Essential Photography Terms That All Beginners Should Learn

Sometimes when you’re learning something new, the verbiage alone can be daunting – almost as if you’re learning a new language! Photography is the same way… in order to deepen your understanding of photography you must learn the language terms. This will make it easier when reading articles or even having a better idea of what you may be looking to learn. I’ll break down 19 of the more frequently used photography terms below (in alphabetical order).

19 Essential Photography Terms that All Beginners Should Learn:

  1. Ambient Lighting –  any available light; can be natural (sunlight) or artificial (lamp).
  2. Aperture – The opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera and defines the details of your image.
    1. You’ll see this written out as an “f/stop” many times; for example f/1.8 would be a wide open aperture and f/32 would be a small aperture that creates a lot of detail in an image.
  3. Bokeh – as defined by Nikon: “the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that you get when shooting a subject, using a fast lens, at the widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or wider”
Rachel Carter Images - Planted Flower Farm - Understanding Bokeh and Aperture Photography

4. Depth of Field –  the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears acceptably sharp.

5. DSLR – Digital Single Lens Reflex — light passes through and strikes a mirror, when you click the shutter the mirror flips up and exposes the image to the sensor, which then records it on a memory card.

  • Before we went digital these cameras were called SLR’s for Single Lens Reflex (the one I used in college was a Canon Rebel EOS Ti 35mm film camera… pictured below)

6. Exposure – how light or dark an image is.

7. Focal Length – basic description of the lens, represented in millimeters (mm)

8. Histogram – graph that shows the exposure values of an image. Read more about your camera’s histogram here:

9. ISO – sensitivity to light (or as I like to think of it, energy to the exposure)

  • the brighter your lighting is, the less energy you need to take the photo aka lower ISO number.

10. JPEG – the standard for compressing photos (can cause pixelization)

11. Metering – there is a light meter built into the camera to read exposure, and you can choose from a few different metering options.

12. Noise – also called grain. The higher your ISO number, the more likely you’ll see noise or grain in your image.

13. Post Processing – any alterations made to the image after it is taken

  • usually referred to as Photoshopping or Photoshopped. It’s actually in the dictionary! The root of the word is from Adobe’s software called “Photoshop”
  • Adobe Lightroom has a desktop and mobile software, and on this blog you’ll find mostly articles on editing with Lightroom.

13. Prime Lens – lens with a fixed focal length… you’ll hear “zoom with your feet” often.

15. RAW – uncompressed image; contains all of the data captured during the exposure which gives more room for adjustment during post processing.

16. Shutter Speed – the amount of time that the shutter is open (a faster shutter speed means less light is let in)

17. SOOC – acronym for “Straight Out Of The Camera” meaning no post-processing has been done to the image

18. White Balance – color correction/temperature of the image based on your lighting.

  • This can be altered in your camera settings or in post processing.
Temperature of Light - Rachel Carter Images

19. Zoom Lens – can change focal lengths without having to move

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