72 Basic Photography Terms

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72 Basic Photography Terms

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

Vintage black cameras

Photography Terms About Lenses

Focal Length

The distance from where the light converges in the lens to the sensor which determines how zoomed in or out the photos are. The shorter the focal length, the wider the photos.

Chromatic aberration

When the lens incorrectly refracts light causing a discolored glow around contrasting objects.

Telephoto lens

A lens with a focal length of 70mm or more that makes objects appear closer than they are

Closeup of a Canon 70-200mm telephoto lens
Photo by Buchen WANG on Unsplash
canon and sigma camera lenses
The lens on the left is a prime wide angle lens, the lens on the right is a zoom wide angle lens. Photo by Thijs van der Weide from Pexels

Prime lens

A lens with a fixed focal length.

Zoom lens

A lens with the ability to change focal lengths

Wide angle

A popular lens in landscape photography that has focal length 0f 35mm or less and captures a wider scene than other focal lengths

Neutral density filters

A filter attached to the lens that operates like sunglasses to reduce the amount of light that reaches the sensor.


Where the corner edges are darker than the center of the image caused by the lens. Editing tools allow you to add or remove vignetting in post processing.


When the lens causes straight lines to appear slightly curved.

Basic Camera Terminology

Burst Mode

A setting on the camera used in sports and wildlife photography that takes continuous shots while holding the shutter release button

Exposure Compensation

A setting on the camera that allows a photographer to override the automatic exposure settings. In aperture priority mode, it will adjust the shutter speed and in shutter priority it will adjust the aperture.

Full Frame Sensor

The standard sensor size of 35mm. Full frame cameras perform better in low-light situations, produce higher quality photos, and have more compatible lenses.

Crop sensor

A sensor size smaller than 35mm. Crop sensor cameras are lighter, cheaper, and give the appearance of a tighter crop because of the crop factor.

Crop Factor

Crop sensors record less of a scene and give the appearance of a more zoomed in shot. For example, a 24mm lens could behave more like 36mm lens on a crop sensor.

Diagram shows how crop factor impacts the size of an image

Aperture priority

A semi-manual setting on the camera that allows the photographer to control the aperture and the camera automatically chooses the shutter speed and ISO.

Shutter priority

A semi-manual setting on the camera that allows the photographer to control the shutter speed and the camera automatically chooses the aperture and ISO.


A set of one million pixels. The megapixel count on a camera represents the amount of detail a camera can capture; a 20 megapixel camera can capture 20 million pixels and captures more detail than an 7 megapixel camera. Unless you are creating prints larger than an 8×10, 7 megapixels is more than enough for standard print sizes and social media use.


The numerical value that represents the camera’s aperture setting.

Lens hood

A plastic attachment at the end of a lens that blocks unwanted light and adds contrast.

Black and white images of a camera lens with a lens hood attached.
Photo by slon_dot_pics from Pexels

Frames Per Second

The number of images a camera can capture per second in burst mode.


Digital Single-lens reflex cameras are digital cameras known for their interchangeable lenses.


How the camera evaluates light to determine the correct settings for proper exposure.

Large rectangle over a longhorn demonstrates evaluative metering in photography
Example of evaluative metering
large circle over a longhorn demonstrates center weighted metering in photography
Example of center weighted metering
small circle over a longhorn demonstrates spot metering in photography
Example of spot metering

Evaluative Metering or Matrix Metering

The default setting the evaluates an entire scene to determine the best exposure settings and is ideal for most situations.

Spot Meter

Evaluates the light at the focus point and ensures the subject is properly exposed. This setting may make the background dark or light which for creating less distracting backgrounds in bird and wildlife photography

Center-Weighted Metering

Ignores the outer edges of the frame and Evaluates the light in the center and is a good setting for portrait photography.

One-Shot AF

The camera only focuses once after hitting the shutter button, which is great for static subjects.

AF Servo Continuous

The camera refocuses every time you hit the shutter button, which is ideal if you or the subject are moving.

AI Focus

The default autofocus mode that switches back and forth between One-shot AF and AI Servo when the camera detects the subject has started or stopped moving.

Back Button Focus

A separate focusing button the separates the function from the shutter release button, which gives the photographer more control over where and when the camera focuses.

Photography Technique


The opening in the lens that allows light to reach the sensor. The f-stop number is a way to quantify the aperture setting; a wide aperture, which allows more light to pass through, is a small number.


A Japanese word to describe the out-of-focus parts of the image which is achievable with a smaller aperture.

Out of Focus Lights


The overall lightness or darkness of the image that is a culmination of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.


ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second and refers to the length of time the shutter is open.


The arrangement of elements in the image that can create an impactful image when done well. Popular composition techniques are the rule of thirds, leading lines, and negative space.

Photography Slang

Spray and pray

The practice of taking tons of pictures without a vision and hoping at least one will be good.


Photography slang that refers to a camera lens.

Nifty fifty

A nickname for the popular 50 mm lens.

Vintage Canon FD 50mm lens on a vintage camera body
Photo by: Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Blown Out

Parts of the image that are completely white and lost all detail from being overexposed.

Wide Open

Refers to using the widest aperture setting a lens offers.

Fast Lens

A lens with a wide aperture, usually f/1.8 or wider.


Reviewing images in the camera after taking them. The term comes from the “ohh” and “ahh” noises one typically makes when they see a good photo.

Canon camera LCD screen
Photo by Kaique Rocha on

File Formats

RAW files

RAW files are the raw, unaltered, uncompressed data of an image; it contains the most information about the image and records everything exactly as it was captured.

JPEG Files

Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) is a standard image file type that contains compressed and lossy data and reduces the file size while still maintaining quality.


Adobe’s digital negative raw file that was intended to standardize raw file formats that vary between camera manufacturers. However, it has not been universally adopted, does not work in all image processing programs, and some metadata are lost after conversion.


Information that describes the data on the photo which includes the EXIF data that is automatically captured in the camera as well as manually added data such as keyword tags and image captions.

Metadata module in Lightroom


High quality, uncompressed files used in photo editing software.


Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) is an image’s metadata that includes specs such as camera model, camera settings, image size, etc.

Exposure and Lighting

White Balance

The neutral balance of color temperature where colors are closest to how they looked in real life.

Color temperature

Shades of orange, yellow, white, and blue that create warmth or coolness in an image.

Webb Overlook on the Blueridge Parkway
Cooler color temperature
Baby deer after drinking milk
Cooler color temperature

Exposure triangle

A term used to describe the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and how they work together to create exposure.

Ambient light

Lighting in the scene the photographer doesn’t control such as sunlight.

Golden Hour

The hour after sunrise or before sunset that gives of a soft, warm glow.

Bracket Exposure

A setting on the camera that takes 3 pictures at different exposures that can be blended in post processing to create a HDR image.

Fill light

A supplementary light source opposite the main light to bring out details and fill in the shadows created by the main light light source. Fill lights can be another light or light bouncing back from a reflector or a wall.

Photography studio Using two lights and a white backdrop
Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash


A manual setting that allows for extremely long exposures that exceed 30 seconds by keeping the shutter open for as long as the photographer holds the shutter release button. Use a remote shutter release that locks the shutter button in place and eliminates the risk of camera shake from touching the camera.

soft light

Diffused light that creates a gradual transition from light to dark

Hard light

Bright light that creates an abrupt transition from light to dark.


A graph representing the colors, lights, shadows and mid-tones and is a useful tool in determining exposure.

Histogram showing exposure and color profile of an image

General Photography Terms

Depth Of Field

The distance between the closest and furthest objects that are in focus. A large depth of field is an image with a narrow aperture and more of the image is in focus; a shallow depth of field is one with more background blur.

Image Noise

Discolored pixels from using a high ISO that gives an image a grainy look.


Sharp elements in the photo.


A difference in key elements of the photo. This can be the difference between lights and darks, colors, and texture.

Display of Three Bonsai Trees
Color Contrast
Sharp needles show patterns and textures of a San Pedro Cactus
Texture Contrast

Image stabilization (IS)

A feature in some lenses that reduces slight camera movement and helps create sharper images.

Camera Shake

Blur in an image caused by the slight movement while the shutter is open, often when handholding the camera.


A single unit of information in a picture.

Dust spot

All camera lenses inevitably get dust on the lens, a dust spot is when the dust is visible in the finished image.

Red arrow pointing to a dust spot on an image of a longhorn

Post Processing and Printing


Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is a Photoshop and Lightroom plugin that allows photographers to make nondestructive edits.


An industry standard a color profile based on the red, green, blue color model that portrays the most accurate perception of color between different technologies like phone screen, computer monitors, and printers.

Adobe RGB

Adobe’s color profile that represents a wider range of colors than sRGB, but has more inconsistency between monitors.


A style of photography that blends multiple images to create one powerful image.


Dots per inch or Pixels per inch are a measurement of resolution indicating the number of dots or pixels that can fit in one inch; for higher resolutions, use a higher DPI or PPI.

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a Business Analyst by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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