Glossary of Photography Terms for all photo and video users
One BIG problem people have while learning photography is all of the terminology and acronyms that are used. Photography can almost use a language of its own, so I’ll try to help with a glossary of photography terms and acronyms to help you navigate this new language.
Here is a listing of some of the terms used in this site as well as others that you might come across. Throughout the lessons, as new words are introduced, they will have a tooltip and link to the term in this glossary.
If you see any term that doesn’t have a definition, please email me and I will add it.
- 16:916:9 is a common aspect ratio used in video. It refers to the proportions of 16 units across to 9 units high. Video formats such as 1080 (1920x1080) or 720 (1280x720) are both common examples of the 16:9 aspect ratio used for video production. 16:9 is considered a wide screen movie format.
- 720p720p is a popular high definition resolution video format. The name refers to 720 rows of pixels that make up each frame. A full high resolution video would be 1080 pixels across x 1080 pixels down. The "P" stands for progressive, which means that each frame is a complete image, as(...)
- 1080p1080p is a popular high definition resolution video format. The name refers to 1080 rows of pixels that make up each frame. A full high resolution video would be 1920 pixels across x 1080 pixels down. The "P" stands for progressive, which means that each frame is a complete image, as(...)
- Ambient Light
- Angle of View
- Aperture Priority Mode
- APS-CAPS-C is an acronym for "Advanced Photo System type-C". This is a format orginally designated for film that was smaller than a regular 35mm frame, yet used the same film by turning the image sideways. This smaller sensor makes cameras that hold them more(...)
- Available LightAvailable Light refers to the natural light available in a scene. This is exclusive of any light which the photography might add. Ambient light can also be referred to as 'Ambient Light'.
- Ball Head
- Barrel Distortion
- BIFBIF is an acronym for "Bird in Flight" and is the term used for any images that contain a flying bird. In many nature photography articles or conversations, you'll see this term.
- Bounce Light
- BSI SensorA BSI (Back Side Illuminated) Sensor is a fairly new technology that allows for a more efficient design of digital camera sensors. In simple terms, the sensors work better in low light due to having wiring behind the sensor. This also helps with the transfer speed of data. Also known as a(...)
- BufferThe Buffer is part of your camera's memory that allows for it to process images while you continue to shoot. For many people, the amount of images that a camera can store in its buffer is not a concern. For sports photographers and other people who shoot at a high frame rate, a small buffer(...)
- Cable Release
- Camera ShakeCamera Shake is used to describe what happens when you use a slow shutter speed and the camera moves while the shutter is open, resulting in a blurry photo. Camera shake can be avoided by using a faster shutter speed and it is suggested to use at least 1/(lens length)- for example, if you use(...)
- ChimpingChimping is a term used to describe when we quickly review what we just shot in the camera's playback screen.
- Chromatic AberrationChromatic Aberration (CA) is problem caused when lenses refract different wavelengths (colours) of light and the senor records this as a coloured fringe. This is usually most visible on backlit subjects. Higher quality lenses will cause less Chromatic Aberration in the same situation as a(...)
- CMOSCMOS is an acronym of Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. A CMOS is an electronic semiconductor that is used as a camera's image sensor. It can convert the optical signal into a digital signal via millions of pixels. CMOS sensors are generally considered superior to CCD based sensors.
- CMYKCMYK is colour space usually used for printing. It is an acronym that stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. In a simple colour printer there may a separate toner for each colour, which combine to make up the many colours in your photo.
- Colour Temperature
- CompositionComposition is a word used to describe the choices made regarding what is shown in a photo. It is up to the photographer to select an interesting composition in the viewfinder from an infinite number of options. There are rules that apply to composition the help us frame our photos to appeal(...)
- CRICRI (Colour Rendering Index) is value given to a light source's ability to accurately render light frequencies. Values have a range from 0 to 100 with 100 being the most accurate. When working with light sources, it is good to compare CRI values to achieve the most accurate colours.
- Crop Sensor
- CroppingCropping is technique used after you have taken your shot and are editing the image in software. Cropping is used to remove unwanted sections of the scene or to improve composition. Cropping is the most common, and easiest, form of editing a photo.
- Depth of FieldDepth of Field (DoF) describes the range of sharp focus in front of and behind your main point of focus. Depth of Field is dependent upon the lens aperture. A smaller aperture creates more Depth of Field. Depth of Field falls roughly 1/3 in front of the point of focus and 2/3 behind(...)
- Digital PhotographyDigital Photography is the process of capturing images while using a camera with a built-in light sensitive sensor in place of the light sensitive film that was used in film cameras. With the technological advances of the past 10 years, digital cameras have been able to off the quality of a(...)
- Digital Zoom
- DiopterDiopter is a measurement usually used for eyesight correction. If you have reading glasses, you will have a certain diopter correction that works best for you. Many cameras allow you to set a diopter correction for your viewfinder so that you can use your camera without glasses. Adjust(...)
- DodgingDodging is a software technique which is used to lighten a specific area in an image. Dodging is the opposite of Burning. These are both terms that have been used for decades in darkrooms.
- DSLRDSLR is an acronym for Digital Single Lens Reflex and describes a type of camera which uses a mirror to reflect the scene to a viewfinder. The mirror flips up when the photo is taken to expose the sensor. A pentaprism is used to correct the mirror’s reflection. A DSLR is similar to an(...)
- DXDX is a Nikon term for their APS-C format cameras. DX cameras and lenses will have this designation on them. As with all APS-C cameras, there is a 1.5x crop factor applied when looking at the focal length of the lens.
- EVFEVF is an acronym for "Electronic View Finder". In modern cameras that don't use a mirror to to reflect the scene up to an optical viewfinder, an EVF is used to show the scene for viewing.
- EXIFEXIF is an acronym for EXchangeable Image File format. In simple terms, this is the data that is attached to images files when the camera captures an image. Data such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, GPS coordinates and so much more are added to the image file and can be read by a variety of(...)
- Exposure TriangleThe Exposure Triangle is a term that is used to explain the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. All three factors need to remain equal to gain the same exposure. If you adjust your aperture by one stop, then you need to adjust your shutter speed or ISO by one to stop to keep(...)
- F-NumberF-Number is another term for F-Stop. An F-Number is used to designate the size of the aperture (opening) in a lens. The larger the F-Stop number, the smaller the opening in the lens. The F-Stop is usually shown as f/number (ex: f/8) - where the 8 is a number consistent from lens to lens based(...)
- F-stopsAn F-Stop is a number used to designate the size of the aperture (opening) in a lens. The larger the F-Stop number, the smaller the opening in the lens. The F-Stop is usually shown as f/number (ex: f/8) - where the 8 is a number consistent from lens to lens based on the focal length.
- Field of ViewField of View is a specification used to describe how 'wide' a lens can view a scene. A 28mm lens on a full frame camera will have about a 75° field of view, while a 200mm lens will have about 12°. The shorter the focal length, the wider the field of view. Angle of view is also referred to(...)
- Fill light
- FirmwareFirmware is term used to describe software updates to your equipment. Many cameras will have a firmware update available within a year after they are introduced. Usually firmware updates are created to fix minor bugs, but will occasionally provide new features. It's a good idea to check(...)
- FlashA flash unit is used to create artificial light in a small device. Most flashes are compact and can be easily attached to the top of a camera via a 'hot shoe'. A flash is also commonly referred to as a speedlight. Flashes are one of the most common accessories that photographers purchase to(...)
- Focal LengthFocal Length is a number used to describe a lens, with the length measured in millimetres. The focal length is the distance between the sensor and the 'point of sharp focus' in a lens when it is focused at infinity. A lens with a focal length of 20mm would be considered a wide angle lens,(...)
- Four Thirds (4/3)Four Thirds is a sensor format (like Full Frame or APS-C) that is about 25% the size of a full frame sensor. Cameras with these sensors are usually full featured, but more compact than DSLRs. A variation of the Four Thirds sensor is the Micro 4/3 sensor which is smaller.
- FPSFPS is an acronym for Frames Per Second and refers to the number of frames (images) shown per second of video. FPS can refer to recording or playback. You can record and one setting for FPS and playback at a different rate. A common frame rate is 30fps.
- Full StopA full stop is a change in the exposure that requires a doubling (or halving) of the shutter speed. For example, there is one full stop of exposure between 1/500s and 1/1000s. The full stop can be made by adjusting your shutter speed, aperture or ISO. Modern cameras allow us to change(...)
- FXFX is a Nikon term for their full frame sensor cameras. This is to keep them from being confused with their DX lineup of lenses and cameras. FX cameras can use DX lenses, but part of the sensor will be cropped out, so a different shooting mode is needed.
- GIFA GIF is an image file that is sometimes used in photography, but is much more common as a web graphic. GIFs are limited to 256 colours and can have a transparent background. GIFs are also used for simple animations. When transfer speeds were slower than today, many images were saved as(...)
- GNGN is an acronym for "Guide Number" and is used as a specification for flash power. The higher a GN, the more powerful the flash. A GN is usually listed in feet or meters, along with an aperture and ISO: GN of 38m (125ft) @ 35mm, ISO 100. What this means is that you can get a good(...)
- Golden Hour
- GPS (Global Positioning System)GPS is used in photography to record the latitude and longitude of the location when an image is taken. This GPS data can later be used to pinpoint the location on a map. Some cameras have a built-in GPS function, while others may have it available as an optional accessory. GPS is stored(...)
- HDRHDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range. It refers to a type of processing used to combine a series of images taken at different exposures and merged to create a higher dynamic range than you could get with a single images. One example would be a sunset where you expose for the sky and(...)
- High Contrast
- High Speed Sync (HSS)High speed sync is a way of firing a flash while using a shutter speed faster than the usual sync speed of approximately 1/250s. With this setting, a flash will fire multiple, quick bursts to make sure the whole sensor is exposed to the flash's light. This allows for some great photo(...)
- HighlightsHighlights are the brightest areas of your photo. Depending upon the photo, they may be too bright (blown highlights) or used to tell something about the subject, such as reflective qualities.
- HistogramA Histogram is a chart that shows the exposure values of a digital images. It can be used when reviewing an image to see if you should adjust your exposure. A histogram can also be used in software to help you adjust an image. Histograms can quickly show if an image is badly over or under(...)
- Hot ShoeThe Hot Shoe is the connection on the top of your camera that allows you to attach a flash. It's called the hot shoe because there is an electrical connection to trigger the flash.
- InfraredInfrared is specific wavelength of light that is not visible to the human eye. It is possible to have a digital camera converted so that it will record infrared light, and film cameras could use special infrared film.
- ISOISO (International Organization for Standardization) is a numeric term which designates how sensitive to light the camera's sensor is. A higher number means that the sensor will be able to record an image in lower light, but will introduce more digital noise. A lower number indicates the(...)
- JPGA JPG (jay-peg) file is the most common file type used for digital photos. It is a commonly used for sharing and posting online. A JPG can be shot directly from a digital camera or saved from a software program.
- KelvinKelvin is a temperature scale used for colour. You will see it designated as 5500K (daylight). This is a standard way of measuring light sources such as sun, flash, incandescent, fluorescent, etc. The Kelvin scales from 1000K to 10000K.
- LandscapeIn photography landscape can mean two things. Landscape photography is when you shoot a scene that is outdoors and primarily shows a natural scene. Landscape format is used to describe a print that is wider than it is tall (as opposed to portrait format which is taller than it is wide). You(...)
- Long ExposureA long exposure is not clearly defined, but is generally used for night photography when your exposure time is over 1 second. Long exposures can be last for minutes depending upon the situation.
- Low ContrastA Low Contrast image is one that will have a wide range of tones and be neither too bright nor too dark in areas. If you looked at the histogram, it would be fairly level across the range. This is the opposite of a High Contrast image which will have distinctive bright areas as well as dark(...)
- MacroMacro is a term used to describe a type of photography involving small subjects. Generally true macro is defined when you have the subject at a 1:1 ratio on your film or sensor. Macro photography can be achieved via special lenses, attachments or other settings.
- MegapixelA megapixel (mp) is roughly a million pixels ( 1,048,576 - 220 to be exact). The most common use of Megapixels is to refer to the 'size' of a sensor. A digital camera sensor may have 20mp. A higher number will mean that the sensor contains more pixels, but does not mean it's a larger sensor -(...)
- MLUMLU is an acronym for "Mirror Lock Up". This is a setting on some DSLRs which allows you press the shutter to first lock up the mirror and then take the photo with the next press of the shutter. This is done to minimalize camera shake due to the internal movement of the mirror flapping up to(...)
- NDND is an acronym for Neutral Density. Generally ND is used to describe a type of filter. An ND filter will darken the scene while not affecting the colour of the scene. ND filters are used when a photographer needs a slower shutter speed than is available with out the darkening effect of the(...)
- NoiseNoise is a term used for the digital signal noise that appears in images at higher ISO settings. To make a sensor more 'light sensitive', a higher ISO is used. This creates more noise as you use higher and higher settings. Noise is generally an unwanted feature in a photo, so lower ISO(...)
- Off Camera FlashOff camera flash is a term used anytime you take your flash and place it away from the camera. Many of today's flash units allow you to remotely control it and connect the camera to the flash via Radio Frequency (RF) or Infrared Light (IL). Using off camera flash gives you unlimited control(...)
- OLEDOLED is an acronym for Organic Light-Emitting Diode. These are very similar to LEDs, but are a newer technology offering better black display and better contrast. Generally OLED screens are thinner than LED screens. Newer cameras might have an OLED viewfinder with a LED display screen.
- Optical ZoomOptical Zoom is used to describe magnification (zooming) via optical glass. This term is usually used to differentiate from "Digital Zoom" which uses software to magnify the image to be taken. When comparing specifications on a camera, it's important to note whether optical or digital zoom(...)
- OverexposeOverexpose describes an event where the image (or part of it) has received more light than is required for optimal exposure. Overexposure can be extreme (blown out) or minimal (which can be fixed in software adjustments). Reviewing your histogram will enable you to see right away if an(...)
- PanningPanning is a technique that involves moving the camera to follow your moving subject. You generally use a slow shutter speed to blur the background. If you move the camera at the same speed as your subject, you will keep the subject sharp, while blurring the background. This technique(...)
- Pincushion DistortionPincushion Distortion is a term used to describe an effect in which lenses distort the sides of an image to bow in from the edges. This effect is generally unwanted and can be corrected with software. The opposite of Pincushion Distortion is Barrel Distortion.
- PixelA pixel is a single dot of color information. Thousands of pixels are combined to create a digital image. Each pixel will have only one colour.
- Polarizing FilterA Polarizing Filter (aka polarizer) is a filter which fits in front of your lens and blocks unpolarized light. Without getting into a physics discussion, you can say that a polarizing filter will cut unwanted reflections in your scene. This filter can cut reflections and glare from windows,(...)
- PortraitIn photography, portrait can mean two things. Portrait photography is when you shoot a person (or group of people) as your main subject. Portrait format is used to describe a print that is taller than it is wide (as opposed to a landscape format which is wider than it is tall). You can(...)
- Program ModeMost cameras have a Program Mode which will set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO based on how the camera meters the scene. Also known as 'auto everything', 'auto mode', 'automatic'. Most cameras will have this mode indicated by a "P" and likely coloured green. There is nothing wrong(...)
- Quiet ShutterQuiet Shutter mode is an option in some professional cameras to lesson the amount of noise that the camera makes during exposure. Generally this applies to DSLRs which have to move a mirror out of the way during exposure. In most cases, the mirror moves up, but doesn't drop back down (which(...)
- RAWRAW is a term used to describe a file type that is by cameras to record all the data from the sensor. Each camera maker has their own version of a RAW file (Nikon: .NEF, Canon: .CRW, Sony: .ARW, etc). Shooting in RAW over JPG will give you more data to work with as you edit your photos. See:(...)
- ReciprocalReciprocal is a math term that simply means an upside down fraction. In photography, it usually refers to the rule of hand holding a lens. The shutter speed should not be slower than the reciprocal of the focal length. This means if you have a 300mm lens, you should not shoot at slower(...)
- Red EyeRed Eye is a term used to describe an unwanted effect in photography. Red eye occurs when a light (usually flash) lights up the back of a subject's eyeball (the retina) and the blood vessels in the retina reflect back as red light. Red eye occurs more often in dark settings when the(...)
- Remote ReleaseA remote release is an accessory which allow to trigger the shutter from a distance. These generally operate via infrared, Bluetooth, Wi-fi or other wireless technology. Many releases also allow you to control other settings like autofocus. This would be different than a cable release which(...)
- ResolutionResolution is a term used to describe the size of an image in pixels. For example, a large file might be "High Resolution" with a size of 4000x3000 pixels, while a small file might be "Low Resolution" with a size of 800x600 pixels. Of course, high and low resolution is a loose term and(...)
- RGBRGB is an acronym that stands for Red, Green, Blue. RGB is considered a colour space that defines the look of the image by reading the pixel's values of red green and blue to make up a specific colour. An RGB value of 255, 255, 255 (white) means the pixel has the maximum amount of each(...)
- Rule of ThirdsThe Rule of Thirds is a guideline in composing your photos. If you divide your scene into thirds both vertically and horizontally, the rule of thirds suggests that you place your subject long one of those lines. It is a common rule that gives new photographers a place to start when learning(...)
- SaturationSaturation is a term used to describe the amount of colour in an image. An image with over-saturation will have bright harsh colours, while under-saturation will result in faded colours. Saturation is a personal preference and can be used effectively to create an effect that works well(...)
- SDSD refers to a type of memory card. The SD is an acronym for "Secure Digital". SD cards are small and now come in a variety of formats. You can get Micro-SD cards for your phone which are very small, but come with a full SD card sized adapter. There are many differences between cards,(...)
- SensorIn Digital Photography, the sensor usually refers to the image sensor that captures the light and turn it into a digital image file. There many different sizes of image sensors and image quality is usually dependent upon the sensor in the camera (with all other things being equal). Cameras(...)
- ShadowsShadows are the darkest areas of your photo. They may be totally black and underexposed or show a little detail. Using shadows effectively to reveal subtle parts of your subject is a great use of exposure.
- SharpnessSharpness is a quality of the image or print. Overall sharpness in a photo is the result of focus, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and lens quality among other items. Some photographers feel that an image must be 'tack sharp' to be successful, while others are more concerned with the content.
- Shutter Priority ModeShutter Priority Mode is a setting on your camera that allows you to select a Shutter Speed while the camera makes the other settings necessary for a correct exposure. Using Shutter Priority is a good way to concentrate on controlling motion when shooting.
- Shutter ReleaseThe Shutter Release is the mechanism (usually a button) that is pressed to release the shutter and take a photo. It can also refer to a remote control release or a cable release.
- Shutter SpeedShutter Speed describes the amount of time that the camera shutter is open and exposes the sensor or film to light. The longer the shutter speed, the more light that hits the sensor. Depending on your camera, shutter speeds can range from 30 seconds to 1/8000s. Shutter speed controls how(...)
- SLRSLR is an acronym for "Single Lens Reflex" and describes a type of camera which uses a mirror to reflect the scene to a viewfinder. The mirror flips up when the photo is taken to expose the film. A pentaprism is used to correct the mirror's reflection.
- Spot MeteringSpot Metering is a way to meter a scene while concentrating on a small section of it. Many newer cameras offer spot metering as an option to full scene or partial scene metering. Spot metering allows the photographer to pick a specific area (usually about 5% of the scene) and meter only that(...)
- Spray and PraySpray and Pray is a term used a technique in photography when you shoot a lot of images in a row and hope for the best. The disadvantage is that you might miss the great, critical moment of a series or scene. If you are shooting action like sports or wildlife, you might have no other option(...)
- sRAWsRAW is a file format that allows for "Small RAW" files. Some cameras allow you to set small resolutions in your RAW settings to allow more files on a card, or let you work with smaller images files.
- sRGBsRGB (Standard RGB) is a colour space used in digital photography. As the name 'standard' would imply, it is a widely used colour space and is very commonly used in web browsers and as a standard for printing.
- Still LifeStill Life is a type of photography that involves shooting (usually) everyday objects arranged in a pleasing composition. Still life has been a popular subject in the arts for centuries and continues to this day. A still life can have almost anything as a subject and shot with natural or(...)
- Sync SpeedSync Speed is a term used to define the shutter speed while using a flash. Generally it is used to describe the fastest shutter speed your can use with your flash. This is usually in the range of 1/250s. If a faster shutter speed is used above the camera's sync speed, then the whole image is(...)
- ThumbnailA Thumbnail is a small version of a photo used while previewing images. Many software packages will let you view thumbnails to sort and organize your photographs rather than forcing you to view the full size image. Thumbnails are also used when creating web based viewing galleries so that(...)
- TIFFA TIFF is a type of image file. It is a 'lossless' file as it doesn't lose data when it is saved. Some cameras allow you save as RAW, TIFF (.tif) or JPG. In general, TIFF's are larger files (much larger than JPGs) and have their place in the digital workflow, but if you are saving a large(...)
- Time LapseA Time Lapse is a series of images taken at regular intervals and (usually) turned into a video. A time lapse video can condense a day's worth of movement into minutes of video. Photos are taken at specific intervals, using a built in (or accessory) intervalometer which allows the(...)
- TooltipHere's a sample of what a tooltip for the photographic glossary looks like.
- TripodA tripod is a three-legged device used to stabilize your camera so you can get a sharper photo. Tripods vary greatly in quality and can have a variety of types of heads (tops) such as a ball head, pan head, video head.
- TTLTTL is an acronym for 'Through the Lens' and usually applies to metering. Most cameras meter the light through the lens and also allow for metering the light of a flash unit burst through the lens. TTL metering is a very accurate of measuring the light as your meter sees what the sensor or(...)
- Tungsten LightTungsten Light is a term that generally means artificial indoor light. Although the light may not come from tungsten bulbs, the term is still used today. A more current term is "Incandescent Light" which applies to the same type of lighting. If you are shooting a scene lit by typical(...)
- UnderexposeUnderexpose describes an event where an image (or part of it) has not received enough light than is desired by the photographer. Extreme underexposure can be fixed with software adjustments, but usually leads to excessive noise. Photos that are minimally underexposed can be easily(...)
- UVUV is short for Ultraviolet and refers to a specific wavelength of light. UV light can affect your outdoor photos and many people will use a UV Filter to block this wavelength and avoid a slight blue cast.
- VectorA Vector image is made up lines, arc and circles and determined as relative points and paths. This is the opposite of a Raster image, which is made up of pixels. Unlike raster images, vector images can be enlarged to any size as the lines are defined in the file and not dependent on(...)
- VideoVideo is a common feature on almost every digital camera now. Video is really just a series of still images combined into a playable sequence. There are now many formats and resolutions for video with today's equipment. Digital video has allowed anyone with a camera to create movies of(...)
- WatermarkA watermark is a notation on your photo that claims ownership (not copyright). Many photographers will add a watermark (name or logo) on any image they post online so that when it is shared, credit is still given. In this example, the watermark is usually small and off to the corner of the(...)
- WBWB is an acronym for White Balance. White Balance is a setting on your camera which is used to record the photo in a particular type of light. You would use “Daylight” WB while outdoors, while you might use “Fluorescent” WB in an office setting. Having the wrong WB setting can make your(...)
- White BalanceWhite Balance (WB) is a setting on your camera which is used to record the photo in a particular type of light. You would use "Daylight" WB while outdoors, while you might use "Fluorescent" WB in an office setting. Having the wrong WB setting can make your colours look very different from(...)
- White CardA White Card is a tool used to establish your white balance. You can use one to set a custom white balance before shooting, or use it as a guide when editing your photos. A grey card can also perform the same tasks. The 'card' may be made from any material, but must have a neutral colour.
- Wide OpenIn photography, if you shoot "Wide Open" it means you are using the widest aperture possible (lowest f/stop number). This will let in the most light and give you the least depth of field. If your lens adjusts from f/2.8 to f/16 and you shoot at f/2.8, then you are shooting wide open.
- XQDXQD is a newer (2012) type of memory card designed to be faster than the SD and CF cards that are on the market. These cards can offer speeds of 1 Gbit/s to about 4 Gbit/s and storage capabilities beyond 2TB.
- ZoomZoom is a term used to describe magnification. A zoom lens will allow the photographer to change the magnification and viewing angle to frame a photo. Any increase focal length is considered zooming in, while any focal length shorter is considered zooming out. Zoom can be accomplished via(...)
If you see any word or acronym that doesn’t have a definition, please email me and I will add it. It’s hard to keep up with the latest terms, but I will do my best to keep this list updated.