The Photography Glossary

Here is a glossary of common photography terms. This incomplete page is currently under construction and is constantly updated with more terms.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0-9


Adobe. An American software company based in San Jose, California. Many of its flagship products, including the image editing software Adobe Photoshop, are widely used by photographers, videographers, and creatives across a wide range of industries.

Adobe Camera Raw. Also known as ACR, it is an Adobe Photoshop plug-in that lets you import, process, and enhance raw photographs without going through Adobe Lightroom.

Ambient Light. Any light in a scene that the photographer did not introduce artificially. This can include both natural light from the Sun as well as artificial light already illuminating a location.

Angle of View (AOV). Another term for field of view.

Aperture. The opening of the diaphragm within a lens that light passes through on its way into a camera. This is one of the fundamental settings for controlling exposure and a component of the Exposure Triangle. Usually measured and expressed as a number known as the f-number of f-stop.

Aperture Priority. A camera exposure mode in which the photographer sets the aperture and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed in order to achieve optimal exposure based on lighting conditions detected by the built-in light meter.

APEX. Short for Additive System of Photographic Exposure. A system for simple exposure computation first proposed in the 1960 ASA standard regarding monochrome film speed. While APEX failed to become a fundamental standard in the camera industry, its use of Av and Tv to refer to aperture and shutter speed live on in modern cameras.

APS-C. Advanced Photo System type-C is a format for digital image sensors that is roughly the same dimensions as the Advanced Photo System (APS) film negative in its Classic (C) format. It measures 25.1×16.7mm with an aspect ratio of 3:2. Commonly found in digital cameras, the format is smaller than standard 35mm film, so it is known as a “cropped frame” sensor, usually with a crop factor of 1.5x or 1.6x.

APS-H. Advanced Photo System type-H is a format for digital sensors that is based on the dimensions of Advanced Photo System (APS) film negative in its High Definition (H) format. It measures 30.2×16.7mm with an aspect ratio of 16:9. Not commonly found in modern digital cameras, APS-H has a crop factor of about 1.25x or 1.3x compared to standard 35mm film.

Archival. The quality and ability of a photo to remain unchanged in appearance for an extended period of time. Can refer to data storage technologies for digital images or paper, ink, and storage qualities for photographic prints.

ASA. Short for American Standards Association. The standards body that defined the ASA system for rating the speed sensitivity of photographic emulsions. The private non-profit organization has since been renamed to American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In 1974, ASA and DIN were combined into the ISO standards used by photographers today.

Aspect Ratio. The ratio of an image’s width compared to its height. Typically expressed as the two numbers separated by a colon. Common aspect ratios found in film and digital photography include 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 5:3, 5:4, and 1:1.

Aspherical Lens. A type of optical lens in which the surface curves are not portions of a sphere. Compared to a traditional non-aspheric lens, the more complex shape of aspherical lenses allows light rays to more precisely converge onto a single focal point, reducing various types of optical aberrations. Typically found in higher-end camera lenses geared toward professional photographers.

Astrophotography. Astronomical photography has to do with shooting photos of the night sky or anything found within it, including space objects and events. Advancements in camera, computing, and telescopic technologies and the accompanying reduction in prices have opened the door to astronomical photos that were impossible just years ago, leading to an explosion in highly-detailed space photos from amateur astronomers and photographers.

AE Lock. Autoexposure lock is a camera function that allows the users to lock the current exposure settings. This enables the photographer to shoot photos without the camera recalculating the necessary settings for optimal exposure before every shot.

AF Lock. Autofocus lock is a camera feature that allows a photographer to freeze the current focus point of the lens, enabling them to shoot a photo at any time independent of whether the camera determines it has achieved correct focus.

Autofocus. A system in a camera that automatically focuses a lens on a selected point or area within a scene. Achieved actively (e.g. with sound or light), passively (e.g. with phase or contract detection), or in a hybrid way through a variety of means, but generally involving a sensor, controller, and motor.


Back Button Focus. A camera technique in which the autofocus function is moved from the shutter button to a button on the back of the camera. This gives the photographer more control over the photography process as different fingers will be responsible for exposing photos and autofocusing.

Background. Any part of a scene that is behind the main subject, located at a farther distance than the subject from the camera. The background provides context for the location of a photo, but it can also be blurred using a shallow depth of field to force a viewer to focus on the subject, something often done in portrait photography.

Backlight. When the primary light source, whether natural or artificial, is located behind the subject or in the background of a scene. The resulting look is often dramatic and may involve a glowing edge around the subject and/or the subject rendered as a silhouette (if the backlight is at least 16 times more intense than the key light).

Blown-Out Highlights. When overexposure occurs in the brightest parts of a photo, causing details in those areas to be forever lost due to most or all the pixels rendering as pure white. This is also known as clipping.

Blue Hour. The brief period of time immediately before sunrise or after sunset in which the Sun is still below the horizon, causing the sky to have a bluish color cast. Like golden hour, blue hour provides a soft and pleasant quality of light that is valued by photographers and other artists.

Bokeh. The aesthetic quality of the blur, most famously circular and caused by light sources, found in the out-of-focus areas of photos that are generally captured with a shallower depth of field. Different lenses produce different bokeh that is subjectively more or less pleasing than others, and high-end lenses with large maximum apertures are often praised for their bokeh quality. Bokeh is often found in portraits shot with a narrow depth of field in order to draw focus to the subject and to eliminate distracting backgrounds.

Bracketing. A technique in which a photographer captures multiple photos of exactly the same scene with different camera settings. The frames could, for example, use different exposure, aperture, focus, flash, ISO, white balance, and more. Some cameras may have auto-bracketing features for some settings. The photographer can choose the best photo from the resulting set or combine (or stack) them for various purposes (such as focus stacking in macro photography).

Brenizer Method. Also referred to as a “bokeh panorama,” this is a technique popularized by wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer that involves shooting multiple “zoomed in” photos of a wider scene using a fast normal-to-telephoto lens. By stitching together the photos into a single wide-angle panorama with a shallow depth of field, a photographer can mimic the look of large format photography.

Buffer. The internal memory (RAM) of a camera that temporarily stores captured image data before the photo is saved to a memory card. The storage capacity of the buffer plays a role in how many photos can be captured in a burst before the camera needs to slow down and clear space in the buffer to make room for a new photo.

Bulb Mode. A camera mode that exposes a photograph for as long as the shutter button is depressed. Most cameras have a maximum shutter speed of 30 seconds, but Bulb mode can be used to capture ultra-long exposure photos with as long of an exposure as the photographer desires.

Burst Mode. Also known as continuous shooting mode, this is a camera feature that allows multiple photos to be captured in rapid succession, generally by holding down the shutter button. Cameras advertise a maximum frame-per-second (FPS) rate a camera can achieve in burst mode, and the burst rate is the number of frames that can be initially captured at the maximum FPS before the internal buffer fills up and the rate slows down.

Burst Rate. The number of frames that a camera can capture before the buffer is filled. The number of frames captured per second will then slow down to the rate at which the camera can process each photo in the buffer and move it to the memory card, freeing up space for a newly captured photo.


Cable Release. A cable that plugs into a camera on one end and which has a shutter button on the other. It is used to remotely trigger the shutter of the camera without the photographer having to touch the camera itself, eliminating the issue of vibrations that reduce image sharpness. Useful when shooting long exposure photos, particularly in bulb mode.

Camera. A device that is capable of capturing an optical image on a light-sensitive surface. A camera (from camera obscūra, Latin for “dark chamber”) is at its core a light-sealed box that takes in light as its input and produces a photograph as its output. Light may enter the camera through anything from a pinhole to an expensive lens made of metal, plastic, and/or glass. The light-sensitive surface may be anything from a coated metal sheet to photographic film to a digital sensor. The art of photography is the practice of using a camera to create photographs.

Camera Body. Refers to the main physical device that is used to capture photos. While it can have a built-in lens, it generally refers to a camera itself without an attached lens. While camera bodies were purely mechanical devices in earlier periods of photography and during the age of photographic film, modern digital camera bodies also contain high-tech electronics, digital displays, and silicon image sensors.

Camera Obscura. Latin for “dark chamber,” this was originally a dark room that had a hole or lens that allowed light from the outside world to be projected onto an inner wall or surface. While the color and perspective of the outdoor scene are the same in the projected image, the image itself is inverted upside-down and reversed left and right. The term camera obscura is also used to refer to smaller constructed spaces or boxes that operate with the same principle. By adding a light-sensitive surface to a camera obscura, a photo can be made using the projection, thereby turning the camera obscura into a camera.

Camera Shake. The unintentional movement of a camera during the exposure of a photograph, generally resulting in a photo that is less sharp and more blurry than desired. This can be caused by unsteady hands when shooting handheld, the force of pressing the shutter button, or environmental causes such as wind blowing a tripod-mounted camera. The combination of using a remote shutter release and a sturdy tripod can greatly reduce or eliminate camera shake.

Candid Photograph. Any photograph captured without the subject(s) in the frame posing for the image. A photographer aiming to create photos in this style will generally capture unplanned moments in life as it occurs without stopping or directing the people being photographed. Subjects may or may not be aware of the photos being made.

Catchlight. A light source that appears as a specular highlight in a subject’s eyes. Photographers commonly use a light’s positions and settings for this end result, transforming eyes from having a flat and lifeless appearance to having a glint that adds a spark of life.

CCD Sensor. A charge-coupled device sensor is one of the two major types of semiconductor image sensors, with the other being CMOS. Advantages typically include a global shutter (all pixels are exposed at the same time), high resolution/sensitivity (due to pixels not having to share space with the amplifiers), and high-quality/low-noise. Disadvantages include high power consumption and high cost (a special manufacturing process is needed).

Chimping. The colloquial term used to refer to the act of bringing a camera — generally a DSLR — away from the eye after every exposure to review the resulting photo immediately on the rear display. Although the term is often used in a derogatory sense, frequently reviewing photos after they are captured to check things like settings, exposure, and composition. Mirrorless cameras allow photos to be reviewed immediately within the electronic viewfinder itself, eliminating the need to “chimp.”

Chromatic Aberration Also called “color fringing,” this is a color distortion that occurs when a lens fails to focus all colors to the same point. It appears as an outline or fridge of color in areas of an image where there is high contrast between light and dark objects.

Cinemagraph Coined by photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck in 2011, this is a still photo that contains looping movement in a particular minor portion of the image. The result is what looks like a still photograph that has subtle motion that helps bring it to life. The name refers to the combination of a moving picture (cinema) with a still picture (photograph).

Circular Polarizer Filter Abbreviated CP or CPL, this is a type of filter that attaches to a lens and cuts down on glare and reflections. Photographers may employ it when shooting things like water, glass, foliage, and cloudy skies. The front part of the filter can be rotated to control the polarization effect.

Clipping The loss of information that occurs when highlights are overexposed or shadows are underexposed in a photo, resulting in regions that are captured as pure white or pure black, respectively, without any detail. Histograms can be used in cameras and software to identify and avoid clipping. Photo processing and editing programs also commonly have clipping indicators to help photographers easily identify areas where information is being discarded.

CMOS Sensor A complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor sensor is the dominant type of image sensor found in modern digital cameras (the other being CCD). Advantages include readout speed, low power consumption, and low cost (it uses traditional chipmaking processes). Disadvantages include rolling shutter (pixels are exposed line by line) and lower sensitivity (each pixel site shares space with an amplifier).

Cold Shoe. A bracket designed to hold a camera flash or other accessory. While a hot shoe has electrical contacts that allow a camera to communicate with the accessory (e.g. fire a flash unit), a cold shoe does not contain electronics and therefore is used solely for mounting an accessory and holding it in place.

Compact Camera. Another name for point-and-shoot camera.

Composite Photograph. A photo that is the result of combining two or more different photos into a single image that is blended in some way. Creating a realistic and/or seamless composite generally requires a great deal of both skill and time.

Composition. How the visual elements in a photo are arranged within the frame. Paying careful attention to how a subject and scene are framed allows the photographer to capture an image that can do things such as direct the viewers’ eyes, be more visually appealing, tell a story, elicit a feeling or emotion, and more. There are various “rules of thumb” that aid beginning photographers in creating good compositions.

Continuous Shooting. Another name for burst mode.

Contrast. The difference between a certain aspect of elements in a photo. This could be the tonal contrast between the lightest tones and the darkest tones in an image, or it could be the color contrast between opposing colors in the frame.

Contrast Detection Autofocus. A common camera autofocus method that uses the contrast between edges in a scene to achieve sharp focus. Since the contrast of two side-by-side pixels should increase if focus increases, the camera simply adjusts the lens’s focus back and forth until maximal contrast is settled upon.

Copyright. The legal ownership of a creative work. A form of intellectual property that gives the creator the exclusive right, for the duration of the copyright, to copy and distribute the work they have created. A photographer automatically owns the copyright immediately after they shoot a photo, but there are advantages to officially registering your works with the US Copyright Office.

Copyright Infringement. When a copyrighted photograph or any other creative work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a new derivative work without the permission of the owner of the copyright. In the photo industry, this is often when a photographer’s photo is published online or used for commercial purposes such as advertising without that photographer’s permission.

Cropping. The act of removing unwanted outer edge portions of a photo to create a resulting photo that represents a subsection of the full, original image. Unlike resizing a photo, which changes the number of pixels while keeping the original composition, cropping trims parts of a photo — typically unnecessary areas — and creates a new composition. This can be done to change the aspect ratio, better focus on a subject, and/or draw the viewers’ eyes to a particular portion of the frame.

Crop Factor. The ratio of a digital camera’s sensor size relative to the “full frame” size (36×24mm) popularized by 35mm film. For example, a smaller APS-C format image sensor typically has a crop factor of 1.5x or 1.6x. This is also known as the focal length multiplier since multiplying a lens’s focal length by a smaller sensor’s crop factor will result in a focal length with an equivalent field of view on a full-frame sensor. For example, a 50mm lens on a 1.6x crop sensor will have a field of view equivalent to an 80mm lens on full frame.

Crop Sensor. Any digital sensor that is smaller than 35mm full frame, which is considered to be the reference size when discussing image sensors. Crop sensors have a crop factor depending on the ratio between their size and full frame.

Cross Processing. Intentionally processing one type of photographic film in a chemical solution that is intended for another type — in other words, using the “wrong” developer. This can result in unpredictable shifts in the color and contrast of the photo that can be desirable for artistic purposes.

Crushed Shadows. When underexposure occurs in the darkest parts of a photo, causing details in those areas to be forever lost due to most or all the pixels rendering as pure black. This is also known as clipping.


Daguerreotype. The first publicly available photography process as well as the physical photo plates created through the process. Invented by French photographer Louis Daguerre and introduced in 1839, the daguerreotype became a dominant photography process in the mid-1800s.

Darkroom. A completely light-sealed room used by film photographers to handle light-sensitive photography materials and to do things such as make photographic prints. The room is typically illuminated with a safelight, which emits light at wavelengths that are visible to the human eye but photosensitive materials are not sensitive to.

Depth of Field (DoF). The distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a photo that are in focus by being acceptably sharp. A shallow depth of field can result in considerable blurring in front of and behind the subject that is focused on, while a wide/deep depth of field can render more (or all) of a scene in sharp focus.

Diaphragm. The component in a camera lens that uses a configuration of overlapping metal blades, called the iris, to enlarge or shrink the size of the opening in the middle, called the aperture, in order to let more or less light pass through the lens to the sensor or film. By adjusting the diaphragm, a photographer controls the aperture and therefore the depth of field of the resulting photo.

Diffused Light. A soft light that is filtered or scattered by something, causing it to be non-directional with more even illumination and softer shadows. Natural light from the sun may be diffused by clouds, for example. Artificial lighting can be diffused by directing the light through a modifier such as a softbox. This type of lighting is often preferred in portraits due to the more flattering look of softer shadows and facial features.

Diffuser. Any semi-translucent material that diffuses light, scattering the rays to create a softer quality. Typically placed between the light source and the subject, diffusers can be made of both hard and soft materials. They can also be both commercially produced or homemade with things found around the house or studio.

Digital Asset Management (DAM). Software that allows photographers to safely and efficiently store, organize, and share digital media files such as photos and videos. Photos can be tagged, grouped, filtered, and searched through. Some apps, such as Adobe Lightroom, provide both image editing features as well as digital asset management.

Digital Photography. The creation of photos using electronic photodetectors, typically silicon semiconductor image sensors, in a camera to capture light rays focused by a lens rather than photographic film or photosensitive chemicals. The captured images are typically digitized and stored on a memory card or onboard storage of the camera before it is viewed on a digital display, edited with software, and/or shared through the Internet. Digital cameras (and particularly smartphones) have revolutionized photography by making shooting and sharing photos fast, cheap, and ubiquitous.

Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR). A camera that combines a traditional single-lens reflex (SLR) design with a digital imaging sensor. In an SLR camera, light passing through the lens is directed upward into a prism and then through the viewfinder into the photographer’s eye. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips out of the way, allowing the light to pass onto the shutter and sensor system for a photo to be exposed.

Distortion. When lines or objects in a photo appear curved or deformed in some way, usually as a result of the lens. Types of distortions include optical (e.g. barrel, pincushion, and mustache) and perspective.

Dots Per Inch (DPI). The resolution of a printed photo. Refers to how many printed dots are found within a line spanning one inch (2.54cm) of a print. The higher the density of dots, the higher the resolution of the image.

Dust Spots. Unwanted dark spots that show up in digital photos and which are caused by dust particles on the imaging sensor. These spots are more likely to be visible when shooting a solid color scene (e.g. the sky) with a small aperture (i.e. a higher f-number). Some cameras have built-in sensor dust removal features, while other cameras will require photographers or repair technicians to manually blow or wipe the dust from the sensor.

Dynamic Range. The contrast ratio between the darkest and brightest tones in a photo or scene. The greater a camera’s dynamic range, the greater its ability to capture a scene with both dark shadows and brilliant highlights without clipping, or losing detail in those areas by rendering them as pure black or white, respectively.


Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). A type of camera viewfinder that uses a small electronic display to help photographers compose photos, adjust settings, and review images. While the downside is that photographers are not looking at the real world through viewfinder optics, the electronic viewfinder’s advantages over the optical viewfinder include real-time exposure previews and useful information overlays.

Enlarger. Also called a projection printer, this is a darkroom device that allows photographers to produce a photographic print that is larger in physical dimensions than the original film negative or transparency by projecting the image downward onto photo-sensitive paper below.

ETTL. Exposing to the left. Underexposing a photo so that the histogram is pushed toward the left in an effort to avoid clipped shadows. This technique was commonly used in film photography due to negative film having greater recovery potential in highlights than in shadows. With digital photography, however, there is more latitude in the shadows and photographers typically expose to the right (ETTR).

E-TTL. Evaluative though-the-lens. Automatic flash metering that fires a pre-flash, measures the resulting light that comes into the camera, and then uses that information to calculate the proper flash exposure time.

ETTR. Expose to the right. Overexposing a photo so that the histogram is pushed toward the right in an effort to avoid blown highlights. This technique is commonly used in digital photography due to the greater recovery potential in shadows than in highlights. With negative film, however, there is more latitude in the highlights and photographers typically expose to the left (ETTL).

EV. Exposure value. A number that represents an equivalent exposure based on a combination of shutter speed and aperture. Combinations that produce the same exposure of a scene will have the same EV. Each 1 EV change corresponds to a power-of-2 exposure step, or stop, so increasing by 1 EV doubles the exposure, and decreasing by 1 EV halves the exposure.

Exhibition. When photographs and other artworks are displayed in a public place such as a museum, art gallery, or photo club so that the public can view them in person. Exhibits are generally on display for a limited amount of time, after which they are replaced by new artworks, but there are also permanent exhibitions.

EXIF. Exchangeable Image File Format. Officially stylized as Exif (without all caps), this is the dominant metadata standard that specifies formats for information recorded when photos or other types of media are captured by a digital camera. Supported by virtually all camera manufacturers, metadata included in Exif include things like camera settings when a photo is captured (e.g. aperture, shutter speed, focal length, etc.), technical metrics of an image, date/time/location info, thumbnail previews, copyright details, and more.

Exposure. The amount of light per unit area recorded by photographic film or a digital image sensor as a result of the combination of aperture, shutter speed, and light in the scene. Different camera settings can have equivalent exposures. The term is also used generally to refer to a single open-and-close cycle of the shutter in the creation of a photograph, though more than one exposure can be combined to create a “multiple exposure” photo.

Exposure Bracketing The capturing of multiple photos of the same scene with the only difference being varying exposure settings. This can be used to ensure that one of the exposures is optimal, or the multiple exposures can be combined in post-processing to create a high dynamic range (HDR) photo since the images span a wider dynamic range than a single exposure can.

Exposure Compensation. A camera feature that allows photographers to override the exposure calculated by the built-in light meter by increasing or decreasing the exposure value (EV). Often used when the scene is dominated either by light tones (e.g. a snowy landscape) that can normally lead to underexposed photos or by dark tones (e.g. a close-up ninja portrait) that can normally result in overexposed photos.

Exposure Triangle. A visual representation for the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in creating a photographic exposure.

Extension Tube. A lens add-on that increases the distance between the lens and the imaging plane (e.g. film or sensor) in the camera. Lacking any glass elements, the hollow tube reduces minimum focus distance and increases magnification, allowing non-macro lenses to be used for close-up macro photography.


Field of View (FOV). The portion of the world that is visible through and capturable by a camera. When expressed as an angle (of the view cone), this is also referred to as the angle of view (AOV). Field of view depends on the focal length of the lens and the size of the sensor/film.

Fill Light. A secondary light source in photography used to lighten shadows and reduce contrast in an image. It is typically placed on the opposite side to a subject from a main light.

Film. Often referred to as photographic film or camera film, this is a strip or sheet of a transparent material coated with a light-sensitive emulsion on one side. After being exposed to light through a camera lens, a latent image is recorded to the emulsion invisibly. This image can then be revealed by developing the film with specific chemicals that makes the latent image visible on the film and then fixes it in place by removing the light-sensitive nature of the film. This image, whether a negative or positive image and whether color or black-and-white, can then be printed onto a different medium, projected, or digitized, among other things.

Fisheye Lens. A type of ultra-wide-angle camera lens that produces a distorted, non-rectilinear convex image with a field of view that is typically somewhere between 100° and 280°. Objects close to the center of the frame will appear unnaturally large while things found at the edges of the frame are reduced in scale. The distortion is similar to what one sees when looking through a security peephole in a door.

Flag. An object or tool that blocks light in order to cast a shadow, create negative fill, or reduce/eliminate lens flare. Commonly black in color and rectangular in shape.

Flash. A device that creates a short burst of light to provide artificial illumination for a scene. The purpose can be to help a camera properly expose a low-light environment, to create a custom lighting scenario, to freeze a moving subject, or to fill in harsh shadows when dealing with strong lighting. Flashes can be built directly into cameras or found as standalone devices, and they range in size from a tiny unit found on a compact camera to a sizable strobe found in a studio.

F-number. Also known as focal ratio, f-ratio, or f-stop, this is the number that specifies a lens’ aperture. It is the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter. A low f-number denotes a larger aperture size that allows more light to reach the camera’s film or sensor. Lenses generally feature a standard f-stop scale that follows the powers of the square root of two: f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32, f/45, f/64, and so on. Each f-number in this sequence is one stop away from the ones before and after.

Focal Length. The distance, in millimeters, between the optical center of the camera lens and the sensor or film recording the image. A shorter focal length provides a wider field of view (i.e. wide angle) and lower magnification while a longer focal length leads to a narrower field of view (i.e. telephoto) and a higher magnification.

Focus. The plane in three-dimensional space on objects will be rendered as sharp in a photograph. Adjusting focus of a lens moves this plane forward (toward the camera) and backward (away toward the background).

Focus Point. The point within the frame on which a camera’s autofocus feature attempts to bring into sharpest focus. A camera will attempt to make the plane of focus intersect the exact location in a scene or subject highlighted by the focus point.

Focal Plane Shutter (FPS). A type of shutter that sits right in front of a camera’s focal plane.

Focus Stacking. Capturing multiple digital photos at different focus distances and then combining them into a single image with a greater depth of field than is possible with a single exposure. This technique is commonly used in macro and landscape photography.

Forced Perspective. A creative technique in which objects or subjects in the frame are made to appear smaller, larger, closer, or farther than they are in real life. This is done by using careful positioning and framing to create an optical illusion with the space between subjects.

Foreground. The portion of a scene that is closest to the camera. This region often sets the stage for what is seen at further points in the middleground or background.

Four Thirds. A camera system standard originally created by Olympus and Eastman Kodak for the design of DSLR and mirrorless cameras. The Four Thirds sensor has an imaging area of 17.3x13mm, which has a diagonal of 21.63mm that is roughly half of the diagonal of a 35mm film negative. Multiple companies have joined the Four Thirds standard to create camera bodies and lenses that are all compatible with one another. While the Four Thirds standard was geared toward DSLRs, the subsequent Micro Four Thirds standard uses the same Four Thirds sensor but eliminates the mirror box and pentaprism for mirrorless cameras.

Frames Per Second (FPS). A camera’s maximum continuous shooting (burst) rate for still photos or available frame rates for video.

F-stop. Another term for f-number.

Full Frame (FF). The sensor size in digital photography based on the 35mm format that became dominant in film photography. A full frame sensor measures 36×24mm, an aspect ratio of 3:2, and a diagonal measurement of roughly 43mm.


GAS. Gear acquisition syndrome. Often used to describe a photographer’s addition to continually purchasing new camera equipment, often without any real practical need.

Geotagging. The adding of geographical location information to the metadata of a photo, typically in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates. Knowing the location where photos were captured can both add context when reviewing photos and also aid in the searching and organizing of images.

GIF. Graphics Interchange Format. A bitmap image format introduced in 1987 that supports 8 bits per pixel, meaning each image can display a maximum of 256 different colors. GIFs are ubiquitous on the Web due to the format being widely supported, but the color limitations make the format less suitable for photos than formats such as JPEG. However, photos are widely shared in GIFs in the form of online memes.

Gigapixel (GP). One billion pixels. A term used to refer to the resolution of a photos, displays, and camera sensors.

Glass. A slang term used by photographers to refer to a camera lens. e.g. “Instead of investing in the best camera, get some good glass.”

Gobo. Stands for “go before optics” and refers to any object placed between a light source and a subject to shape light and/or alter shadows.

Golden Hour. Also referred to as magic hour, is the period of time immediately after sunrise and immediately before sunset when the sun is low enough in the sky to cast a soft, warm light. This window of opportunity is prized by photographers, especially portrait shooters, for its quality of natural light.

GPS. Global Positioning System. A satellite-based radionavigation system that is owned by the United States and operated by the US Space Force. It is one of the leading systems used by camera manufacturers for geotagging digital photos, or embedding location information into the file’s metadata.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND) A kind of neutral density filter in which the amount of light blocked is a gradient from one side to the other. Useful for scenes like landscapes where photographers need to reduce the contrast between a bright sky and a dark landscape.

Grain. Also known as film grain, this is the visible silver crystals in a film’s emulsion that can be seen in resulting prints as well. Various films have different levels of grain size and quality, and this is an important consideration for film photographers picking a photographic film to use for their work.

Gray Card. A gray-colored card used by photographers as a reference point for capturing consistent exposure and/or color across multiple photos. The card is typically 18% neutral gray, meaning it has 18% reflectance across the visible spectrum. This value represents the mid-point between pure black and pure white on a logarithmic or exponential curve.

Guide Number (GN). A number used to indicate the power of an electronic flash and used to calculate the necessary f-stop for any flash-to-subject distance (or the distance for a given f-stop). Guide number = f-number x distance. The larger the guide number, the greater the distance the flash can properly expose a subject.


Hard Light. Light that causes harsh shadows. This quality of light causes the lines between highlights and shadows are immediate and well-defined. Hard light can be created by using a single, bright light source that is small in area relative to the subject. The smaller the light source, the more abrupt the transition between light and shadow in the scene.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) A type of photography that aims to reproduce a greater range of luminosity than what is ordinarily captured with standard photographic equipment and techniques. This is often done by capturing multiple photographs at different exposures and then combining them into one photo with a higher maximum and lower minimum tonal value.

High-Key Lighting. A lighting style that aims to achieve a low lighting ratio in a scene. The result typically features brightly-lit scenes and subjects, a higher degree of fill lighting, soft lighting, soft/minimal shadows, and low contrast. This lighting style provides a mood that is optimistic, positive, light, airy, cheerful, upbeat, and/or hopeful.

High-Speed Sync (HSS). A flash feature that allows you to synchronize your flash output when using shutter speeds faster than the camera’s native flash sync speed. Useful for scenarios such as adding fill-flash to a model outdoors on a bright day.

Highlights. The lightest areas in a photograph. One of the main components of an image’s dynamic range, along with midtones and shadows. When a photo is overexposed or when a camera is not able to capture enough dynamic range, detail may be lost in the highlight areas of the photo (something known as clipped or blown highlights).

Histogram. A graph that represents the distribution of tonal values in a photo. From left to right, the graph shows the relative number of pixels in the image that are pure black, shadow, midtones, highlights, and pure white. Histograms provide photographers with an at-a-glance look at how a photograph is exposed and whether there is any clipping or under/over-exposure.

Hot Shoe. An accessory connector slot that is typically found on top of a camera for attaching things such as flashes, lights, microphones, wireless triggers, external viewfinders, GPS receivers, light meters, and more. Unlike a cold shoe, a hot shoe is “hot” because it is capable of transmitting electronic signals to the mounted device.

Hyperfocal Distance. A focus distance beyond which all objects in a scene are rendered with “acceptable” focus, resulting in the maximum depth of field at a given aperture.

Hyperlapse. A moving time-lapse in which the viewer is transported through both space and time. Unlike a traditional timelapse, in which the camera shoots photos over time from roughly the same spot, a hyperlapse is created by moving the camera a short distance between each shot and over a long distance during a sequence of images.


IBIS. In-body image stabilization. A mechanism found in digital cameras that compensates for camera movement while an exposure is being made by moving the image sensor at the final point of the optical path. These systems compensate for up to 5 axes of movement: X, Y, Roll, Yaw, and Pitch. While optical image stabilization (OIS) is built into individual lenses, IBIS in a camera works with all lenses that can be mounted to it.

Image Quality (IQ)

Image Sensor

Image Stabilization (IS). A feature that compensates for camera motion during image exposure in order to reduce blur, particularly at slower shutter speeds. This can be both mechanical and electronic, and it can be found in both lenses and cameras.

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). A type of photography in which the camera is moved or lens adjusted during an exposure for creative effect. These acts produce blurring in resulting photos, whether from the movement of the camera or from adjusting the focus or zoom of the lens.

Interchangeable lens camera (ILC). A camera that accepts interchangeable lenses rather than having a fixed non-removable lens.

Internal focusing. A design for camera lenses in which focus is achieved by only moving internal lens elements without any rotation or shifting of the front lens element. Advantages include the ability to more easily use certain filters (screwed-in polarizing) and hoods (petal), keeping dust out, not hitting macro subjects, avoiding “zoom creep,” and smaller lens designs.


IPTC. International Press Telecommunications Council. A London-based consortium of over 50 major news companies and organizations from around the world. As the global standards body of news media, the IPTC defined a standard for photo metadata that is the world’s most widely accepted and used.

ISO. International Organization for Standardization. A standard for measuring a camera film or sensor’s sensitivity to light. For film, this refers to how quickly the chemicals react to light, and for digital sensors, this refers to the gain (or amplification) applied to the signal before the image is recorded.


JPEG. Joint Photographic Experts Group. Also abbreviated JPG, this is a lossy compression standard named after the group that created it in 1992. It has since become the most widely used compression method in the world for digital photos. The fact that it’s lossy means that editing and resaving the files causes a loss in image quality each time.



Kelvin (K). The international base unit of absolute temperature that’s used to conveniently express color temperature in photography. Higher temperatures (e.g. over 5000 K) are cooler, bluer colors, while lower temperatures (e.g. under 3000 K) are warmer, yellower colors. “Daylight” is traditionally around 5600 K.

Key Light

Kicker Light


Landscape Orientation

Landscape Photography

Large Format

LCD. Liquid crystal display. The display technology that’s ubiquitous in camera screens, viewfinders, computer monitors, and more. It uses liquid crystals, polarizers, and backlighting to produce the displayed images.

LED. Light-emitting diode. A semiconductor light source technology that has applications in photography ranging from lighting to displays. As a light source, they are flexible (with a wide range of colors and intensities), energy-efficient, low heat, and long-lasting. In a display, they are bright, energy-efficient, sharp, flicker-free, and long-lasting.


Lens Flare

Lens Hood

Lens Mount

Light Meter

Light Painting

Lighting Ratio


Long Exposure

Low-Key Lighting. A lighting style that aims to achieve a high lighting ratio in a scene. The result typically features dimly-lit scenes and subjects, an emphasis on shadows, dark tones, hard lighting, and high contrast. This lighting style provides a mood that is serious, mysterious, dramatic, somber, and/or emotional.

Low-Pass Filter




Magic Hour

Manual Focus (MF). A process in which a photographer (rather than the camera) adjusts the lens’ focus to achieve the desired sharpness in a photo.

Manual Mode. A camera mode in which the photographer chooses the desired exposure by manually selecting shutter speed and aperture (and optionally ISO).

Medium Format (MF). A film or digital sensor size that’s larger than 35mm full-frame (24mmx36mm) but smaller than large-format (4inx5in).


Memory Card

Memory Card Reader



Micro Four Thirds (MFT or M4/3). A mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera system standard launched by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008 and joined by a large number of camera manufacturers. The specification uses the Four Thirds sensor size while omitting a mirror box and pentaprism to allow for smaller cameras and lenses.


Minimum Focus Distance.

Mirror Lockup. A feature in single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras that allows the photographer to flip the mirror up and lock it in that position in advance of the shutter being triggered. This reduces camera vibration during the capture of a photo (thereby reducing blur) and also allows the mounting of lenses that extend further into the camera’s mirror box.


Mode Dial



MTF. Modulation transfer function. A technical way to measure a lens’ optical performance potential. An MTF chart plots the contrast and resolution of a particular lens, with the x-axis representing the distance from the center of the frame (center at left and edge at right) and the y-axis representing light transmission (0% at bottom and 100% at top). MTF charts generally plot sagittal and meridional lines for the contrast measurements of lines that run parallel or perpendicular (respectively) to the line from the center to the edge of the frame.

Multiple Exposure


Natural Light


Negative Space

Neutral Density (ND). A type of filter that reduces the amount of light entering the camera, modifying the intensity of all wavelengths equally so that there are (ideally) no changes in color. Allows photographers to use exposure settings that would otherwise result in overexposed photos (e.g. for a longer exposure or larger aperture on a bright sunny day).

Nifty Fifty


Noise Reduction. Digital processing to remove noise from a photograph, whether done in-camera by firmware or by a feature/tool in an image processing/editing application.

Normal Lens


Optical Viewfinder (OVF). Allows the photographer to compose (and usually focus) a scene while looking at the scene itself rather than an electronic display (as with an EVF). This can be a through-the-lens viewfinder (like in SLRs) or a look-through viewfinder (like in rangefinders).





Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF). A camera autofocus system that divides incoming light from opposite sides of the lens into two images and compares them to calculate whether the subject is front- or back-focused. This information is then used to adjust the lens until focus is achieved.

Photo Walk





Point-and-Shoot Camera

Polarizing Filter


Program (P)

Pinhole Camera.


Pixel Peeping

Point-and-shoot. A small compact camera, generally used with full automation to simplify operation for casual photo taking.



Portrait Mode

Portrait Orientation

Post-Processing. Also referred to as “post,” this is the process of editing original camera data with software programs (e.g Photoshop and Lightroom) to create an improved and/or customized final photograph. This can involve both basic edits (e.g. brightness, contrast, white balance, saturation, cropping) as well as more involved editing (e.g. cloning, compositing, masking).

PPI. Pixels per inch. A way to measure the resolution of a digital display. Refers to the number of pixels that are found space of one linear (not square) inch.





RAW. Not an acronym but widely capitalized as though it were, including by companies like Canon. A raw image file is one that contains minimally processed data straight from a digital camera sensor (or scanner). These files are generally processed in raw editing software before being converted into a format such as JPEG or TIFF for printing or sharing online. Many camera manufacturers use proprietary raw file formats in their camera ecosystems, while others use open formats such as Adobe’s DNG.

Rear-Curtain Sync

Red Eye


Rembrandt Lighting


RGB. Red, green, and blue. An additive color model in which the primary colors of red, green, and blue are added together in various proportions to create a wide range of possible colors. As an additive model, red, green, and blue are added to black, and the full combination of colors is white. Digital cameras and computer/phone displays typically work in RGB.

Rule of Thirds



Scene Modes


SD. Secure Digital. A memory card format that is commonly used by digital cameras. Introduced in August 1999 by SanDisk, Panasonic, and Toshiba, it uses flash memory technology to store large amounts of data on relatively small devices. Its primary competitor is the CompactFlash (CF) card.

SD Association (SDA). The non-profit organization formed in January 2000 by SanDisk, Panasonic, and Toshiba to manage SD Card standards. Around 1,000 companies are now a part of SDA.

Secret Photography


Self Portrait



Shutter Lag

Shutter Priority. Also abbreviated on some mode dials as Tv, for time value, this is a camera setting in which the photographer chooses a fixed shutter speed while allowing the camera to adjust the aperture value (and possibly ISO) to achieve a proper exposure (as determined by the camera’s internal light meter).

Shutter Release

Shutter Speed

Single-Lens Reflex (SLR). A camera (most often referring to a film one these days) that uses a mirror to direct light between the viewfinder prism (for seeing and composing the scene) and the image sensor (when the shutter is activated to expose a photo).


Soft Light

Spot Metering

Spray and Pray

Straight Out of Camera (SOOC). Photos as they were captured by the camera without any additional post-processing afterward prior to it being displayed.

Stop. A unit used to describe ratios of light or exposure. Each change in stop refers to a change by a factor of two — an added stop is double the light or exposure, and each subtracted stop is half the light or exposure. A one-stop unit is also referred to as the exposure value (EV) unit. Aperture stops are adjusted by changing f-stops, and increasing or decreasing f-stops involves doubling or halving the size of the area of the aperture pupil.

Stop Up/Down

Straight Photography. Also known as pure pohtography.

Street Photography


Sunny 16

Super-Telephoto Lens

Sync Speed


Teleconverter. An accessory that fits between a camera and lens to extend the focal length of the attached lens, typically by 1.4x or 2x. Tradeoffs generally include less light transmitted, poorer image quality, and slower autofocus.

Telephoto Lens

Tethered Shooting

TIFF. Tag Image File Format. Also abbreviated TIF, this is a file format for storing raster graphics images that is commonly used in photography. TIFF files can store photos in a lossless format, meaning image quality is not lost when images are edited and resaved, making it popular as an archival format.

Tilt-Shift Lens


Tonal Range


TTL. Through the lens. A method of metering light in which the intensity of light that’s reflected from the scene is measured through the lens, as opposed to having a separate light detector or an off-camera light meter. Also a flash mode that uses the camera’s built-in light metering to determine optimal flash output for the correct exposure.

Twin-Lens Reflex (TLR). A type of camera that uses two lenses of the same focal length. One of the lenses is used for the viewfinder system while the other is used to capture the photograph.











White Balance (WB). The adjusting of color intensities in a scene that have a color cast caused by different light sources with different color temperatures. The goal is usually to reach natural/correct colors that reflect what the human eye sees.

Wide-Angle Lens

Wide Open




Zebra Pattern

Zone System




500 Rule

Image credits: Header illustration from Depositphotos