Photography for Beginners Part 17: Glossary

Each post in this series builds on information discussed in previous posts. See the Photography for Beginners page on the menu for links to all the posts.

Part 16:  Learn From Your Photos


I thought it might be helpful to provide an easy to bookmark glossary page for the photography jargon I’ve been using in this series. I’ve also included some acronyms and terms that I haven’t used but that are common in photography blog posts and forums.

–  AE

Auto exposure. The camera’s built-in light meter determines one or more settings for a balanced exposure.

–  AEL

Auto exposure lock. A button that locks the metered exposure when pressed so that pressing the shutter button won’t make the camera take a new metered reading and change the exposure settings.

–  AF


–  AFL

Autofocus lock. A button that locks focus when pressed so that pressing the shutter button won’t make the lens refocus.

–  AF Point

Autofocus point. The points displayed in the frame which can be used to autofocus the lens. The center AF point is usually the most accurate.

–  Aperture

The hole in a lens that channels light to the camera’s sensor. The size of the hole is indicated using the f-stop scale, with low numbers being large apertures and high numbers being small apertures.

–  Aperture Priority Mode

A shooting mode where the user chooses the aperture and the camera automatically sets shutter speed and ISO.

–  Auto ISO

Lets the camera automatically choose the appropriate ISO setting. Some cameras allow the user to set parameters of minimum shutter speed and highest ISO that can be used with auto ISO to insure desired results.

–  AWB

Auto white balance.

–  BBF or Back Button Focus

When a button on the back of the camera is assigned to autofocus the lens so that using the shutter button doesn’t cause the lens to focus when pressed.

–  BIF

Birds in flight.

–  Blown Highlights

When bright portions of an image are so overexposed that no details can be seen and they can’t be recovered through post-processing.

–  Blue Hour

The time of day before sunrise and after sunset when dusk and twilight meet and the sky is a deep blue. Usually shorter than an hour, the actual length depends on season and latitude. The light is especially good for photographing urban skylines and some types of landscapes, especially if a body of water is included.

–  Bokeh

A descriptive word for a foreground or background that is out of focus, often on purpose. The word bokeh is usually used when a lot of detail is lost, rather than when objects are only slightly out of focus, and especially when the OOF portion is pleasing to the eye. Example:  “That lens creates really creamy bokeh.”

–   Bracketing

A camera feature that captures the main image based on current settings, but also creates additional images to either “side” of it with a single press of the shutter button. This most commonly refers to exposure bracketing, where the images to either side are darker and lighter. Some cameras allow the user to designate other things to be bracketed, such as white balance.

–  Bridge Camera

A camera that “bridges the gap” between compact point and shoots and interchangeable lens cameras. A bridge camera has most of the convenience of a regular point and shoot but is larger and heavier, and has a lot of advanced features. A bridge camera still falls into the point and shoot category.

–  Camera Shake

Movement of the camera while the shutter is open. Often undetectable by the user while shooting. Camera shake can make an image look slightly soft, out of focus, or in extreme cases cause motion blur. The remedy is to improve shooting technique, use a faster shutter speed, or use a tripod.

–  Chromatic Aberration

Colored (usually magenta or blue) fringes around objects in an image where dark meets light, such as tree branches against a sky. Most common with wide-angle and cheaper lenses. Superior lenses cause little to no aberration.

–  Clipping

Clipping is when highlight details are lost (see blown highlights), but also refers to losing details in dark or shadowed portions of an image.

–  Compression

Lens compression is a visual distortion produced by telephoto lenses. Compression makes distant objects look closer and larger than they really are. Even though compression is a distortion it’s usually beneficial, like when distant mountains in the background loom large in an image.

–  Crop Sensor

A camera sensor that is smaller than full frame. Most commonly refers to APS-C sensors (1.5x crop, except for Canon which are 1.6x) and micro 4/3 sensors (2x crop), and not the very small sensors on point and shoots.

–  Digital Zoom

Optical zoom is what the lens can do. Digital zoom fakes extending the optical zoom range by cropping the field of view to make the subject larger in the frame. This results in a lower resolution image which usually suffers from loss of detail.

–  DOF

Depth of field. The amount of distance in front of and behind where the lens was focused that appears to be acceptably in focus. Actual depth of field depends on aperture, focal length, and distance from subject.


Digital single-lens reflex camera. A camera that uses an internal mirror to bounce what the lens sees up to an optical viewfinder.


Expose to the right. An exposure technique that relies on the camera’s histogram. The photographer uses settings to lighten the exposure so the histogram spikes to the right, but not so far that highlights are blown. ETTR is usually used to make sure as much detail as possible is captured in both light and dark areas to aid with post-processing.


Electronic viewfinder. A viewfinder that uses a tiny electronic display to show a live view of exactly what the camera and lens sees.

–  Exposure Compensation

A feature usually assigned to a camera button or dial that allows the user to quickly lighten or darken the exposure without having to make specific adjustments to aperture, SS, or ISO.

–  Exposure Triangle

Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

–  Fast Lens

A lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 or larger. The large aperture lets in more light so a faster shutter speed can be used in low light conditions.

–  Full Frame (FF)

A camera sensor size that closely replicates the frame size of the previously popular 35mm film format.

–  Full Frame Equivalent

To make discussion and comparisons easy, focal lengths of lenses are often stated in their actual focal length and the focal length equivalent for a full frame camera. Example: A 12mm lens for an APS-C camera is equivalent to an 18mm FF lens.

–  Fixed Lens

A lens that can’t be removed from the camera body. All point and shoots have a fixed lens.

–  Focal Length (FL)

A measurement for lenses. FL indicates field of view (how much of a scene a lens can capture) and magnification (how small or large objects appear). Focal length is measured in millimeters. Small numbers are wide-angle lenses and large numbers are telephoto lenses. A 50mm FF lens is considered normal or standard, close to how human eyes see things.

–  Focus and Recompose

A technique that uses the center AF point to acquire focus on a subject with a half-press or back button, then the camera is moved slightly to reframe for the desired composition before fully pressing the shutter button to capture the image.

–  FOV

Field of view. How much of what you see can be captured by a lens. Wide-angle lenses have a wide FOV and capture a lot. Telephoto lenses have a narrow FOV and can only capture a small portion.

–  Glass

Slang term for camera lenses because the elements are made from ground glass. Example: “Good glass is more important than the camera body.”

–  Golden Hour

The time of day right after sunrise and right before sunset when sunlight has a soft, warm, golden cast. Not really an hour long. It’s usually shorter, but actual length of time depends on season and latitude. Golden hour light is superior for most types of photography.

–  Half-press

Pressing a shutter button halfway and holding it tells the camera to autofocus, or meter the exposure, or both, without actually taking the photo. Focus and/or exposure are locked until the shutter button is released or fully pressed to capture the image.

–  HDR or High Dynamic Range

In general, high dynamic range refers to a scene in which there is a large difference in the amount of light illuminating darker and brighter areas. Example: A shadowed driftwood log on a beach with a bright sunset behind it.

Cameras cannot capture the full dynamic range that human eyes do in a single exposure. Some details will be lost in either the bright or dark portions if the difference is too extreme. Larger sensors can capture more dynamic range than small sensors.

An HDR image, just using the initials, usually refers to an image that has been significantly post-processed in order to bring out or retain details in both the dark and bright areas. Using the beach example, processing would attempt to bring out the wood grain details in the poorly lit piece of driftwood while avoiding blowing out the cloud details in the bright sunset sky.

–  Hot Shoe

The metal square on top of cameras designed for attaching a flash unit. Other accessories can also be attached such as a wireless remote receiver or a microphone for video work.

–  ILC or Interchangeable Lens Camera

A camera body without a fixed lens. An open mount in front of the sensor allows the user to attach a lens of their choosing to the body. There are two common types of ILCs: DSLR and mirrorless.

–  ISO

Part of the exposure triangle. Allows the user to lighten an exposure when the chosen shutter speed and aperture don’t collect enough light for a balanced exposure.

–  IQ

Image quality.

–  IS or Image Stabilization

Technology in a lens or camera that helps counteract camera shake. IBIS is in body image stabilization. OIS is optical image stabilization in the lens. Some brands use other terms, such as VR for vibration reduction.


A compressed file format for images. When a camera is set to shoot in JPEG the sensor captures the image, the camera’s built-in processor tweaks the sensor data based on camera settings, and the resulting photo is then saved onto the storage card in compressed form as a JPEG file. Not all data captured by the sensor is retained in the compressed image file. JPEG files can be viewed on any device.

–  Kelvin

In photography the Kelvin scale represents the color “temperature” of light sources and is used to set white balance. Using a high Kelvin number makes the colors in a photo very warm and a low number makes the colors very cool.

–  Live View

Display in an EVF or back screen that shows the framing of the composition, focus, exposure, WB, etc. Changes made to settings will automatically update the live view display.

–  Long Lens

A powerful telephoto lens.

–  Manual Mode

Shooting mode where the user chooses all three exposure triangle settings. Though auto ISO can be used in manual mode so the user only has to set aperture and shutter speed.

–  Megapixel

Digital images are created by combining millions of teensy dots together. Each dot is a pixel. Mega means million. So a camera with a 12 megapixel sensor creates images by combining 12 million pixels together in an organized array.

–  Minimum Focus Distance (MFD)

The closest something can be to a lens and still be in focus. Any closer and the lens will not be able to focus on it. MFD is different for each lens, and for zoom lenses depends on the focal length being used. Sometimes measured from the sensor and sometimes from the front of the lens.

–  Mirrorless Camera

A camera that doesn’t have a mirror like a DSLR and instead uses the sensor to send what the camera sees to an EVF or back screen. Point and shoot cameras are technically mirrorless, but this category usually only refers to cameras with larger sensors, especially if they don’t have a fixed lens.

–  Metadata

The data attached to an image file that shows details of the camera settings used to capture the image. (Often called the EXIF.)

–  Motion Blur

When movement is captured in an image as a blur because the shutter speed was too slow to freeze the motion. Usually unwanted, but sometimes captured intentionally for artistic reasons.

–  Noise

The tiny flecks that show up in digital images, most noticeably in dark areas. Increased noise results in visually distracting grain and loss of detail. Mostly associated with using higher ISO settings or making a large exposure adjustment with image editing software. Noise can also be a byproduct of an overheated sensor when making ultra long exposures of several minutes.

–  OOF

Out of focus.

–  Optical Viewfinder

A camera viewfinder made from glass that allows the user to focus the lens and frame the composition. An optical viewfinder in a DSLR “sees through the lens” for precise framing of a composition. An optical viewfinder in a non-DSLR camera is inserted in hole through the camera body and is offset a small amount from the lens.

–  PASM Dial

Dial present on a majority of cameras that allows the user to select which shooting mode to use. P = Program Mode. A = Aperture Priority Mode. S = Shutter Priority Mode. M = Manual Mode. Canon cameras use Av instead of A and Tv (time value) instead of S. Most cameras with a PASM dial also include other modes on the dial, such as Auto Mode or Panorama.

–  P&S or Point and Shoot Camera

A fully automated camera with a fixed lens and small sensor, often compact in design, that allows a user with no knowledge of photography to simply point the camera and shoot a picture. All but the most basic point and shoots include at least a few advanced features so a beginner can grow into taking more control of the picture taking process.

–  PP or Post-Processing

Editing an image on a computer to alter how it looks. PP can be minimal, such as cropping or adding a bit of contrast, or it can be extensive, such as focus stacking or removing a telephone pole that ruins a composition.

–  Pixel Peeping

Zooming in on an image to 100% or more to closely look at details or search for flaws. Some photographers take pride in their pixel peeping abilities. Some use “pixel peeper” as an insult that means pursuing technical perfection at the expense of creative or artistic qualities.

–  Prime Lens

A lens that has a fixed focal length. (Not a zoom.) Primes tend to be sharper than zooms and have faster options available.

–  RAW

When a camera is set to shoot in RAW the sensor captures the image and then all data from the sensor is saved on the storage card in a RAW file. Camera manufacturers create their own proprietary RAW formats. The files can only be viewed (or edited) with software designed to handle the format produced by the camera model used. RAW files aren’t processed in the camera like JPEGs, so they require post-processing and format conversion to create the final photo.

–  Reach

When a photographer says, “I need more reach” they mean they need a longer telephoto lens because the subject is too far away to fill the frame. Most often heard from frustrated wildlife photographers.

–  Rule of Thirds

A guideline for composition. Photos tend to be more visually interesting if the subject and/or horizon is a third of the way from the sides or top or bottom rather than in the middle. Most cameras can display a 9 square grid in the VF to help with framing using the Rule of Thirds.

–  Sharp

When the subject is fully in focus and fine details are visible.

–  Shutter Priority Mode

Shooting mode where the user sets the shutter speed and the camera automatically sets aperture and ISO.

–  SS or Shutter Speed

The measurement in time of how long a camera’s shutter is open to allow light to hit the sensor.

–  Soft

When details are slightly fuzzy instead of sharp.


Straight out of camera. The displayed image is exactly what was recorded by the camera and hasn’t been altered by any editing or post-processing.

–  Stacking

Blending two or more images in editing software to create a single final photo. Most commonly done with exposure bracketed images in order to display details in both the bright and dark portions. Also common with astrophotography. Focus stacking is similar to exposure stacking, but is done with images focused at different distances so that the final photo is sharp from front to back.

–  Stop Down

To stop down is to make the lens aperture smaller by using a higher f-stop number. Most often used in reference to stopping down from the largest aperture in order to get a sharper photo.

–  Subject Separation

Creating visual separation in a photo between a subject and surroundings in order to enhance the subject or minimize distractions. Can be accomplished through composition, spot metering, angle of shooting, physical distance, bokeh.

–  Tack Sharp

Tack sharp is the pinnacle of sharpness when focus is absolutely nailed and fine details are extremely crisp. Requires a high quality lens, and a high resolution sensor also helps.

–  Variable Aperture Zoom Lens

A zoom lens that has a variable max aperture that depends on the focal length being used. Example: An 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens can use f2.8 at 18mm, but f4 is the largest when shooting at 55mm.

–  Vignetting

Light fall-off. When the edges, especially the corners, of an image are darker than the center. Seen most often when using wide-angle lenses or large apertures. Stopping down can reduce or eliminate it. Filters and lens hoods can also cause vignetting.

–  Viewfinder (VF)

The part of a camera that a user puts their eye to in order to frame a composition or focus the lens. Many P&S cameras don’t have a viewfinder.

–  WB or White Balance

Refers to colors being correct in an image, indicated by white looking truly white. Manually selecting a WB preset or Kelvin temperature instead of using AWB is the most reliable way to get a correct WB.

–  Wide Open

“Shooting wide open” means using the largest aperture on a lens.

–  Zoom Lens

A lens that provides a range of focal lengths, allowing the user to “zoom in” rather than having to switch to a lens with a longer focal length. More convenient and flexible than prime lenses, but often not as sharp and only very expensive zooms don’t have a variable aperture.


Part 18:  Accessories


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