Photography Definitions.

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

Are you sometimes feeling stuck because
you have no idea what a specific photography term means?

You are definitely not alone!

Regardless of whether you began, or continue, your photography passion with a film or digital camera there are specific photography definitions which certainly apply to both.

For example, understanding composition, shutter speed and aperture will build a good solid photography foundation using either photography format.

This page is designed to help you along the way rather than for great indepth photography definitions explanations. Often, even an introduction to a subject will then lead to being able to ask questions which then leads to further answers and questions.

Ultimately, enough information is then received to make a decision or to understand a concept.

"How do I find the photography definitions when I'm confused," you may be thinking?

To begin with, they are listed alphabetically but how does that help you if you don't know what to look for?

The camera manual can be a resource and if I can get creative enough I'll include suggestions to help identify the real thing.

The other challenge is when you don't know what you don't know. Huh? What if you're calling "it" something different and you're not sure of the photography definitions?

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.

Common photography definitions to help you along the way.


Aperture is also referred to as f-stop and it relates to the amount of light hitting your sensor, or film. Aperture partners with shutter speed to create the correct exposure.You may have heard the phrase "aperture and depth of field" or "shallow depth of field." Aperture and depth of field is represented by numbers such as f/3.5, f/8.0, f/16 for example. What exactly does this mean? Because aperture relates to the amount of light this can also affect your depth of field. See examples below. Depth of field partners with aperture to create moods such as how much of your photo is in focus. The smaller the aperture the larger the number which creates greater depth of field, meaning more of your picture is in focus from front to back. In this situation f/16 would be more suited. Have you seen photos with a blurry background? This can be created with a larger aperture, such as f/2.8, f/3.5, which, although the number is smaller, is letting in more light. On the page What Does SLR Stand For is an explanation about what's happening with a "fast lens," relative to aperture, which you may find helpful. To see examples please visit the fast lens page.

Backlighting. The term backlighting is common in the world of photography definitions. Simply put, backlighting occurs when the light is coming from behind your subject. What can the affect be? Seeing shadows on the face of your subject is one way. You may realize that your subject appears as a silhouette if you do not adjust the exposure for the contrast of light. In that case you need to decide the mood and what's important to you. In this situation backlighting 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,"lighten up" the subject.

This example is a common scenerio in a high contrast outdoor scene with backlighting. As I'm sure you can see there is a lot of bright light behind the subject caused by the direct light from the setting sun. Not only is the backlight coming from the sun but also reflected from the water. About the mood. Exposing for the subject, the person, will cause the background to become overexposed unless you resort to a flash or reflecting light from a white surface to the subject.


It seems as though Bokeh is not a one to be found amongst the most common of photography definitions or beginning photography tips. It, 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 creat 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 keeping your shutter button depressed so you're taking photos continuously. In other words, how fast your camera can gather these images. 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 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, 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 at 14.6 megapixels and the best quality setting. In case you're wondering I rarely ever use burst shooting as I opt for anticipation to get the exact shot I desire.

Depth of Field.Two distinct examples of depth of field are the comparison of the intentionally blurred background and a crisp 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 sharp focus with the front and back intentionally blurred 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. Expanding somewhat on photography definitions an introduction to aperture can be found on the page index photography.

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.

Fixed Focal Length Lens.

Also known as a prime lens, in simple photography definitions, a fixed focal length lens contains 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 include depends on where I'm positioned in relation to the subject. Instead of having a lens with a zoom feature I will need to physically move farther away or closer to the subject whenever necessary. If this is a problem another option is to change to a more suitable lens if it's available.

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 addtional 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 noticable 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 termst this may seem a rather confusing concept and more indepth 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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