Do You Know Your Photography Jargon? (Part 1)

17752853 s image In any field of art or science, there's a lot of jargon that's flung around, and seeing as photography is both, it means even more jargon. So you shouldn't feel put off if you don't know all the technical terms other photographers use. Some of these terms you probably already know, but to fill you in on a few that you may not know, here's a list of some of the most common words you'll come across.

Stop down

Refers to changing the aperture by increasing the f-number so that the aperture opening becomes smaller. It is often recommended to stop down when you need a larger depth-of-field or if you're shooting wide open and want your photo to be sharper. Most lenses are sharpest when stopped down a few times from their maximum aperture.

Full-frame, Crop-frame

The sensor of a full-frame digital camera is the same size as what is captured with a 35mm film camera. A crop-frame camera is anything smaller than a full-frame. The most common cropped cameras are 1.5 or 1.6 times smaller than a full-frame.

( Download this cheat sheet: 9 Step lens cleaning checklist. So you don't screw up your lenses. )


Strong light source coming from behind your subject. Backlighting is often tricky to deal with compared to other lighting conditions, however, it is also commonly used in adjacent with other lights in commercial photography.


An unposed photograph. A candid photo is one where the subject is acting naturally and does not seem to be aware of the photographer.

Hard Light, Soft Light

Strong, direct light is referred to as hard light whereas diffused light is called soft light. For instance, the sun on a clear day would be a hard light. On a cloudy day, it would be a soft light.

Exposure Compensation

A control on some cameras that lets you under- or overexpose the “correct” exposure settings set automatically by the camera. Can be very handy for when a camera generally properly exposes a scene but is consistently off by a small amount.

Fill Flash

Flash used to fill in the shadows on a subject. These shadows may be natural or caused by another flash. A fill flash does not always eliminate shadows, but fills them in to reduce contrast.

(Success Tip:The easiest way to learn photography when you have little time to spare)


A random array of off-color pixels that can vary in brightness also. Noise is generally created by using high ISO settings and is worse with small sensor cameras. It is an unwanted effect that can be improved with in-camera noise reduction or software, but often makes the image softer.


The act of focusing on the point where you know your subject will be. Pre-focusing is used for photographing fast-moving subjects and reducing shutter lag time by avoiding waiting for the camera to focus when the subject enters the frame. 

NIKON Prime Lenses CANON Prime Lenses SIGMA Prime Lenses
Nikon 24mm f/1.4 Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG
Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS Sigma 300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF

Chromatic Aberration

A type of distortion that arises when the colors of an image do not align properly. Some poor-quality lenses show chromatic aberration on the edges of the frame resulting in a fringe of colors that appears blurry. There are other forms of aberration, but this is the most common.

Ambient Light

Any light that is not artificial. The term ambient light is often used in conjunction with artificial lighting since it is important to balance out the natural and unnatural light in a scene.

Image Artifact

Noticeable flaws in a photograph that arise from image degradation. This commonly happens when the image in saved multiple times in a compressed image format such as a jpeg.


A setting on cameras that lets you open the shutter for as long as the shutter button is held. Used for long exposures, often at night.

Back-focusing, Front-focusing

A tendency of a lens to consistently focus slightly in front of or behind a subject when properly focused. This is an unwanted flaw that may be able to be fixed with the camera's settings or may need to be fixed by the manufacturer.


Out of focus points of light. Most easily seen when a camera is shot with a wide aperture and shallow depth-of-field. The shape of the bokeh is determined by the shape of the aperture.

Bounce Flash

Any artificial light that is reflected off of a surface and back onto the subject. Bounce flash can provide a much softer and more wide-spread light than the original source.

Part Two of this article is found HERE.


Recommended Reading:



Image credit: lenta / 123RF Stock Photo

Written by Spencer Seastrom