photography dictionary

Your Photography Dictionary : 20 Terms All Beginning Photographers Should Know

Photography Dictionary

If you are just getting started in the world of photography and need a photography dictionary —then one of the most confusing things to adjust to is likely going to be all of the terms and photography lingo. There are a lot of definitions to learn when it comes to mastering the art of photography—but the good news is, this mini glossary of terms will help you get a grasp on the most important photography terms that any beginner should know.

  1. Aperture- This is the first common term every photographer should learn. The aperture is the size of the opening in your lens. If you think about your lens as a window, in that large windows (or wide angles) let in more light and small windows let in les—you generally get the idea of an aperture. A wide, open aperture allows for a brighter image, and is measured in f-stops on the camera. Aperture impacts an image’s exposure as well as its focus.
  2. Aspect Ratio- This is the ratio of the height to width in a photo—which will come into play when you are ready to crop and print. If you know how you are planning on printing our image, you can crop your photo when you edit to the right ratio
  3. Bokeh- When you take a photo and the lights are out of focus in an image, they are what is known as a Bokeh. Sometimes a Bokeh or a cluster of Bokehs can have a dazzling effect on the background of an image, but in many instances they aren’t planned out.
  4. Depth of Field- This is one of the most common photography terms and it is one that refers to how much of the image is in focus. When you take a photo, the camera will focus on one distance, but there are other distances in front and behind the main focal point that will stay sharp. This is depth of field.
  5. Digital- When you shop for a camera, typically, devices are broken down into digital or Digital means that the effect of your shot is achieved through software, not through the physical parts of the camera. This term is typically used when referring to a zoom lens. Optical is typically preferred over digital.
  6. Exposure- This term refers to simply how light, or how dark, an image is. The term exposure comes from the fact that the image is created when the camera sensor or film strip is exposed to light. If you have a photo that is too dark, it is call underexposed, while a photo that is too light is You can control exposure through aperture, shutter speed and ISO—all terms in this guide.

    Sunrise is one of the most rewarding times to shoot outdoor photos

  7. Exposure Compensation- This term is used to tell the camera that you want the exposure to be darker or lighter. You can use exposure compensation on automated, or semi-automated modes. Exposure compensation is measured in stops of light—negative numbers cause the image to be darker, while positive ones create a brighter shot.
  8. File Format- How your camera lens records the image on your computer is known as your file format. Different files are going to be easier, or more difficult to edit and share.
  9. Focal Length- If you are going to worry about focus, then you need to know about focal length. The focal length is the distance between the lens at the image that is being captured on film. It is described in millimeters. In simpler terms, the focal length is how “zoomed in” you image will appear. So, if you have a 35mm lens, the image is going to look more cropped than on a 16mm one.
  10. Focus- This is a pretty common term, but one that is worth visiting. Something that is in “focus” is sharp while something out-of-focus is blurry. When taking images, you don’t always want everything sharply in focus, there are certain areas of your image that you will want to be soft or blurred.
  11. Hot Shoe- This is the slot at the top of your camera. The hot shoe is used to switching out accessories like your flash.
  12. ISO- The ISO of a camera is what determines how sensitive that camera is to light. If you have a ISO of 100, it means your camera isn’t very sensitive to light. This is a great mode to shoot in during the daylight. An ISO of 3000, on the other hand, means that the camera is very sensitive to light, making this a better option for shooting in darker settings. Be careful with your ISO settings, the higher the ISO, the more light, but the more noise and grain as well. This is why ISO is all about balance.
  13. Long Exposure- When an image has a long exposure, it means it has either been exposed for a long time, or it was shot using a long shutter speed. This technique is commonly used for shooting objects that don’t move, but that are in low light—in fact, it is a very popular technique for landscape photographers. You can also use long exposure to create an artistic blur with your photos.
    Kilauea Milky Way

    Milky Way Photos require a high ISO

  14. Manual Mode- When you shoot in manual mode, you are setting the exposure on your camera yourself—instead of having the camera do it automatically. When in manual mode you are choosing the: aperture, shutter speed and ISO—to impact how light or dark your image is.
  15. Metering- Metering modes on your camera indicate how your device’s meter is reading the light. Your camera has a light meter that helps you determine if your image is over or under exposed.
  16. Noise- Those little grainy flecks in an image are also known as noise. When you take an image at a high ISO level, it will typically have a lot more noise.
  17. RAW- This is a type of file that lets you have more control in the editing process, when compared to say a JPEG file. Be warned, you need a special type of software to open RAW files, but it is worth it for better editing capabilities.
  18. Shutter Speed- The shutter is the part of the camera that opens and closes to let light in when you take the picture. The shutter speed is how long that shutter stays open—the longer it stays open the more light it lets in.
    Joshua Tree Sunset Photography

    A simple sunset over Joshua Tree National Park

  19. Viewfinder- The hole you look through to take your picture. Be warned, not all new digital cameras have these anymore.
  20. White Balance- This setting helps make what is white in real life look white in your photo. If you’ve ever taken an image and found it looks really blue or yellow, it is because the white balance is off. You can use an auto white balance setting, or you can adjust it manually.

If you have a strong grasp on these important photography terms, you will be building a great foundation for your future as a photographer.

I hope this photography dictionary was helpful. If you have any other terms you think are valuable please respond below in the comments!

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