Photography Terms Glossary

Photography Terms Glossary 2020-11-10T07:54:15+00:00

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Photography Theory Definitions


The aperture of a camera lens is the hole through which light travels on its way to the film or digital sensor. The size of the opening is typically variable, at standardized sizes, which are known as f-stops. For example f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, and so on. The aperture controls the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor, thereby affecting exposure. Aperture (f-stop) is one of the main settings used to achieve a desired exposure of a digital image. It also affects the Depth of Field of the image.

Artificial Light

Artificial light can be broadly defined as any light source that is not naturally occurring, such as light bulbs and flash strobes. Artificial light may be an uncontrolled part of the scene or location being photographed, such as street lights, or it may be purposely added and controlled for technical and creative purposes, such as a flash unit. The color temperature of artificial light can vary greatly depending on the source, from very cool from a fluorescent bulb, to very warm from an incandescent one.

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Expose to the Right (ETTR)

Expose to the Right (ETTR) is a digital photography technique which is used to optimize image quality by obtaining an exposure with the least amount of noise and the most detail possible. This is done by exposing a digital photo so that the histogram is biased toward the right side, regardless of what the “standard” exposure would be, then bringing the exposure down as needed in post-processing.

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f-stop or f-number

Camera lens f-stops are the sizes of the hole through which light travels on its way to the film or digital sensor, and are typically adjustable to standardized sizes. The size of the hole determines how much light reaches the imaging plane (film or digital sensor) during exposure, and are used in combination with shutter speed and ISO to control the exposure of the image.

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Focus Stacking

Focus Stacking is a digital photography technique in which a sequence of images is taken with a relatively shallow depth of field, but with the focal plane of each image at a successively further distance within the subject matter. The sharpest pixels of each of the images are combined using post-processing techniques, resulting in a single, very sharp image, in focus from the nearest focal plane to the farthest. The final output of a focus stacked sequence is capable of producing a greater depth of field and sharpness than would be possible by stopping down the aperture for a single photograph, resulting in a higher quality, more visually stunning image.

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In Digital Photography, ISO, in simple terms, is the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light. The sensor has a base ISO, which is the default sensitivity. Any ISO above that is more sensitive to light. Technically, the increased sensitivity is actually an amplification of the received light, by the camera sensor, the camera software, or both. Changing the ISO gives the photographer more technical and creative control over exposure.

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Mixed Light

A mixed-light exposure is one that contains natural light and artificial light. An example would be a wildlife photo shot with ambient light, but with a flash strobe used to add fill light.

When using mixed-light in nature photography, the ambient light is usually the primary light source, with artificial light being used for fill, highlight, or creative purposes. For fine art nature photography, care should be taken to ensure that the artificial light is not too harsh or distracting, and that it has the proper color temperature in relation to the ambient light. It should also be used judiciously with wildlife, with careful consideration of the potentially negative effects and stress it may cause.

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Natural Light

Natural light is any light that occurs in nature, such as sunlight and moonlight. A natural-light exposure is any exposure that is made entirely of natural light. An example would be a landscape that is shot with sunrise light. In nature photography, natural light is the most common source of light, and often the most visually pleasing.

Photography Style and Genre Definitions

Close up photography

Close up photography can be described as photographing a relatively small subject from a relatively close distance, thus making the subject large in the image frame. Generally, it is similar to macro photography, except that close up photography does not achieve 1:1 or greater reproduction ratio (or magnification).

Despite the technical differences between close up and macro, close up photos can be of similar subjects as macro, such as flowers and insects. Close ups can also be done creatively, for example using a wide angle lens at extremely close range, to change perspective.

Some sources may define close up photography as “filling the frame with a subject,” regardless of subject size or distance. Within this definition, it is possible to create close up photos with any lens and from any distance; for example from afar using a telephoto lens.

Macro Photography

The definition of Macro Photography can vary slightly depending on the source, and depending on context. In general, it refers to an image in which the subject size on the image sensor is equal to, or greater than, life size.

The ratio of the subject size in reality, to its size on the image sensor, is referred to as reproduction ratio. The reproduction ratio is generally noted in the following format: n:n, where ‘n’ is an integer. For example, life size reproduct ratio would be 1:1, twice life size would be 2:1, and so on. Sometimes, the reproduction ratio is referred to as “magnification.”

There are many ways to create a macro photograph, such as: using a true macro lens, using a standard lens with extension tubes, using stacked lenses, and more. A ‘true macro lens’ is a lens which is capable of a reproduction ratio of 1:1 or greater, without additional accessories or modifications being required.

Macro Photography is often interchangeably referred to as Close Up photography, and vice versa, though the two are technically different.

Wildlife Photography

In its most literal definition, wildlife photography is the photography of wild animals, which are typically in their natural habitat, and are free to move about and behave as they normally would. Traditionally, animals which are captive would not be considered “wildlife” subjects, because they are not “wild,” however the term “wildlife” is sometimes used to describe any non-domesticated animal. This brings up some issues regarding ethics in captioning and sales of photos; it is recommended to caption and label all captive animal photos as “captive.”

Wildlife can include any type of living animal, including insects, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, and more. Wildlife photography can mix with other genres of photography, such as macro, stop motion, and even landscape.

Photography Equipment Definitions

Ball Head

A ball head is a tripod head which consists of a camera mount that is attached to a sphere, and the sphere is held in place by some type of frame system with tightening controls. The tightening controls, which are generally levers or knobs, allow the ball to be loosened and rotated, or locked in place, thus allowing positioning of the camera with great freedom. Ball heads vary greatly in size, design, strength, features, and rotational freedom.

Bean Bag Support

A bag, sack, or cushion support for a camera or lens. It is typically made of flexible fabric, and filled with beans, rice, or artificial beads or pellets, which are added through a Velcro or zippered opening. The bag may be free-form, or of a special shape and design, such as a molar tooth style. The fabric may be available in different colors or camo patterns, and may have rubber material underneath to add friction for more secure mounting. Some specialized designs have rigid inserts with a stud for mounting a ball head or gimbal head. These versatile supports can be used on the ground, on top of other objects, hanging over railings, or car doors with windows down. They are useful for low angle wildlife photography with a long lens.

Gimbal Head

A gimbal head is a tripod head which rotates 360 degrees on the horizontal axis, and has a cantilevered cradle arm (where the camera lens foot is mounted) which swings forward and back. Therefore, the head allows freedom of movement, and aiming the lens in almost any direction. Further, the gimbal is designed to balance the camera and lens combination at their center of gravity, essentially rendering them “weightless.” Both axis of rotation usually have a locking knob.

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Macro Lens

A macro lens is a lens which is capable of a reproduction ratio of 1:1 (life size) or greater, without accessories or modifications. Some macro lenses have built in extension which allows for varying degrees of magnification, such as the Canon MP E 65mm F/2.8, which can reproduce from 1x to 5x life size. Others have fixed extension within the lens barrel, which is what allows for the 1:1 magnification. Macro lens focal length varies greatly, but typical options range from 50mm to 200mm. The longer focal lengths are useful for nature photography of flowers and insects due to their longer working distance, as well as narrower field of view which creates a less distracting background. Shorter focal lengths are more useful for extremely close range and handheld macro work. They are better than longer focal lengths when using flash, because there is less light fall off from flash to subject.


A monopod is a camera support which is a single pole. It is similar to an individual leg of a tripod, usually having the ability to expand and collapse, with twist locks or lever clamps. Some monopods have special supports near the foot, which extend out to give added stability. A monopod has the benefits, compared to a tripod, of being lighter, more compact, and more agile.

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Photography Editing and Post-Processing Definitions


Contrast refers to the difference between tones, or colors, in various areas of an image. High contrast means that there is a large difference between the darkest areas and lightest areas of the image, and low contrast means there is little difference. The amount of contrast in an image depends on many factors, including, but not limited to: the quality of light on the subject at the time of exposure, the type of camera used, the file format used for capture, and edits in post-processing. Contrast can be affected by many editing processes.

Global Edit

A global edit is any edit that is applied to the entire image, with no ability to control the effect independently in specific areas. In some cases, global edits are appropriate, and in other cases, it would be better to use local edits. The decision between global and local edits comes down to what the desired result is for the image, which is at the photographer’s discretion.

Local Edit

A local edit is any edit that is applied to only a portion of the image, as opposed to the entire image. Local edits give greater creative and technical contral than global edits, although there are times when a global edit is desired or needed. There are various methods to implement local edits, including brushes, selections, masks, and filters.


Sharpening is a process by which the apparent image acutance is increased, creating the appearance of increased sharpness. There are many techniques for sharpening, and the best one to use may vary depending on the type of image, and what it will be used for. Some sharpening processes offer more control than others. As with any editing process, sharpening has the ability to dramatically decrease or destroy image quality, if done improperly.


In a digital image, tone refers to the brightness and darkness (or “values”) of pixels or groups of pixels. By editing tone, the image’s contrast, sharpness, and other attributes can be affected.