- Matrix metering takes readings from throughout the scene, evaluates the areas that are brightest and darkest, reduces the contrast, and produces an image that should be well-exposed throughout. Matrix metering is useful in situations in which there are large areas of brightness and darkness, like what is typically found in landscape photography.
- Center-weighted metering evaluates the light information in a large area of the middle of the image. This makes it ideal for close-up portraits and situations in which there is strong backlighting.
- Spot metering takes a meter reading from a very small area of the frame. By default this is usually based on information gathered from the centermost autofocus point, though many cameras allow you to select which point is used for spot metering purposes. This is a good metering mode to use when there is a lot of light contrast or color contrast in the scene.
Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash
If you've only casually taken photos up to this point, the chances are that you probably aren't all that familiar with many essential photography terms.
And while learning the technicalities of photography might seem a little overwhelming at first, studying photography jargon and making time to put your learning into practice will help you improve as a photographer more than you can imagine.
To help you along in your journey to learn more about photography, I've put this list of photography terms together for your quick reference. Some of these terms are very basic; others are much more complex. In that regard, while this is by no means a comprehensive list of every photography term there it, it should still be a resource that you can utilize over and over again as your experience level and capabilities expand.
Let's get to it!
General Photography Terms
Depth of Field
The term depth of field refers to how much of an image is in sharp focus. That is, the camera will focus on a particular point, but the depth of field determines how much of the scene in front of and behind that point is in focus.
For example, the portrait above has a very shallow depth of field because the background is out-of-focus while the kids are sharply in focus.
Conversely, the landscape above has a very large depth of field - virtually the entire scene is in sharp focus.
Depth of field is influenced by a number of factors - the aperture, the distance from the camera to the subject, the distance from the subject to the background, and the focal length of the lens. You can learn more about depth of field in this detailed tutorial.
Exposure and the Exposure Triangle
When you take a photo, exposure refers to how light or dark that image is.
If the image is too dark, it's said to be "underexposed." Conversely, if the image is too bright, it's said to be "overexposed."
The exposure of a photo is controlled by three primary camera settings - aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, each of which is discussed on its own below.
Those three camera settings form what's known as the exposure triangle, which is a handy tool for understanding how exposure works and how each of the three exposure controls determines the artistic look of the image.
Aspect ratio refers to the ratio of the height to width of an image. For example, an 8x10 image is 8 inches wide by 10 inches tall.
Aspect ratio doesn't just refer to printed images, though. You can set the aspect ratio in your camera, too. This is handy if you want to print a photo a specific size, or you can simply crop the image in post-processing to be the exact size you wish to print.
Backlighting, Frontlighting, and Sidelighting
These terms refer to the direction from which light enters the scene relative to the subject.
Therefore, backlighting occurs when the light source is behind the subject, frontlighting occurs when the light source illuminates the subject from the front, and sidelighting occurs when the light source enters the scene from the left or right side, as shown above.
File format refers to how the images you take will be recorded.
Primarily, you can choose between .JPG format or RAW format on most DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
JPGs are compressed, which means they have a smaller file size and are easily shared via social media, email, and so forth.
The problem is that due to the compression of the image file, some of the image data is lost, which makes editing JPG images more difficult.
RAW files, on the other hand, are not compressed and therefore retain all the data collected by the imaging sensor.
While this is great for editing photos, RAW files are both very large and not easily shared because they are often a proprietary format specific to the camera manufacturer.
If you're taking quick snaps to share on social media, JPGs are fine. But if you want to edit your photos and have prints made, RAW files are the way to go.
Our eyes naturally and automatically adjust to different types of light. Your camera does not, which is why you need to learn how to set the white balance.
That means that sometimes you get images that have a blue cast or yellow cast to them. Dialing in the correct white balance helps ensure that the images you take have the correct colors, with whites that actually appear white.
Your camera has an auto white balance (AWB) setting, and it works fine in many situations.
However, using a preset for the type of light you're photographing under - like incandescent lighting indoors or a cloudy day outdoors - can help you get better results.
You can also manually set the white balance using a gray card, a process that's described in the video above by Steel Training.
Image Credit: DavidWiberg via iStock
Dynamic range refers to the difference between the lightest and darkest areas of a photograph. That is, the range of colors that exists between the whitest whites and the blackest blacks in the shot.
If this range of light values is too wide, your camera might struggle to capture the detail in the extreme areas, resulting in "blown out" highlights that appear as bright blobs (as shown above) or shadows that are nothing but black masses.
As shown in the graph above, your camera's histogram is a graphical representation of the shadows, midtones, and highlights in the images you take. It is the most reliable means by which you can determine the quality of the exposure - far more so than looking at the camera's LCD.
Ideally, you want the histogram to look like a traditional bell-shaped curve, with most of the pixels in the image representing midtones with fewer highlights and shadows on the right and left of the graph, respectively.
For more details about histograms and how to use them to take better images, consult this detailed guide.
The aperture is the size of the hole in the lens through which light passes on through to the camera's sensor.
A good way to think of this is like the size of your pupil - the larger the pupil, the more light that enters your eye, and the smaller the pupil, the less light that enters your eye. The same principle applies to a lens's aperture.
Aperture is one of three exposure controls that determine how light or dark an image is. It is also one of the factors that influences the depth of field in an image, as noted earlier.
Aperture is measured in f-stops like f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8, and so on. The smaller the aperture number (i.e., f/2.8), the larger the aperture size, as shown in the chart above.
So, an f-stop of f/2.8 is a very large aperture while an f-stop of f/22 is a very small aperture.
Focal length is a term that is often used to refer to the size of a lens. For example, a 24mm lens - which is quite short - has a small focal length. By comparison, a 200mm lens - which is quite long - has a large focal length.
However, technically speaking, focal length is not the length of the entire lens but instead refers to the distance from the point of convergence of light inside the lens to the imaging sensor in the camera, as measured in millimeters.
Nevertheless, focal length tells you the angle of view captured by a lens. The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view.
When comparing the two images above of the Grand Canyon, the first one, taken with a wide-angle lens, demonstrates what a short focal length with a wide angle of view produces.
Conversely, the second image above, taken with a telephoto lens, shows what a long focal length and a narrow angle of view produce.
Focal Length Multiplier
The focal length of a lens can be altered, depending on the size of the sensor of the camera you're using.
For example, if you're using a full frame camera, which has a crop factor of 1:1, a 50mm lens will have an effective focal length of 50mm.
However, if you're using a camera that has a smaller sensor, say, one that has a 1.5x crop factor, that same 50mm lens will have an effective focal length of 75mm.
The focal length multiplier, then, is the number used to denote the camera's crop factor, which is different for Nikon, Canon, and other camera manufacturers.
For a detailed explanation of focal length multipliers, crop factors, and more, check out the video above by Strome Breaker.
In photography, focus refers to a subject that is sharp. Naturally, elements in a photo that are not sharp are referred to as being out of focus.
Bokeh is a general term used to describe out-of-focus areas in an image.
More specifically, bokeh is often used to grade the quality of background blur (i.e., "good" bokeh or "bad" bokeh").
The level of blur is determined by the aperture being used - a larger aperture like f/2.8 will create more bokeh than a small aperture like f/22. Naturally, bokeh is a good fit for things like portraiture, in which you want the background to be beautifully blurred.
Digital and Optical Zoom
Not all zoom lenses are made alike...
Digital zoom lenses utilize software to achieve a zoomed-in look, and typically do so at the expense of image quality. Usually, digital zoom lenses are found on point-and-shoot or compact cameras.
Conversely, optical zoom lenses achieve a closer view of the subject thanks to the physical construction of the lens. These lenses offer far better image quality and are used with DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
For example, if you photograph a subject with a point-and-shoot camera that has a 300x digital zoom lens and photograph the same subject with a DSLR and a 300mm lens, the DSLR and 300mm lens will produce cleaner, crisper, and more detailed shots than the 300x digital zoom on the point-and-shoot camera.
Zoom and Prime Lenses
Zoom lenses, like the one shown above, have a variable focal length that's denoted as 24-70mm or 70-200mm and so forth.
Zoom lenses offer convenience because you can alter the angle of view of the shot without having to move yourself at all. The drawback is that zoom lenses tend to produce images that are less sharp when compared to prime lenses.
Prime lenses, on the other hand, are a fixed focal length, like 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm.
These lenses usually have much larger maximum apertures that allow them to perform better than zooms in low-light situations.
Of course, without the benefit of a zoom, though, to change the angle of view, you must move nearer or farther away from the subject.
Learn why a prime lens is a good choice and why zooms can be beneficial too
As noted earlier, ISO is one of the three exposure controls that determines how light or dark an image is.
ISO does so by changing the sensitivity of the camera to light. A low ISO value, like 100 or 200, is not very sensitive to light, and as such, they are good settings for photographing in daylight conditions.
However, as the ISO value increases, so too does the sensitivity to light. So if you're taking photos at night, an ISO value of 3200, 6400, or above might be beneficial.
In addition to determining the sensitivity of a camera to light, ISO also controls how much digital noise is in a photograph.
Digital noise looks like film grain, and though it can be used creatively, typically you want to minimize grain by using the lowest ISO value you can for the shooting conditions.
The shutter in your camera opens and closes - at varying speeds - to allow light to hit the camera's imaging sensor. The faster the shutter speed, the less light that's allowed in; the longer the shutter speed, the more light that's allowed in.
Shutter speed refers to how long the shutter is open and is measured in seconds - like 1" or 5", where the " symbol indicates seconds - or fractions of a second, like 1/250 or 1/500.
Naturally, faster shutter speeds are more likely to freeze the movement of a subject (as shown above) while longer shutter speeds are more likely to induce motion blur.
A long exposure is simply an image that was taken with a long shutter speed - typically one or more seconds - that induces motion blur of some kind, as shown above.
Most cameras can achieve exposures up to 30 seconds in length, or, if you want to expose the image for longer, you can use Bulb Mode to create minutes-long and even hours-long exposures.
In full automatic mode, the camera determines the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO on its own based upon the information it detects in the scene. You have zero input regarding the exposure level of the images you take.
Automatic mode is a great place to start for a beginner photographer because it allows you to focus on things like framing and composition without worrying about exposure settings. It's important to learn and grow and get out of automatic mode, however.
Aperture Priority Mode
Designated as A or Av on your camera's dial, aperture priority mode allows you to determine the aperture and the ISO setting while the camera determines a shutter speed to match.
This gives you much more control over how your photos look than full auto mode, but without all the pressure of shooting in manual mode, in which you have to determine all three exposure settings.
Aperture priority mode is a great choice for situations in which the subject is not moving, like a portrait or a landscape.
Shutter Priority Mode
Designated as S or Tv on your camera's dial, shutter priority mode allows you to determine the shutter speed and the ISO setting while the camera determines the aperture to match.
As with aperture priority mode, this allows you to exert more control over how your images look but without having to control all the exposure settings.
Because shutter priority mode prioritizes the shutter speed, this is an advantageous shooting mode to use for action photography, like photographing sports.
Designated as P on your camera's dial, program mode allows you to prioritize the ISO setting while the camera determines the aperture and shutter speed to match.
However, in program mode, you can manually override the aperture and shutter speed values the camera sets, whereas you cannot override the settings the camera selects in aperture priority or shutter priority modes.
That makes program mode a great alternative to manual mode because you can exert full control if you want, but if you don't, the camera will handle two of the three exposure controls on your behalf.
Learn more about program mode in the video above by Adorama.
In manual mode, you are responsible for setting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to the settings you desire. In other words, the camera has no input regarding these settings, and you are in full control.
Typically, professional photographers shoot in manual mode because it gives them the greatest creative control over their images.
When you're just beginning in photography, it's prudent to start out in full auto mode, and then gradually work up to semi-automatic shooting modes like aperture priority, shutter priority, or program mode, and eventually learning how to control your camera in manual mode.
Your camera has a light meter that's used to help it determine how light or dark a scene is.
Metering is based on middle gray, so if a scene has a lot of lighter or darker objects, the meter can be confused a little bit, as Jared Polin explains in the video above.
A prime example is taking a photo of a wintery landscape - because of all brightness of the snow, the meter thinks the scene is brighter than it is and ends up underexposing the image.
Using a specific metering mode (explained below) can help you tailor how the meter reads the light in certain situations.
There are three primary metering modes, each of which works best in certain scenarios:
Typically, taking a single photo at a time is the norm, but when you need to fire off multiple images quickly, you can use your camera's burst mode to do so.
The speed with which a camera can take rapid-fire shots varies widely, though more expensive cameras typically have a faster burst mode, say 10 frames per second (fps) or more. Entry-level cameras, however, might offer just 4-6 fps.
Nevertheless, if you're trying to photograph a moving subject, like your kid playing soccer, burst mode can be advantageous for capturing action.
Many DSLR and mirrorless cameras have an exposure compensation feature that allows you to brighten or darken an image as you see fit.
Exposure compensation can be used when shooting in various semi-automatic shooting modes, including aperture priority, shutter priority, and program modes.
To measure exposure compensation, negative and positive numbers are used. For example, -1EV refers to darkening the image by one exposure value. On the other hand, +2EV means brightening the image by two exposure values.
Learn more about how to use exposure compensation in the video above by Matt Granger.
The hot shoe is an accessory attachment on the top of the camera body, located just above the viewfinder, as shown above.
In many instances this is used to attach a hot shoe flash to the camera, though the mount can be used for other accessories as well, like an external microphone.
When photographers utilize an external flash, flash sync determines when the flash goes off.
In many situations, the flash will fire when the shutter button is pressed. However, in some situations, adjusting the flash sync to fire the flash later in the exposure can generate better results.
Learn more about flash sync and flash sync speeds in the video above by Karl Taylor.