Photography can be a pretty mysterious world with a lot of weird slang that general public and amateurs, but also enthusiasts or even pros, find difficult to understand. Are you often confused by some of the things your photographer friends say? Like any hobby or pastime, there are common photography terms that we all come to learn, and then there is some of the more bizarre slang you can spend a lifetime behind the lens never understanding. Below we’ve compiled a collection of common photography slang and obscure camera acronyms to help lift the veil on their mystery.
This is by no means a complete list. In fact, if there’s something we’ve missed feel free to add your own in the comments below – just keep it clean, people…
Aperture/ f number
The aperture will determine is the diaphragm of your lens is open or almost closed and by how much. A wide aperture, allows a lot of light to hit the sensor, which enables a quick shutter speed. A small aperture will considerably slow down your shutter speed as less light will hit the sensor. It will also determine the depth of field. A wide aperture will yield a small depth of field (a small part of the image being in focus) and on the contrary, when it is small, you will get a large depth of field with everything in focus. The f number can seem pretty contradictory as when you have a wide aperture, the f number is small (f/1.4) and a small aperture will have a high f number (f/22). This is one of the most important thing to control and play with in your photography practice. Please see below the exposure triangle.
A loose term to describe an element that degrades picture quality. Anything from the blockiness that can occur when pictures are heavily compressed as JPEGs, to the distortion to pictures that occurs with heavy manipulation – even the effect you see with lens flare.
Anti-Aliasing filter/Optical Low-Pass Filter
It is a filter placed on the sensor that helps reducing distortion in fine patterns—you often see this in a suit or tie with a very tight pattern getting distorted, also called from the French word “moire”—where stripes don’t look like stripes anymore but start to swirl together. Many cameras are getting rid of it, especially the high megapixel ones like (Nikon D810, Canon 5DSR, Sony A7rII…) because it prevents some fine details to appear. A sensor without this filter yields sharper images.
A rare acronym that you’ll only see floating around bird photography forums. There’s a clue right there: BIF stands for Bird in Flight, and is usually brought up during lengthy technical discussions about autofocus point selection and focus modes.
Bright areas in a photo that are overexposed are said to be blown out. They won’t hold any detail and will be bleached white.
Pronounced ‘boh-kay’, this term is derived from the Japanese word for ‘blur’ and is used to describe the aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of a picture. The faster the lens, and the more aperture blades it has, the smoother the blur tends to be.
This is the fact to program the camera to take quickly 3 different pictures in a row, each with a different tuning. We usually talk about exposure bracketing that allows you to do HDR photography. It will take 3 or more pictures from under exposed to overexposed to ensure to have the most details as possible. But it can also be an aperture bracketing, it will change the f number and then change your speed and the depth of field. As a consequence it also slightly changes the exposure, unless the ISO changes also.
The act of looking at pictures on the back of the camera as soon as you’ve taken them, usually accompanied by lots of ‘ooh-ooh-oohing’, hence the name. Stand around chimping, and the chances are you’ll be missing some great photo opportunities kicking off right in front of you.
An acronym for Depth of Field, or the zone of perceived sharpness in a picture that extends out from the point of focus towards the camera, and beyond it, towards the horizon.
The name given to the ring-shaped bokeh created by the unique construction of a mirror lens.
Exposure/ Exposure Triangle
The exposure will basically determine if your picture is not too bright, not too dark according to the rendering we want and should be. The exposure can vary a lot between the “right one”, low-key/high key, and also depends on your artistic point of view. An explanation below will help you understand the correlation between the controls and the exposure.
Expose to the Right/ ETTR
Due to how it is the digital sensors inside our cameras function, they aren’t as good at capturing the shadows (remember these are the darker parts of the scene) in a shot. They are much better at capturing the highlights (the brighter parts). Because of this some photographers will purposefully overexpose the shot slightly so that the shadows are brighter. ETTR is another trick to get around the limitations of the camera not able to capture all of the light. It is called “expose to the right” because of how a slightly overexposed image looks on a histogram where you can see that there is a lot more data on the right hand side (the brighter portions of the photo) than on the left hand side (the darker portions).
A fast lens is one that has a wide maximum aperture, allowing you to use fast shutter speeds for any given situation. A slow lens has a small maximum aperture, meaning that shutter speeds will be comparatively slow in the same situation. The focal length of a lens needs to be taken into account when thinking about lens ‘speed’ – a 10mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/4.5 is slow, but a 500mm lens with the same f/4.5 maximum aperture is fast (confused by your lens markings – check out this dictionary explaining all the numbers and abbreviations on your lens).
A blip of flash to brighten up the shadows in a daylight picture is known as fill or fill-in flash. Set the flash to Slow Sync mode, and the camera will take care of this for you, automatically balancing the ambient light and flash
Flare is a (usually unwanted) effect of having bright light sources in the frame, or just out of the frame. When the light source is in the frame, bright/coloured artifacts can be seen in the image. When the light source is just out of the frame but hitting the front element of the lens, it can make the picture appear hazy and washed out. Shielding the front of the lens with a lens hood or your hand can prevent this.
AKA ‘purple fringing’, this is the ghostly purple glow that can sometimes be seen around the edges of high contrast areas in digital pictures – compacts are particularly prone to it.
As in ‘that’s a lovely piece of glass’. Glass is another term for lenses, generally used by photographers that understand that quality of a lens matters more than the quality of the camera attached to it.
Grip and Rip / Spray and Pray
Both of these terms refer to the act of setting the camera to its highest continuous drive mode and keeping the shutter button held down to try and capture a fleeting moment. The theory is that the more frames you fill, the more chance there is of at least one of them being acceptably composed and sharp.
A term used to describe the glow that’s created around the edges of objects when they’ve been over-sharpened in Photoshop or other similar photo editing software.
HDR/High Dynamic Range
When there is a really large difference between bright and dark (photographers say “highlights” for bright and “shadows” for dark) the scene is referred to having a high dynamic range. So it is the fact to have details in very dark zones and also details in bright zones instead of doing the exposure either for the dark or for the bright lights. Modern sensors are incredible at catching all the details at the same time just in one shot. You can also use a bracketing mode with 3+ pictures to ensure the most details in every light range.
Image Quality – you’ll often see this abbreviation used in online camera reviews.
In-Body Image Stabilization. I guess it is pretty much self explanatory. It is basically the sensor that is moving to compensate the camera shake as opposed to the lens itself being stabilized.
It has to do with the exposure once again. High key is usually a very bright image, where the background is completely white. The image is overexposed. It is a good technique for silhouettes. Low-key of of course the opposite. The background is completely black.
A photographer who takes 10 shots when they only need to take one. Machine gunners put their cameras in the fastest drive mode and invariably end up with memory cards full of duplicate images.
Magic Hour/Golden hour/Blue hour
A term tossed about by earnest landscape photographers that refers to the time after dawn and before dusk where the sun tends to be at its warmest and most interesting. Shooting landscapes in this golden light gives pictures soul, man… (for more on how to use natural light, check out our article about how to see the light like a pro).
Moiré patterns are commonly seen on any screens when a person is wearing a shirt or jacket of a particular weave or pattern, such as a houndstooth jacket.
A 50mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 of faster is known as a ‘nifty fifty’. Lenses in this range are fast, lightweight and frequently optically superb. But the best bit is the price. The f/1.8 and f/1.4 50mm lenses are often the best value bits of glass you can buy. Check our Mighty Fifties article.
Picture noise is the digital equivalent of film grain, although nowhere near as appealing. Pictures become speckled and gritty as you increase the ISO sensitivity on the camera (because you’re essentially ‘turning up the volume’ on the light that’s being captured). Examples in this article.
Out of Focus. An acronym often seen in online picture critiques as in “I like the way you’ve made the grass OOF”.
Someone who spends too much time looking at images files at 100% on their computer and assessing noise and resolution ‘at the pixel level’ rather than making pictures.
Using a process to transform photos from what was captured in a camera either to be closer to what our eyes saw, or to alter the image artistically. LightRoom, Photoshop, Capture One are the most known softwares to edit your pictures, adjusting colors, tones, exposure or crop it, among many more possibilities.
A lens with a fixed focal length (such as 20mm, 50mm, 80mm). Zoom lenses cover a range of focal lengths (such as 80-200mm). For more on primes, check out why prime lenses are better than zoom lenses.
Raw Format/Raw Files
A “raw” is a file with all the characteristics and data that the lens transmitted to the sensor. It has all of the data the sensor captured without applying picture modes or the white balance for instance. It is literally raw. You need a software to be able to process the picture. You cannot print from a raw file, the file has to be edited. When you have a raw file you can change the white balance afterwards, tune the exposure a lot more than a Jpeg file that is already pre-edited and compressed to be used quickly, on the internet or for prints.
An American term for a photographer who eats, drinks and sleeps photography. Shutterbugs carry a camera with them at all times and shoot absolutely everything without mercy.
A stop is a measure of exposure, usually referred to as ‘EV’ (Exposure Value) in cameras. The aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings on a camera can all be measured in stops, although the actual figures used are different across all three. Each stop represents a doubling or halving of exposure.
The abbreviated form of ‘Photographer’ has become the Marmite of photography slang. You either love it or loathe it. It makes us feel slightly nauseous.
The name that wedding photographers give to a wedding guest who comes armed with a big DSLR, big lenses and expensive flash gun. Often used derogatorily, as in “A right Uncle Bob was always getting in my way.”
Acronym for Ultra Wide Angle lens.
When a lens is set at its smallest f-number, such as f/1.8 or f/4, it’s being used ‘wide open’. At this point, the aperture (the hole in the lens) is at its maximum, letting in as much light as possible. Wide apertures mean shorter shutter speeds are required to take a picture, so lenses are often used wide open to take pictures of sport and action.
The White Balance will determine the color temperature of your picture. We say “cold” when it tends to blue colors and “warm” when it goes toward yellow/orange colors. Hence “color temperature. It is also assessed thanks to the Kelvin scale that will determine the color tone of the light.
Not a dirty old man with a long lens, but rather what happens if you point a superzoom lens up or down, and the zoom position slowly shifts.
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