A Brief Photography Jargon Dictionary

In the photography industry there are a lot of technical terms and slang terms that get thrown a round a lot. Here is a brief dictionary of common terms you’ll come across when talking to photographers or reading industry websites, magazines, and forums. 


Photography – From the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos) “light” and γραφή (graphé) “drawing” meaning “drawing with light”.

Exposure – How light or dark an image is or the total amount of light received by your camera’s sensor. Exposure is determined by your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. An image which is to dark is underexposed whereas a image which is to light is overexposed. 

Aperture – The circular opening of the lens which determines how much light reaches your cameras sensor and the depth of field in the image. Aperture is measured in f-stops. 

ISO – A settings which determines how sensitive your camera is to light. A low ISO like 100 will result is less noisier images but will require a longer shutter speed. A high ISO like 6400 will result in noisier images but will allow you to use a quicker shutter speed. 

Shutter Speed – The amount of time the shutter remains open allowing light to hit the cameras sensor. 

Metering – The method used for determining a correct exposure. Your camera has a reflective light meter inside it so when it tries to make whatever scene you are looking at 18% grey. Regardless of if you are photographing a black bear in a cave or a polar bear in a snowstrom it will try to make the scene 18% grey. Handheld incident light meters measure the light in an area regardless of the subject allowing for a more accurate exposure.  

Histogram – A chart which tells you how light or dark the various pixels in an image are. The right side of the chart represents light pixels whereas the left side of the chart represents dark pixels. 

Exposure Compensation – Usually a dial on your camera which allows you to make your image lighter or darker. 

Focus – A term used to define if something is sharp or blurry. 

Depth of Field – A term used to define how much of the photo is in focus. 

Shutter Release – The button on your camera which allows you to take a photograph. 

View Finder – The part of the camera you look through to compose an image.

White Balance – A scale used for determining the colors in your photos. White balance is measured in degrees Kelvin. Sometimes referred to as color temperature. 

Bracketing – Taking several photos of the same scene at different exposures. 

Aspect Ratio – The ratio of height to width of an image for example 8×10, 5×7, 4×6. 

Ambient Light – Natural light or light that is not artificial like flash or video lights. 

Soft Lighting – Lighting similar to that on a cloudy day producing soft shadows which is flattering for almost any subject. 

Hard Lighting – Lighting similar to that on a sunny day at noon producing hard shadows. 

Bokeh – A Japanese term for the out of focus part of a photograph. 

Noise – Small specks in an image also referred to as grain. Images taken with a higher ISO will have more grain. 

Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization/Optical Stabilization –  A technology built in to either your lens or camera minimizing the effect of the camera moving on your image. This allows you to take sharp images at slower shutter speeds which hand holding the camera. 

RAW – An image file type which gives you more leeway when post processing but is larger in size. These are considered the negatives of digital photography. 

JPG – An image file type which allows for faster shooting but less leeway when post processing. 

Photoshop – Software made by Adobe for retouching photographs. 

Lightroom – Software made by Adobe for organizing and retouching photographs. 

Dodge – Lightening part of a photograph in retouching software or the dark room. 

Burn – Darkening part of a photograph in retouching software or the dark room. 

High Dynamic Range (HDR) – A process used to increase the dynamic range in a photograph so there will be details in both the lights and darks of an image. 

Panoramic – An image with an aspect ratio that is very wide. 


Camera – a device for recording visual images in the form of photographs, film, or video.

DSLR – An abbreviation for Digital Single Lens Reflex. These camera have a prism and mirror system so the recorded images are the same as what is seen through the cameras view finder. These cameras usually have interchangeable lenses. Examples would cameras made by Nikon and Canon which are not point and shoots. 

Full Frame – A sensor the same size as a 35mm piece of film. This sensor size is used by many higher end Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. 

APS-C – A smaller sensor sized used by many interchangeable lens cameras today. This size is used by entry level Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. 

Mirrorless Camera – Unlike a DSLR these cameras don’t have a mirror making them smaller in size. Fuji and Sony currently make mirrorless cameras. 

Wide Angle – Lenses with a wider field of view; commonly used by landscape and architecture photography. 

Standard – Lenses with a field of view similar to that or the human eye; commonly used by photojournalists. 

Telephoto – Lenses with a field of view narrower than the human eye; commonly used for portraits. 

Super Telephoto – Lenses with a narrow view than a telephoto; commonly used for sports and wild life photography. 

Flash/Strobe – A devise producing a burst of light to change the lighting in a photograph.

Hot Light – Continuous lights commonly used for video using warmer colored tungsten bulbs. 

LED – Continuous lights commonly used for video using cooler colored LED bulbs. 

Gobo – Short for “go between” uses for blocking light from hitting part of the photograph. 

Grid – A modifier used to narrow the beam of light from flashes or continuous light sources. 

Softbox – A rectangular modifier used to soften the light from flashes or continuous light sources. 

Octabox/Octabank – An octagonal modifier used to soften the light from flashes or continuous light sources. 

Umbrella – A light modifier used to soften the light from flashes or continuous light sources; usually lighter quicker to set up but less controllable than a softbox or octabox. 

Reflector – A light modifier which narrows the beam of light coming from flashes or continuous light sources. 

Hot Shoe – The slot on the top of most cameras which allows you to attach various accessories like flashes. 

Monopod – A one legged support for cameras usually used by sports photographers. 

Tripod – A three legged stand used for supporting cameras. Tripod legs and heads can be bought together or separately. A variety of different heads, which attach your tripod legs to the camera, can be used for varying purposes. 

Grey Card – A literal grey card used for determining white balance. 


For continued research and more technical terms check out the following resources. 

25 Common Photography Terms

A Glossary of Digital Photography Terms 

Nikon Lens Acronym 


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