With hundreds of terms and phrases within the scope of photography, it’s not surprising, that quite often a considerable level of confusion ensues when you’re trying to learn the basics.

I’ve put together an alphabetical list of some more commonly used terms, to hopefully give you a head start in your learning.

ApertureThe size of the opening in a camera lens that determines how much light hits the sensor. Each ‘stop’ down on the lens (eg. going from f5.6 to f8), reduces the light by half. Every ‘stop’ up, (eg. f5.6 to f4), doubles the amount of light.

Apochromatic (APO)A type of lens that’s corrected so that all the visible light wavelengths, focus exactly on the sensor. Lenses that aren’t corrected in this way, tend to focus red, green and blue wavelengths at slightly different points, resulting in Chromatic Aberration (see below).

Barrel DistortionThis is a type of image distortion caused by some lenses, where the edges of the image bow outwards, resulting in a mild ‘fisheye’ effect.

BracketingThis is when a photographer takes several pictures of the same object one right after another, each time changing the exposure slightly. It is usually performed so that detail can be retained in both the highlight areas as well as the shadow areas. These seperate images will be processed with HDR software.

CatchlightThe reflection of a light in the subject’s eyes.

Chromatic AberrationThis occurs when different wavelengths of light come into focus both in front of and behind the surface of the sensor. It results in the final image having a coloured halo around the outside of the subject.

Close-UpRefers to a tightly framed photograph, or when a photographer gets extremely close to the subject to capture the image.

Depth of FieldThis refers to the amount of the image that is in sharp focus. Most noticeable in wide aperture images, the subject is in clear focus while the background appears blurry.

ElementA single piece of glass that is one of several that make up a compound lens.

EXIF – ‘Exchangeable Image File‘. is data that’s produced by your digital camera and attached to each image you take. The EXIF includes things like, the camera make & model, the date & time, which image format (e.g. jpeg, tiff, etc.) was used, also shutter speed, aperture setting, sensitivity(ISO), focal length of the lens, whether the flash was on, or off, white balance setting, exposure bias, the metering mode used and sometimes much more depending on your camera.

Focal PointThe central, or principal point of focus. This is usually the main subject in your image.

GelsBroadly generic term used when refering to any colored, translucent material used to colour a light. The material can be made from gelatin, glass, or plastic.

Golden HourThe period of time an hour (or, sometimes less :) ) just before the sun goes down ’till around fifteen minutes after the sun has finally set. Sunlight is usually warmer and more complimentary to skin tones at this time of day, and the angle of the light provides added depth and detail to landscapes.

High KeyAn image that contains almost entirely light tones, and relatively few mid-tone, or shadow areas.

Hyperfocal DistanceTechnically speaking, it’s the distance between the camera sensor and the the nearest point to the camera that is considered to be acceptably sharp. In practice though, it’s a lens setting technique, that allows you to shoot sharp pictures within a certain distance range, so that both foreground elements and background elements are in focus at the same time. It tends to be used most often in landscape photography.

Inverse Square LawIs an equation that relates the intensity of a light source, to the amount of illumination it produces at a given distance. As light diminishes over distance in accordance with the Inverse Square Law, when you double the flash-to-subject distance, you reduce the light falling on that subject to one-quarter.

Key LightThe key light is the main source of light on a subject, and would usually refer to the principle studio light. The key light is usually the brightest light on the subject, or the one light that will have the greatest overall effect on the resulting image.

Kicker LightThis is usually a side, or back light most often used at near lens height. It is generally used to add light to the edge of a model’s face, or to provide an additional highlight on a subject.

Leading LinesThese are lines that direct the viewer’s attention to an image’s point of interest. Some common leading lines are created with footpaths, railway tracks, or streams, etc.

Low KeyThis is the opposite of High Key and describes a mostly dark and ‘contrasty’ image, with few highlights.

Technically a Macro image is one that is ‘life-size’ on the camera’s sensor (1:1) Most general use lenses that provide a ‘macro’ function, only produce images that are somewhere between 1:2 and 1:3.

MegapixelA megapixel can generally be described as one million pixels.

MeteringThis is when a light meter (or, exposure meter) is used to measure the amount of light that is falling onto, or is reflected from a scene.

NoiseSometimes called Digital, or Electronic noise, it’s the ‘grainy’ look you can sometimes see in a digital image. It’s usually most noticeable in shadow areas, and generally produced when shooting in low light, which requires the use of a high ISO.

PanningA technique that involves moving the camera along the same plane as a moving object, such as a car, or bicycle, resulting in a reletively sharp subject with a blurred background.

Ring FlashThis is a circular-shaped electronic flash unit that fits around the circumference of the camera’s lens. It’s used to provide shadowless and uniform lighting, and is especially useful in macro photography when the lens can be very close to the subject and would cast a shadow if a normal flash was used.

SharpnessThe degree of clarity, or ‘crispness’ in an image, in terms of focus and contrast.

Specular HighlightsBright spots of light without any detail, usually reflected from a shiny surface, eg. the reflected sunlight on a car’s chromework.

Single Lens Reflex (SLR)This camera system allows the photographer to see the image as it appears before it is captured, by using a moveable mirror system that projects the image from the lens, to the viewfinder.

Tonal RangeThis is the range of shades between the lightest and darkest areas of an image. It is also known as ‘Dynamic Range’. An image that contains very bright areas and very dark areas has a “wide” tonal range.

White BalanceSometimes called Colour Balance, is the process of adjusting the colour sensitivity of the camera’s sensor, to allow for the hue in the subject’s surroundings, before the image is captured. After a camera is balanced, the image captured will reproduce natural colours.

Zone SystemA method introduced by the famous Yosemite National Park landscape photographer, Ansel Adams. It is used for determining the optimal exposure value, to get as much detail as possible in an individual photograph.

If you’ve heard any acronyms, or terms that you’d like explained, put it in the comments and I’ll add it to the list 😉