Can you talk the talk? 10 common terms every beginner photographer needs to know

10 photography terms to knowEvery photographer, whether a beginner or professional, uses photography terminology on a regular basis.

Knowing photography language allows the photographer to grasp a better understanding of the technical aspects involved in setup, shooting, and post-production.

The following 10 terms are commonly used in the photography industry. Understanding and utilizing these terms will help you “talk the talk” and broaden your photography knowledge.

1. Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is measured in the amount of seconds the shutter is open while taking a photograph. Quicker shutter speeds result in less light being recorded, and also allow you to freeze a moment for an action shot. DSLRs can shoot at fast as 1/8000th of a second, and are capable of long-exposure settings where the shutter is open for multiple seconds.

2. ISO

ISO stands for International Standards Organization, which doesn’t really tell you much about its purpose. The important thing to know is ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to light. The lower the ISO number the less sensitive the camera is to light. Higher ISO settings can be used in low-light situations, but pushing the ISO too high can result in grainy images. As a rule, it’s best to use the lowest ISO setting possible based on the ambient and introduced light.

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3. Aperture (f-stop)

Aperture (measured in f-stop numbers) is the size of the opening of the lens. The wider the aperture, the lower the f-stop number and the more light that enters. A narrow aperture has a higher f-stop number and less light comes in.

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4. White Balance

Different light sources affect color balance in photographs. It’s important to get an accurate white balance setting on your camera so that colors are accurately reflected. A neutral grey card can be a handy tool to help you get the proper white balance.

5. Exposure

Exposure determines how light or dark an image is. An underexposed image doesn’t receive enough light while an overexposed image receives too much light. Using the correct shutter speed, aperture, and ISO will help you maintain proper exposure.


6. Focus

The area of the image that is the sharpest and includes the most detail. Typically, it’s the first place the viewer’s eyes go to. Camera technology allows the focal point to be located anywhere in the frame of a picture — the focus doesn’t necessarily have to be in the foreground.

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7. Histogram

A histogram is a chart that shows the exposure of your photographs. Moving from left to right, the chart displays darks all the way to the highlights. A proper exposure has a well-balanced bell curve with a mix of darks, shadows, mid-tones and highlights.

8. RAW

When you shoot in RAW, your camera doesn’t process the image at all (unlike shooting in JPEG mode). This means all the information received by the camera sensor is recorded. RAW files are typically much larger files, but allow for more fine-tuning during the editing process.


9. Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds suggests placing focal points of an image on the intersection of an imaginary grid divided into three parts, horizontally and vertically. Placing focal points on these intersections allows the image to have balance instead of being too focused on one area.


10. Blown Out (overexposed)

When an image is “blown out” that means part (or all) of the photo is overexposed to a point where no information is recorded. On a histogram, pure black is a value of 0 and a blown out white is 255. Any information that’s recorded at 255 would be considered “blown out.”

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Anthony Vence is a Customer Content Specialist at PR Newswire. He contributes to @PRNmedia and previously worked in the newspaper industry as a news and sports editor. He also works as a freelance photographer.

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