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Do You Know the Photography Lingo?

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Learning the basics of photography is a fascinating but challenging process. The specific terminology used by professional photographers also adds to the difficulty. Perhaps in some conversations, you couldn’t grasp the essence and felt rather uncomfortable. Now we’re going to break down the very basics that beginner photographers should learn right away. You can always learn even more photography phrases on Skylum’s blog.

There are a lot of such terms and it is impossible to memorize all of them at once. For beginners, it’s best to start with the basic concepts of photographers’ slang, and then move on to more complex definitions. This stage should not be skipped, because an understanding of common professional terminology is the first step to improving your skills. So let’s get to the essentials.

Ratio of Aspects

One of the basic concepts. If you have printed photos before, you might have noticed that the 8×10 format is usually cropped compared to the original picture. Such an aspect is directly related to the aspect ratio. In simple words, the term simply means the ratio of the height to the width of the photo. Keep in mind that photos in 8×10 format have the same ratio as 4×7 images (4×7 photos will be a bit wider). Now you can change the aspect ratio directly in the cameras if, of course, you know what format you will need in the future when editing.


Also, it is, one of the first terms you should understand. In simple terms, an aperture is the size of the opening in a lens. You can imagine that a lens is a window. The big windows and wide angles will let in a lot more light, and small ones correspondingly a lot less. Wide open apertures let a lot more light into the frame to produce a bright beautiful photo. Logically, a smaller aperture doesn’t let in as much light.

Aperture is quantified in f-stops; a small f-stop, such as f/1.8, is a wide aperture, and a large f-stop, such as f/22, is extremely tight. This is one of the main camera settings that determine the exposure of photographs (how much darker or lighter the image will be). It will also determine how much of the frame is in focus. A wide aperture produces a more blurry and out-of-focus background, while a narrow aperture will keep most of the picture sharp.

Depth of field

Indicates how much of the picture will be in focus. Cameras focus at a certain distance, but there is a range of distances in front of and behind that spot – this is what is called the depth of field. Portraits tend to have a softer, out-of-focus background with a shallow depth of field, while landscapes leave most of the picture in focus.

Burst mode on the camera

You can take photos one at a time, or you can activate a special burst mode. Then the camera takes photos as long as the relevant button is held down, or until the memory card is full and the photos cannot be further processed. The speed of this mode depends directly on the model of your camera and is measured in FPS (how many pictures were taken in one second). This gives you enormous variability in the selection of good shots.

Optical or digital

Quite important definitions to be aware of when buying a new camera. In digital, the effect is due to the software, not the hardware parts. Optical is considered much better than digital. Generally, these two terms are used to indicate zoom lenses and image stabilization.


It is a very popular effect that is quite common in modern photography. Bokeh is the name given to the kind of spheres that are created by defocusing the light in the frame. This produces an interesting effect in the background of the photo, but it can only be done with wide apertures. If you use bokeh correctly, you can greatly improve the quality and creativity of your photos.


This parameter determines how light or dark the picture will be. A picture is created by exposing the camera’s matrix, or film, to directional light. This is where the term “exposure” comes from. If the picture comes out dark, it means it is underexposed or does not have enough light. A photo that is too light is called overexposed. Exposure is determined by three important elements: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.


Determines how sensitive the camera will be to light. For example, if the ISO is at 100, the camera will not be very sensitive to light and will only be suitable for daytime shooting. ISO 800 means you will be able to take pictures at night in low light. Keep in mind that if you use a higher ISO, photo quality can suffer because there is graininess and less detail. To get the right exposure, you also need to consider shutter speed and aperture.

Shutter speed

The amount of time that the camera shutter remains open and lets light in. It is recorded in seconds or fractions of a second, such as 1/200 s or 1″. It makes sense that the more the shutter stays open, the lighter will get in. If the camera moves with the shutter open, the picture is blurrier. This is why professional tripods are required for long shutter speeds.

White balance

Human eyes are designed to adjust quickly to a particular light source. Cameras can’t do that, so some photos look too blue or yellow, depending on the circumstances. If you use a properly adjusted white balance, you can make an object that is white in real life look white in a photo. This option is automatically adjusted by the camera, but not always accurately. Modern cameras have special presets based on the type of lighting (for example, tungsten lamps or sunlight). Read more about white balance and other photography terminology on Skylum’s blog.


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