a picture.


Overexposure is the outcome of too much light entering the sensor. The image looks very bright and washed out. It also shows little to no detail on the lightest parts of the image.

Digital Noise

Digital noise refers to the visual distortion or grain that you get on images. It is more common if you use a higher ISO in low-light situations, which often results in lower quality photos.

Camera Shake

Camera shake is a term used for the blur found in images when shooting without a tripod. It also occurs when capturing photos with a heavy lens or at slower shutter speeds.  

Motion Blur

Motion blur is a result of capturing an object faster than the camera’s shutter speed can handle. Sometimes, the appearance of streaking is unattractive, especially if you want to photograph a fast-moving animal or insect.

However, other photographers use motion blur as a creative way of depicting the scene in front of them.

Red Eye

Red eye occurs when the camera flash or any other strong lighting source is reflected on a person’s retina. Once this light is reflected, it brightens the blood supply at the back of the eyes and creates the red color in your photos. It is deemed as an unnatural look in a subject. 

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration occurs when the lens is unable to focus on all wavelengths of color in the image sensor. It results in blurry images or noticeable colored halo around objects within the frame. It commonly appears when shooting in high-contrast scenes.

Purple Fringing

Purple fringing is a type of chromatic aberration, which happens when light hits different focal planes in the sensor. But instead of displaying various colors, this type of fringing only shows a purple halo around objects. 


Vignetting, also known as a light fall-off, describes the darkening effect on the corners of an image compared to its center. Lenses, filters, and hoods usually cause this darkness towards the edges of the photograph.

Vignetting Photo Example

Lens Flare

Lens flare occurs when bright light enters the image sensor and scatters. It produces an undesirable effect, which looks similar to a haze or starburst. It usually happens when you point the camera and lens directly towards the sun, moon, or any artificial lighting.


Moiré refers to a wavy pattern that you get when photographing an object with repetitive details, such as lines or dots. It occurs because such details exceed sensor resolution, thus creating a distracting pattern.

Moiré Picture example

Photography Terms Used in Editing and Printing

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio describes the ratio of an image’s width to its height. It is usually expressed in two numbers with a colon in the middle, such as 16:9. In our example, the image is 16 units wide and 9 units high. Square images have an aspect ratio of 1:1.


Crop refers to removing the outside areas of an image or adjusting its aspect ratio. Cropping is usually done if you want to improve framing or composition and direct a viewer’s eye on a specific part of the image.


Contrast describes the difference between black and white in your image. A high-contrast photo has deep blacks and bright whites, while a flat image features more balanced tones.


Highlights are the brightest area in the photo, where a viewer can still the details within it.


Shadows are the opposite of highlights—they contain the darkest areas in which you can see details.


Midtones are the tonal range between the highlights (light areas) and shadows (dark areas) in an image. They are neither too bright or too dark.


In photography, a pixel refers to the smallest element of an image that contains information. It is represented by squares in a two-dimensional grid. Each square is a sample of an original image. When you combine these squares together, they offer an accurate display of the original photo.


DPI, or Dots Per Inch, is a measurement of the image resolution displayed on the screen and print. It calculates the number of dots that fit on a linear inch. The more dots per inch, the higher the resolution the printed or scanned photo has. 


RGB refers to red, green, and blue—three primary colors that you can mix to create other hues. The RGB color model is commonly used in screens, printing, and editing.


CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black), which are the four inks used for colored printing. These hues are considered subtractive, meaning that colors will get darker when you mix them.


Metadata describes other types of data in image files. It includes the owner or author, the camera device used, the creation date, and other essential information in a photograph.

EXIF file is a notable example of metadata.


A histogram is a graph displaying the distribution of light within an image. The shadows or blacks are found on the left side, while highlights (white) are shown on the right side. Displayed in the middle are the midtones. 

How to Understand Histogram

The histogram is essential for photographers because the LCD of the camera doesn’t accurately show the image. It helps you determine if the image has the correct exposure or not. Thus, you don’t always have to look at the screen to know how well exposed the photo is.


There you have it—the most common photography terms you’ll encounter in the industry.

I know all of these words can be a lot to take in, but you can always go back and browse this glossary anytime.

It’s essential to understand the jargon if you are serious about photography.