Learning the Terms
I remember spending a week during my college years studying flash cards for over a thousand vocabulary words. Although I was an English major and had loved reading, I had never really took it upon myself to learn the definitions of the hard words.
Finally motivated by an entrance exam for grad school, I discovered to my amazement that learning the actual definitions of words made reading the classics much more enjoyable. Go figure... If only I had come to this realization in high school.
The simple truth is that knowing what the term means - whether it be technical or Shakespearean - makes the life of a creative more enjoyable. That's why I recommend taking these terms to heart so you can more rapidly excel as a photographer.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines photography as "the art, practice, or occupation of taking and printing photographs." Don't you just love definitions that refer to the word you're trying to learn. Fortunately, it's very probably you already have a good feel for what the word "photography" means. BTW, I like this much more expressive definition of the term: painting, drawing, or writing with light.
Some of the other technical terms may still be a little vague for you... if that is the case, press onward and forward, dear reader.
This list below consists of the definitions of just about every word you may have ever heard that relates to photography. If you disagree, please email me with your suggestion of what to add to the list. I especially want to hear from you about any terms that confuse or frustrate you.
- AE: Automatic Exposure; programmed auto exposure or aperture-priority or shutter-priority.
- AE Lock: Used to hold an automatically controlled shutter speed and/or lens aperture; in case you need to recompose your picture but want to retain an previous exposure reading.
- AF-I (Nikon): Lens with built-in autofocus drive motor. CPU is also built in. AF-I Nikkor lenses send information on distance to the camera body and are classified as D-type AF Nikkor lenses.
- AI (Nikon): Automatic index; Nikon's system for telling the camera's exposure meter what the lens' maximum aperture is.
- AI/S (Nikon): Automatic index/Shutter; Nikon's lens mount permitting automatic operation in shutter-priority and program auto-exposure systems.
- Aperture: how big the opening through which light enters is
- Aperture - more: The variable opening produced by the iris-diaphragm through which light passes to the film plane. Measured in f/stops.
- Aperture Priority: Semi-automatic exposure system wherein the photographer selects the aperture and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed.
- APO: Apochromatic; a type of lens which focuses different wavelengths of light on the filmplane for improved image sharpness. Especially useful in telephoto lenses. (Chromatic aberration is corrected).
- B (Bulb): the shutter remains open as long as the shutter release button remains fully depressed.
- Bracketing: Take a series of pictures at different exposures.
- Close-Up: pictures taken at relatively close distances; from 1/10 life-size (1:10) to life-size (1:1).
- Coating: A layer or multiple layers of thin anti-reflective materials applied to the surface of lens elements to reduce light reflection (flare) and increase the amount of transmitted light.
- Depth of Field: How much of the scene is in focus; the greater the number = the greater the depth of field
- Depth of Field - more: The range of acceptably sharp focus in front of and behind the distance the lens is focused on.
- Diaphragm: A series of metal blades that can be manipulated to form a larger or smaller opening through which the light is admitted.
- Digital Imaging: electronic imaging
- DSLR: Digital Single Lens Reflex
- E-TTL (Canon): Evaluative through-the-lens flash metering.
- Element: One piece of glass comprising the internal optics of a lens. (See Group).
- EOS (Canon): Electronic Optical System; Canon's line of autofocus cameras and accessories.
- EV: Exposure Value; A number that represents available combinations of shutter speed and aperture offering the same exposure effect when scene brightness remains the same. Each EV number can be applied to various shutter speed and aperture combinations.
- Exposure: Light striking a sensitized material. Involves aperture shutter speed and ISO.
- Exposure Compensation: Modifying the shutter speed and/or lens aperture recommended by the camera's light meter in order to produce special creative effects or to meet special requirements.
- Fill-Flash: Exposure consisting of a combination of flash and available light balanced to produce a pleasing mix of the two.
- Fisheye: An ultra-wide angle lens which purposely introduces barrel distortion so straight lines near the edges of the frame appear to curve out.
- Flare: Image degradation caused by stray light which passes through the lens but is not focused to form the primary image. Often caused by light bouncing off internal air-to-glass surfaces.
- Focal Length: how long the lens is - aka whether it's wide angle or telephoto or something in between
- Focal Length: The distance from the optical center of a lens to the image plane when the lens is focused to infinity.
- Golden Rectangle: a rectangle that is not too thin and not too fat...
- Golden Rectangle - more: An image ratio (width vs the height) that makes the most pleasing and balanced impression on the viewer. Panoramics are long and skinny; square negatives often make it hard for the viewer to recognize the central focus of a composition. A traditional 35mm format is pretty close to a golden retangle.
- Group: Two or more elements cemented together within a lens. Lenses are described as having a certain number of elements in a certain smaller number of groups.
- Guide Number: The power of a flash in relation to ISO film speed. Guide numbers are quoted in either meters or feet. Guide numbers are used to calculate the f/stop for correct exposure as follows: f/stop=guide number/distance.
- Hot Shoe: A mounting device that that enables a flash unit or speedlight to be mounted on and triggered by the camera.
- ISO - more: the number represents the film's sensitivity to light. A higher ISO number indicates the film is more sensitive and requires less light for a proper exposure.
- ISO or International Standards Organisation: refers to how sensitive your sensor is to light.
- JPEG: a most commonly used standard method of compression for photographic images.
- Latitude: The variance from proper exposure which will still provide acceptable results.
- Lens Flare: see Flare.
- Macro: see Close-up.
- Macro Focusing: a feature enabling the lens to focus closer than the normal focusing distance from close-up shooting.
- Matrix: Autoexposure metering where the camera sets both aperture and shutter speed according to data stored in the camera's built-in memory - comparing the scene to be photographed to reference scenes.
- Mirrorless: smaller camera than SLR or DSLR
- Port: a connection through which data is sent and received.
- Resolution: most often refers to the number of pixels per inch in an image file. It can also refer to printer resolution or digital camera CCD resolution. In traditional photography it refers to the ability of a lens or photographic material to reproduce small details and is measured in lines per millimeter.
- Rule of Thirds: think of drawing a Tic Tac Toe pattern on your photo. Place your subject on an intersection
- Rule of Thirds - more: See my explanation in the Top Ten Tips.
- Shutter Priority: When the photographer selects the shutter speed and the camera automatically sets the corresponding aperture.
- Shutter Speed: how long the opening through which light enters is open
- Shutter Speed - more: How fast the camera's shutters open. Determines how long the film is exposed for.
- Single Lens Reflex - more: a camera with one lens (as opposed to Twin Lens Reflex like the Rolleiflex) that involves a mirror and prism that the viewer looks through (as opposed to a point and shoot or rangefinder where the viewer looks through a separate viewfinder.
- SLR: Single Lens Reflex aka big bulky camera
- SSL: Secure Sockets Layer is a cryptographic protocol which provides secure communication on the Internet.
- Sunny-16 Rule: with a brightly lit subject: choose f/16 and make ISO about the same as your shutter speed
- Sunny-16 Rule - more: A guideline that states that you can expose a normal scene when lit by bright sunlight at an aperture of f/16 and a shutter speed equivalent to the ISO being used.
- tar: a type of archive file format: the Tape ARchive format.
- TTL: Through-the-lens; commonly used when referring to metering through the lens as opposed to via a separate meter. Effective for fill-flash and other tricky lighting situations.
- URL: Uniform Resource Locator - usually a page location on the Internet.
- USM (Canon): UltraSonic Motor; Canon's fastest and quietest autofocus lens mechanism.
- ZIP: a popular data compression and archival format.
Also check out these free resources at BetterPhoto.com: