Photography Definitions

Photography definitions and digital photography terms can be downright confusing at the best of times!

Do you get frustrated when you have no idea what a specific photography term means?

You are definitely not alone!

"How do I find the photography definitions when I'm confused?" 

The camera manual can be a resource, or perhaps that's what lead you to this page.

Photography definitions are listed alphabetically to help make it easier for you to locate what you're looking for.

Please feel free to submit your comments if I can make it easier for you to find what you're looking for, using the contact me form.

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Photography Definitions

camera mode dial for apertureAperture symbol
Aperture symbolAperture symbol

Aperture, also referred to as f-stop, relates to the amount of light hitting your digital sensor, or film.

The examples, above, show a camera being used in aperture priority mode. A for aperture, Av meaning aperture value, or same thing.

What does this do for you?

Aperture helps you do fun things such as intentionally blur a background or create a crisp clear focus throughout, like you see with postcards.

In aperture priority, or manual (M) mode, you can adjust the settings to increase or decrease the f-stop, or the amount of light, coming in through your lens.

This means you can dial in, or adjust your camera, to f/5.6 for example, and you'll be letting in more light than f/16.

Changing the numbers affects the lens diaphragm opening, such as the example below.

You may have heard the phrase "depth of field." 

Aperture settings are used to create different affects of depth of field, photography definition (down the page).

It can also help you in low light situations as you have the advantage of being able to open up the lens, thereby using a faster shutter speed (time it takes to take the photo).

When you "stop down" the larger number, f/16 for example, helps create a greater depth of field, meaning more of your picture is in focus from front to back.

When you "open up" you're using apertures such as F/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and this is used to help blur the background. Your lens(es) may not necessarily open up to f/2.8, for example, it may only be able to open up to f/3.5 or f/4.

Aperture also works in partnership with shutter speed for creating the exposure in your images.

For more about aperture please visit Camera Aperture Settings.

To discover how much light your lens can let in, and for more examples please see the Fast SLR Camera Lenses.


Simply put, backlighting occurs when the light is coming from behind your subject, and you'll most likely be looking towards the light.

In other words, there will be the light coming from the background, so to speak, and then there will be your subject, and then you, just like in the image below.   

You may realize that your subject appears as a silhouette if you do not adjust the exposure for the contrast of light. In this situation back lighting is being used to intentionally create the silhouette.

To show details in the subject the exposure would need to be adjusted accordingly, in other words, you need to "lighten up" the subject.

You could accomplish this by using your flash or experimenting with different lighting, even a flashlight. Making adjustments to your camera settings would be another way.


This, too, is used to describe intentional out of focus and blurred sections in a photograph. Users of photography digital software such as Photoshop or Lightroom may choose this medium to digitally create Bokeh through post processing. However, as a photographer you may choose to create this affect in camera with creative use of aperture and depth of field.

Burst Shooting.

Burst shooting, in simple photography definitions, is when you hold down the shutter release button and continue taking photos, one after the other, as fast as your camera can take them.

The memory card works in such a way that it writes information from a buffer to the memory, or media, card.

When you're shooting on the burst setting your camera will continually capture images until you release the shutter button or the camera buffer memory becomes full, whichever comes first.

The size of the buffer memory will affect how many files, or pictures, it can collect and store before it needs to pass them on, or write, to the media card.

For example, my Pentax camera manual states I can take approximately 21 frames per second with a buffer capacity of approximately 115 pictures. During this time the focus remains locked.

However, for my Pentax it also states the images will be saved with a JPEG Quality set to 1.6 megapixels regardless of my saved format setting. In comparison, 99.9% of the time I shoot in the best quality setting my camera is capable of, and rarely use burst. 

There is a certain amount of discussion about the pros and cons of using burst. Some will debate it's the best way to catch the action while others believe you may miss what you want to capture when the exact moment happens in between shots.

Another challenge is the sheer volume of photos you can end up with, shooting in burst. Then, either you have the task of choosing which to keep and which to delete or you end up taking up even more space on your storage device if you keep them all.

race horse at the finish post burst shootingBurst shooting
race horse past the finish postBurst shooting

Burst shooting has it's advantages and disadvantages.

Sometimes you get just the shot you hoped for.

Whereas other times it doesn't work out based on the timing of everything coming together at just the right time, or not.

Depth of Field.

Two distinct examples of depth of field are the comparison of the intentionally blurred background and a clearly detailed, in focus, image.

When you have your subject in focus there will be a certain distance both behind the subject and in front of it which will be reasonably sharp.

A photo with a small area of intentional focus would be considered a shallow depth of field.

In landscapes, for example, the photo is generally sharp throughout most of the scene and this would be considered a greater depth of field.

Once you decide on the mood you wish to create you may find yourself really having fun experimenting with different examples of depth of field. One way to control depth of field is with the use of the aperture. 

dandelion showing shallow depth of fieldShallow depth of field
waterfall showing greater depth of fieldGreater depth of field

In these examples a shallow depth of field is demonstrated by the dandelion and the blurred background.

In comparison, the right photo depicts greater depth of field due to more of the scene in focus.

Aperture and depth of field.

Fixed Focal Length Lens.

Also known as a prime lens. In simple photography definitions, a fixed focal length lens features no zoom range.

For example, I have a 105mm lens which means the focal length will always be 105mm.

How much or how little of the scene I can include depends on where I'm positioned in relation to the subject.

Because there is no zoom feature I will need to physically move farther away or closer to the subject, whenever necessary, or re-position the subject.

If this is a challenge, another option is to change to a more suitable lens for the subject, if it's available.

prime lens, 105 mm, fixed focal length camera lensPrime lens, 105 mm, fixed focal length
Zoom lens 70-200 mmZoom lens 70-200 mm

Focal Length.

Focal length, simply put, relates to how much of your scene or subject fits into the picture area.

This relates to the "mm" millimeter or zoom range of your lens. For example, if you have a SLR lens and it's "a zoom" this zoom range allows for taking pictures at different focal lengths. In addition, focal length will affect the size the subject appears, making it either smaller or larger. Considering tips for taking digital photography, or film, here's an example. Let's pretend you have a lens which allows you to zoom from 50mm to 400mm,a bit extreme but an example nevertheless. So, you're all ready, your subject is chosen and you take the picture with the lens at 50mm. Without changing your position the focal length is adjusted to 100mm and another photo is taken. In simply put photography definitions you are using the zoom feature. At 100mm the subject will now fit differently in the picture area and will appear twice as wide and twice as high as compared to 50mm. Continuing on, taking the scene with a 400mm focal length will now result in it being four times as wide and four times as high as compared to the 50mm photo. Not only does focal length affect the range of the lens it also affects the scene in the picture area, as explained. The exception, although still relating to focal length, is a fixed focal length lens.

ISO. First of all, in photography definitions just what does ISO stand for? ISO is named after the "International Standard Organization." Unless it's important to you to remember this the term ISO works just fine. What is ISO relative to? It is the indication of sensitivity to light, either film sensitivity or digital sensor sensitivity. If you were a film user at one time do you recall buying film referred to as ASA? For example, you might purchase ASA 100, ASA 200 or perhaps ASA 400. Now, instead of ASA it's ISO. The benefit with digital is in the camera's ability to allow you to change the ISO at will, depending on the circumstances. Why change the ISO? Depending on the light conditions this is a useful feature. Let's pretend you're shooting outside in bright daylight. In this situation ISO 100 will likely be just fine because there's lots of available light. What if you return to the same location at dusk or perhaps you're now shooting inside with low light? It could be a problem to get the shutter speed as fast as you need for the subject matter, especially if it's moving. If you change the ISO to 800 or even higher, as an example, this will help you obtain a faster shutter speed than the camera setting of ISO 100. For a further introduction, including what to be cautious of, two thirds down the page look for, what is ISO?

Macro Photography. Due to many lenses for digital SLR's including a macro feature there can be confusion about what a true macro is. True macro allows the photographer to present images in a different perspective by magnifying small subjects. A true macro lens will capture an image in what's referred to as a 1:1 ratio, meaning it's recorded at its actual size. This is explained in greater detail and with additional photography definitions relating to macro on the page, what is macro photography?

Overexposed and underexposed have been included together to help make the visual and the connection easier to remember. While it does make sense you may find you need to stop and think it through from time to time.

Overexposed is when the subject, or scene, has a light "washed out" appearance.


Underexposed is when the subject, or scene, loses its detail in shadows or in being too dark.

Rule of Thirds. The rule of thirds may also be referred to as photography rules of composition. Rule of thirds is suggesting there are guidelines to follow which enhance the recorded end result based on how you choose and place your subject in the frame. These suggestions and guidelines simply open the mind to paying attention to the scene, the subject and putting some thought into the desired end result regarding good composition. How often have you seen, or perhaps taken, photos where the subject is smack dab in the middle? Even a simple adjustment here and there will make a noticeable difference. To view examples and gain a basic understanding of these above mentioned photography definitions please visit this page on, composition and the subject.

Shutter Speed.

Shutter speed relates to the duration of time light hits the digital sensor or film. In other words, and simply put, how long it takes the camera to record the image. So, does it seem like your camera shutter is going "click" or "cl i i i i i ick?" It partners with aperture to create the correct exposure. Shutter speed is generally in numerical fractions of time even though your camera may not display it this way. For example, numbers such as 30, 90, 125, 250, 500, 1000 are actually fractions of time according to film and digital photography terms. Therefore, if you take a picture and see the number 125 it actually means you took the photo in 1/125 of a second. In comparison, how do you know if it's half a second, a one second, or thirtyy second exposure? The number will be accompanied by one set of quotation marks or the symbol for inches in measurements. Let's pretend the duration of time the light hits the sensor or film is three seconds. Thus 3". Why is it valuable to know about shutter speed? Shutter speed creates options for lighting control and also helps create mood with moving subjects. For helpful tips please visit the page for the introduction to shutter speed.

Creative use of shutter speed to blur action in this waterfall example or "freeze" action capturing the hockey puck in mid air.

SLR. SLR is a term which can be applied to both digital and film cameras. DSLR is another term you will very likely come across and indicates a digital SLR. Simply put, the SLR camera allows for three basic options: 1) A wide range of different lenses may be used with the camera body. 2) The photographer usually has the option of switching to manual mode, thereby passing by the automatic mode. 3) The scene is viewed directly through the lens and the use of the viewfinder is implemented to accomplish this. In film or digital photography terms this may seem a rather confusing concept and more in-depth information may be found on the page "what does SLR stand for?"

Underexposed. Please see example and photography definitions with overexposed, above.

White Balance. White balance has to do with color temperature although for this description I'll keep the photography definitions simple. If you have a digital camera it can automatically set the white balance for you. However, have you found yourself attempting to figure out how to take good pictures in places such as hockey arenas and gymnasiums? If you have a problem getting the white in a scene to appear white in your photos experiment with the white balance setting in your camera. If you're not sure where to find it check your manual, scroll through the menu options or check for a small button on your camera body. Look for photography definitions and options such as Tungsten, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Shade and which may be accompanied by a small descriptive image. Regardless of whether you use a Digital SLR or compact point-and-shoot you should be able to find optional settings. Just remember to change back to auto white balance or your preferred setting if you go from gymnasium on Tungsten to outdoor sunlight, for example.

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