Busting Photography Jargon: Key Terms

Hello! I'm Charlotte, and I'm the founder of Blog and Beyond. I'm a slightly sarcastic 22-year-old grandma from Glasgow who loves The Sims, Hugh Laurie and programmes about airports. I've been blogging at Colours and Carousels for nearly eight years and work freelance in digital marketing.
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Photography terminology can be intimidating, so it's good to get to grips with some of the common words and phrases used to explain techniques and technology. This isn't an extensive list, more of a quick summary of some of the most used terms in photography. Hopefully, this will help equip you with a better understanding of "photography speak" and act as a quick translation guide for the future.


Automatic shooting: When using the automatic mode, your camera picks and chooses all of the settings such as the aperture, exposure and shutter speed in order to create the best image. Some cameras also have specific automatic modes for things like landscapes, sports and portrait photography which will adapt the settings to best suit the situation.

Semi-manual shooting: This allows more control over the main settings, enabling manual control of either the aperture or the shutter speed. In aperture priority mode, the user can manually change the F stop, and the camera will calculate the required shutter speed - then vice versa in shutter priority.

Manual shooting: Manual shooting provides the user with full control over all of the settings, with the aperture, shutter speed and exposure all being determined by the user. This setting gives you the most control over your photos but can take time and effort to get used to.

Aperture: Sometimes referred to as the F stop, the aperture is the opening in the lens which allows light into the camera. The larger the opening, the more light that gets in. Confusingly, larger apertures are denoted by smaller numbers, so, for example, f1.4 is a larger aperture than f16. Aperture helps to determine the depth of field of an image, with a larger aperture (smaller number!) creating a shallow depth of field and giving that blurry background that bloggers love.

Depth of field: This refers to how much of your photo is in focus. A shallow depth of field means less of the photo is in focus (aka you'll have a blurry background) with a larger depth of field meaning more of your subject will be in focus. Shallow depth of field can be great for product shots where you want the product to be the main focal point of the image, whereas the larger depth of field comes in handy for landscapes where you want to have a large area in focus. 

Shutter Speed: The shutter speed is the amount of time your shutter is open when you take a photo. Basically, it's the length of time that your camera "sees" the scene, and is measured in seconds. A slow shutter speed lets the camera take in more light, which is good in low light settings, however, it leaves your images susceptible to blur from the slightest bit of movement so really needs a tripod to perfect. Fast shutter speeds are great for capturing objects that move quickly but can limit the amount of light captured by the camera.

ISO: ISO refers to your camera's level of sensitivity to light. A higher ISO number may allow your camera to capture more details in low light settings, however, it can add that "grainy" noise effect to your images. A higher ISO means that your camera needs less time to capture an image, so it can help avoid blurry images, but it's all about finding the balance! Check out this article which explains it in a bit more detail.

White Balance: The white balance helps to correct the tone and temperature of the photo, offsetting the impact of things like warm-toned lights or cool, blue daylight in the winter. The white balance is measured in Kelvins, which is a measurement of colour temperature, with warmer colours such as yellows being represented by lower numbers and higher numbers relating to cooler tones like blue. I've linked a handy post about using white balance at the end of this newsletter, so keep an eye out for that if you want to learn more.

Exposure: Exposure is the total amount of light that reaches your camera's sensor, which is determined by a combination of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. In manual shooting, you can balance these elements to create the best exposure for you. Over-exposed images can be brighter but may look burnt out and lose detail, whereas under-exposed images will be darker. In semi-manual or automatic shooting, the camera balances the three elements to determine the best exposure for the image.

Macro: This is a term used for super duper close up photography that captures an insane level of detail. It's hard to achieve a high standard of macro photography with the basic camera kit, but you can buy special lenses or adapters to assist in capturing these tiny details if that's your sort of thing!

Resolution: The resolution is associated with the size of image your camera's sensor can capture and is usually expressed in megapixels. The higher the megapixels, the bigger the size of the image that can be printed without compromising on quality.

Aspect Ratio: In simple terms, this is the ratio of the height and width of your image. Basically, it tells you if the image is portrait, landscape or square. Aspect ratio can be changed in editing, but many cameras (and phones!) offer in-shooting options for switching the ratio, which can be useful for getting an idea of how your composition will look. 

RAW: RAW is a file format that you can use to have more control over your image. These files need specialist software to process and produce much larger files, but as the files carry considerably more information than the standard JPEG format you can manipulate the image more - making it easier to alter the brightness, white balance and more.

Bokeh: This is just the fancy term for that blurry background that us bloggers go nuts for. This refers to the blurry, out-of-focus part of the background and is commonly used to describe images that have blurred light spots in the background, such as fairy lights.

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