Glossary of Photography Terms



Aberration:  a fault in the image usually resulting from a lens failing to produce a perfect image. This can be because of lens design faults or an inability to cope with the conditions it is being used for. Higher end lenses tend to produce less aberration than lower quality lenses. There are several types of aberration including: Spherical, Curvature, Astigmatism, Coma, Distortion, Chromatic.

AE (Automatic Exposure):  One of the auto modes available on some cameras.

AE-L (Automatic Exposure Lock):  Allows you to hold the exposure setting when using an automatic mode. Used to control an exposure based on a scene’s particular brightness area by holding the shutter speed and/or aperture. Use with Centre Weighted or Spot Metering.

AF (Autofocus):  focusing is performed automatically by the camera and lens (see Autofocus).

Ambient Light:  naturally available light. Pre-existing light without and added artificial light.

Aperture:  The size of the hole that controls the light passing through the lens. The hole is formed by a metal leaf diaphragm within the lens. Aperture size is referred to as f number. The aperture has a direct impact on both exposure and depth of field. Low f number = wide aperture (big hole) and shallow DOF. High f number = narrow aperture (small hole) and long DOF. Read more here.

Aperture Priority:  a camera mode that allows the user to set the aperture while the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed for correct exposure. This is arguably the most widely used mode used in photography and is great for situations that require quick (automatic) management of exposure while maintaining control over DOF. The exposure can still be managed by choosing to set the exposure to over or under expose. Canon cameras refer to this as AV (aperture variation) mode.

Artificial light:  Light from a man-made source i.e. flash.

Aspect ratio:  the ratio of each side of an image (height and width) i.e. a 6″x4″ image has an aspect image of 3:2, as does an image that is 12″x8″.

Auto Exposure Bracketing:  camera automatically performs exposure bracketing by varying either shutter speed and/or aperture.

Autofocus (AF):  The camera body or lens automatically focuses the image on a selected part of the image. The number and combination of AF points vary between cameras. The Canon 5DIII has 61-point AF with up to 41 cross-type AF points.

AV (Aperture Variation):  an aperture priority mode used by Canon (see Aperture Priority). AV can also be used as an abbreviation for Aperture Value.


B (Bulb Setting):  A camera mode that allows full manual control over the shutter speed. The operator starts and stops the exposure with the presses of the shutter release button. As long as the button is depressed the image will be exposed.

Background:  The part of the image or scene that appears behind the subject.

Backlighting:  Lighting behind the subject. Often used to make the subject stand out or to produce a silhouette. Light can be man-made with flash or natural light.

Barrel Distortion:  a curvature or distortion in the image caused by the lens. Usually seen with the use of wide angle lenses and is more obvious on horizons or straight lines. Can be corrected in post-production.

Bellows:  A folding or collapsible part of a camera that resembles the same action an accordion uses. Is seen on some old cameras and newer versions can be used to distance the lens from the sensor for macro photography.

Blown out:  common term for an image, or area of an image, that is over exposed.

Bokeh:  the blur created in the out of focus areas when using a wide aperture. Japanese word for blur.

Blow up:  to enlarge the image. Image enlargement should be done with care to ensure image quality is maintained.

Bounce Lighting:  to redirect the direction of light using a reflector or something that will reflect the light. Light can be manually bounced or naturally bounced (unintentional but often very useful). Bouncing flash light from a ceiling is a very effective way of diffusing or softening the light.

Bracketing:  a series of photos taken of the same subject, in the same position, using different settings. Often used for different exposures. Often used for landscape photography to ensure correct exposure or to increase the dynamic range of an image by merging photos in post-production. Bracketing can be done automatically with some cameras.

Burning:  darkening of a part of an image in post-production. Burning was used during the development process of film or digitally with software.


Camera shake:  camera movement that results in a blurry image. Usually caused by unsteady hand holding or too slow shutter speed for hand holding.

Centre Weighted metering:  a method of metering within the camera that emphasises the centre of the image then averages it out for the entire scene.

Chromatic aberration:  a type of distortion in which there is a failure of a lens to focus all colours to the same convergence point. It occurs because lenses have a different refractive index for different wavelengths of light (the dispersion of the lens). Chromatic aberration causes fringing of colour along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each colour in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point.

Clipping:  areas of the image that are extremely over or under exposed will result in lost data. This can be seen on the histogram as clipping.

Colour temperature:  the colour of light measured in kelvins (K). Colour temperatures over 5,000K are called cool colours (bluish white), while lower colour temperatures (2,700-3,000K) are called warm colours (yellowish white through red).

Contrast focusing:  an auto focusing system that utilises contrast detection. Autofocus is achieved by measuring contrast within a sensor field. This focusing system utilised by many four thirds cameras.

CF card (Compact Flash):  a type of memory card used by many high end cameras.

Composition:  The arrangement or positioning of subjects within the frame of an image.

Contrast:  differences between light and dark areas within an image. High contrast images have greater differences within an image. Contrast can be increased or decreased with post production in most photo editing software.

Contrasty:  an image that has a higher than normal contrast range i.e. bright brights and dark darks.

Cropping:  the process of eliminating (or cutting off) part of the original image so that the image is enhanced. Cropping should be done correctly so that image quality is not reduced. Cropping can also be used to change the aspect ratio of the image.


Depth of field (DoF):  the depth or length of the area in focus or sharp. A wide aperture will have a shallow DoF. A narrow aperture will have a long or deep DoF. DoF is also affected by focal length and distance from subject.

Diffusing:  softening light. Often achieved with a soft box or shoot through umbrella when using studio lighting.

Digital zoom:  referred to as not being a true form of a zoom function. The image doesn’t actually come any closer as the optics in the camera stay the same. The camera takes a portion of the image and digitally expands that image (or part of the image) with the use of software.

Dodging:  lightening part of an image in post-production. Dodging is used during the development process of film or digitally with software. The opposite of burning.

DOF:  see Depth of Field

Dust bunnies:  shadow spots on an image created by dust in the camera sensor.

Dynamic range:  dynamic range in photography is referred to as the luminance range of a scene being photographed, or the limits of luminance range that a given digital camera or film can capture. A good SLR will have a Dynamic range of between 8-11 stops while the human eye has between 10-14 stops (some say up to 24).


Exposure:  refers to how the image is exposed or lit. An under exposed image will be dark while an over exposed image is too bright or ‘blown out’. Correct exposure is achieved by getting the correct amount of light onto the sensor or film. There are three camera settings that will directly influence the exposure of a photo, Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO.

Exposure bracketing:  see bracketing.

Exposure Meter:  measuring the amount of light in order to set the camera settings that will achieve correct exposure.

Exposure Bellows:  a folding or collapsible part of a camera that resembles the same action an accordion uses. Is seen on some old cameras and newer versions can be used to distance the lens from the sensor for macro photography.

Extension Tubes:  hollow lightproof metal tubes placed between the lens and the camera to create separation between them. This will reduce the working distance and allow macro photography.


f-number:  f refers to aperture. The f number can be used as a reference to what aperture the lens is set at and it can also refer to the aperture capability of the lens.

When referring to the aperture that a lens is set at, the f number represents the size of the lens aperture (see aperture). The f scale varies in stops, each stop increasing the aperture f number by a multiple of 1.4. The standard f number scale is 1.0, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32. Each stop results in a doubling or halving of the amount of light entering the lens.

For f numbers on lenses, a 70-200mm f2.8 lens means the maximum aperture of that lens is f2.8. Most low to mid-level zoom lenses have variable apertures, for example a 24-90mm f3.5-5.6 means the maximum aperture at 24mm is f3.5 while the maximum aperture at 90mm is f5.6.

Fill-flash:  the use of flash to light deep shadows. Usually used when the sun is causing shadows that are difficult to compensate for.

Flare:  an overly bright or light sources in the frame, or just out of the frame. Can be cause by a light or the sun. Can also be called lens flare.

Flash:  an artificial light source that has a brief period of intensity. Can be built into the camera or a separate unit.

Flash synchronization:  a method of timing the flash with the cameras shutter. Also known as front curtain and rear curtain synchronisation.

Flash sync speed:  the speed that the flash can be synchronised with the shutter speed. Most cameras have a fastest sync speed of 1/250 sec. Shutter speeds slightly faster than this and only part of the image will be lit by the flash. Shutter speeds a lot faster than this will not be lit by the flash at all.

Focal Length:  in common language it refers to the amount the lens will magnify the image. Long focal lengths (i.e. 300mm) result in large magnification with narrow angle of view. Small or wide focal lengths (i.e. 16mm) result in less magnification with wide angle of view.

Focus:  the area of the subject that is sharp or clear. An image that is out of focus has no sharp areas in the image or the intended subject is not sharp.

Four Thirds camera:  A camera with a sensor that is a 4/3″ type or 4/3 type. This sensor is smaller than those found in SLR cameras. Both Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras have seen a recent surge in popularity and to some extent they have taken over a large percentage of the Pro level P&S and entry level DSLR market. These really are great cameras with some considerable advantages that include being full of features found on a traditional DSLR while being significantly smaller.

Format:  the size of the image senor or film in the camera. A full frame sensor is a 35mm camera. A medium format camera has a larger sensor and is a high end camera used by some professionals. A C-size sensor is a smaller sensor and is used by many entry to mid-range DSLR.

fps (frames per second):  how many shots the camera can take in one second.

Fish eye lens:  a type of ultra wide angle lens that distorts the image resulting in a convex non-rectilinear appearance.


GN (Guide Number):  a number that represents the power output from a flash. The higher the guide number the more power it will put out.

Grain:  film grain or granularity is optical texture that was originally found in film processing. It is the result of random metallic silver or dye clouds deposited in the processed photographic film. Modern digital photography does not have film grain as there is no film, however, film grain is sometimes added to an image in post-production. Adding film grain in post-production can simulate old film and can be very beautify especially in black and white photos.

Graininess:  the presence of a grain like appearance in an image produced either from film or post production editing.

Grey card (18% Grey Card):  a card used as a calibration reference point often used to measure exposure or set white balance. A standard grey card reflects 18 per cent of the light falling on it.


Halos:  a glow that is created around the edges of objects often caused by over-sharpening or significantly increasing contrast in post-production.

Hand held:  holding the camera in your hand while shooting as opposed to the use of a tripod. As a general rule the slowest shutter speed you should use when hand holding is the inverse of the focal length of the lens i.e. a 50mm lens should have a shutter speed no slower than 1/50th sec when hand holding.

Histogram:  a graphical representation showing a visual impression of the distribution of data. In digital photography the histogram represents the distribution of light or colour, within an image, from dark (left side) to light (right side).

Highlights:  small, very bright parts of an image or object. Highlights on a well exposed image should generally be pure white and not blown out which loses data.

Hot Shoe:  a contact point or bracket on top of the camera used to connect a flash or flash trigger. The hot shoe can also be used to hold other items like small level to assist landscape photography.

Hyperfocal Distance:  is a distance beyond which all objects can be brought into an “acceptable” focus. Focusing your camera at the hyperfocal distance ensures maximum sharpness from half this distance all the way to infinity. Using hyperfocal distance is great for landscape photography.


Image Stabiliser:  a built in mechanism designed to stabilised the image and reduce associated blur from movement or camera shake during image exposure. Image stabilisers can be lens or optical. Optical image stabilizer is generally used in a still camera or video camera that stabilizes the recorded image by varying the optical path to the sensor or the camera body. Lens based IS are most commonly built into lenses most common used in still photography. They work by using a floating lens element that generally work on a gyroscopic action. IS can improve image quality at up to 4 stops slower when hand holding.

Interchangeable lens:  lens that can be attached and detached from a camera. Swappable lens system.

Infinity:  Infinite distance. A distance that any object at that distance will be sharp in focus when the lens is set at its infinity position.

IQ:  short for ‘image quality’

ISO:  International Standards Organization. Refers to the sensitivity of the sensor, or film, to light. ISO works with shutter speed and aperture to impact exposure. Low ISO = low sensitivity to light and will result in darker images with less noise. High ISO increases sensitivity to light and will result in lighter noisier images. See more here.


JPEG:  a common file format for digital photographs. JPEG files are a universally accepted file by most systems, however, they do not provide the same level of manipulation as a RAW file.


Kelvin:  A scale use to measure the colour temperature. 5000 K refer to normal daylight.


Large format:  a camera with a large sensor usually 4×5 inches (102×127 mm) or larger. Larger than medium format. The main advantage of large format cameras is higher image resolution for large commercial prints.  In early photography, large format was all there was, and before enlargers were common, it was normal to just make 1:1 contact prints from a 4×5, 5×7, or 8×10-inch negative.

LCD panel (Liquid Crystal Display):  Used for digital display on a camera.

Lens:  Optical glass that collects, focuses and manipulates (i.e. magnifies) light.

Lens aberration:  optical imperfection that exist in most lens. Can exist as chromatic aberration, spherical aberration, curvature of field, distortion,

Lens Speed (fast/slow lens):  the speed of a lens in relation to the lenses aperture. A lens with a wide aperture (i.e. f1.2) is a fast lens because a faster shutter speed can be achieved id required. The speed of a lens is also relative to the focal length of the lens i.e. f4 at 600mm is a faster lens than f4 at 50mm.

Light meter:  an instrument used to measure light. (see exposure meter)

Lux:  (symbol: lx) is the unit of illuminance and luminous emittance, measuring luminous flux per unit area. It is equal to one lumen per square metre. In photometry, this is used as a measure of the intensity, as perceived by the human eye, of light.

* The content contained within the tutorials on Matt Tinker Photography has been provided in good faith and should be considered a general source of information only. All due care is taken when compiling this information, however we do not warrant that this information is accurate, free from omissions or up-to-date including any recent changes. The content does not take into consideration your personal circumstances.You should make your own independent assessment of the information provided and you should not rely solely on this information when making decisions.


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