Photographic Jargon

Full of it, Jargon that is.

Unless you want to really understand what is happening in that expensive little magical automatic  box, then ignore this and snap away to your heart's content, most half decent cameras will cover your back! 

you may well come out the other end confused, but if you only pick up a little bit of the following you may find it useful.


The variable opening in the lens through which light passes to the film or digital sensor.  Measured in f-stops. I like to compare it to your pupil which opens and closes to allow more or less light to enter your eye depending on the brightness level of the room. 
When on holiday recently, I screamed as I opened the shutters, f32! meaning very bright, the higher the number the smaller the aperture and the less light gets let into the camera conversely the lower the number the wider the aperture is allowing more light into the camera, needed for darker situations.


Depth of field

I could bore you rigid with definitions and explanations, just keep this in mind when thinking about depth of field. When taking a photograph your camera can only focus on one point, when you photograph a face you should always focus on the pupil of the eye, as humans that is the first thing we look at in a fellow human, that has to be pin sharp.

Depth of field describes what else will be in focus in varying degrees beyond what you have focussed on. 

For example if you focus on a face full frame and you have focussed on that persons pupils then if your aperture is very small, say for the sake of argument f16 then you will find that the rest of that persons face will be acceptably sharp as well.

If you chose to shoot the same picture at a very wide (big) aperture say, f2.8 then your photograph would have still pin sharp eyes, but the rest of the face would progressively be less in focus, the nose would probably completely out of focus, still recognisable as nose though! 

This effect can be used to your advantage for example photographing someone in front of a famous monument of building you would chose a smaller aperture to ensure the building is in focus or alternatively you might want to throw the background out of focus to bring the person into sharp focus then use a wider aperture like f4 or f2.8 


Nousha Photography

For every change you make in aperture you need to compensate for it in the shutter speed, for example if the correct exposure for the portrait you are taking is 250th of a second at f5.6 and you wanted to be sure the background was in focus and you wanted to use f16 , you would do the following:

Adjust the aperture up three notches to f16

then compensate for the loss of light by opening the shutter for longer, each step in shutter speed corresponds to a full f stop* on the lens, so you would then do the following to maintain the correct exposure:

Adjust the shutter speed to slower from a 250th of a second down 125th/60th to a 30th of a second

You would now achieve the desired effect, but remember that at a 30th of a second you will have to be quite skilled to hold the camera still without putting it on a tripod, but thats a whole other story! 

*most cameras now offer quarter stop shutter speeds like an 80th or a 160th of a second, ie the jump between 125, 160, 2oo, 250 are a quarter of a stop.


Taking a series of images at different exposures or EV. You may see a setting on your camera that says AEB (auto exposure bracketing). This is often used when creating HDR images or in difficult lighting situations where you may want to have a range of exposures from light to dark. In effect, you are taking one picture that is overexposed one that is correctly exposed and one that is underexposed, put them all together and voila perfection.



The “B” setting on your camera where the shutter remains open as long as the button or cable release (remote trigger) is pressed. On a Canon it may be on your mode dial on top of the camera, or at the low end of the shutter speed settings (also where it is on a Nikon) this is limited on Digital cameras, with film you used to be able to expose for an hour or more, digital won't allow that as you may burn out the sensor.


Digital single lens reflex camera. Any digital camera with interchangeable lenses where the image is viewed using a mirror and prism and the image is taken directly through that lens. What you see in your viewfinder is what the lens sees.



Exposure Value is a number that represents the various different combinations of aperture and shutter speed that can create the same exposure effect.
So if the shutter opens for a 250th of a second and the aperture is f5.6 that is the same as if the shutter opens for a 500th of a second and the aperture is f4.0 (there is a difference in depth of field and the ability to capture fast-moving objects. the faster shutter speed will capture a fast moving object better than a slow shutter speed.

Exposure compensation

Modifying the shutter speed or aperture from the camera’s recommended exposure to create a certain effect (over or under exposing) – usually used in the Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority modes. Represented by a little +/- button on your camera. Your camera reads light bouncing off your subject and is designed to expose for medium grey. So when photographing a subject that is lighter or darker than 18% grey, you can use this setting to tell the camera the proper exposure (- or + respectfully)



The total amount of light reaching the digital sensor. It is controlled by setting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. 
F-stop – is a measure of the aperture opening in the lens defined by dividing the focal length of the lens by the aperture diameter. Sequence of f-stops are multiples of the square root of 2 (1.414…): 1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, etc. Even though these numbers are rather cryptic, just remember that each step is double the amount of light. Know that and it’s half the battle.


Stands for International Standards Organization and represents the sensitivity of your camera’s digital sensor to light. The lower the number (ISO 100), the less sensitive, the higher the number (ISO 3200) the more sensitive. A higher ISO allows you to shoot in low light conditions.

Shutter speed

The amount of time the shutter is opened during an exposure. The shutter speed controls motion. Use a fast speed (like 1/2000th of a second) to freeze motion, or a slow one (1/4 of a second or longer) to blur moving objects. Imagine opening and closing a curtain in front of a window with a light-sensitive material behind you, in essence that is what the shutter is doing.

Zoom lens

Any lens that has variable focal lengths such as a 24-70mm or 18-55mm. You zoom in or out by rotating the barrel of the lens.

Prime or fixed lens

Any lens that does not zoom and is a set focal length such as a nifty 50mm lens. Read our introduction to Prime Lenses.

Remote trigger or digital cable release

A device that allows the camera to be fired without pressing the button or touching the camera. Helps eliminate movement of the camera during long exposures.

Macro lens

One that focuses very close to the subject allowing for 1:1 reproduction size of the object or larger.

“Normal” lens

Generally, a 50mm lens (on a full frame sensor camera) is considered to be a “normal” lens because it is closest to what the human eye sees.  If you have a cropped sensor that will be closer to 35mm.

Telephoto lens

Simply stated a telephoto lens is one that is longer than a normal lens, eg., 70-300mm. The dictionary says: a lens with a longer focal length than standard, giving a narrow field of view and a magnified image.

Super telephoto

Canon's 1200mm lens

Canon's 1200mm lens

Is usually 300mm and longer lenses.

Wide angle lens

Again simple answer is a lens that shows a wider field of view than a normal lens, which allows more to be fit into the frame. Depending on the degree of wide angle there may also be edge distortion (super wide angle), and if you get wide enough the image will become a circle (fish-eye).

Tilt-shift lens

A lens that attempts to recreate the movements available when using a view camera. Being able to tilt the front lens element allows for realignment of the plane of focus. Shift allows adjusting the placement of the subject within the frame without angling the camera, thus keep parallel lines from converging. This is a popular lens for architectural and landscape photographers and is becoming more widely used by portrait photographers for creating a unique stylized look.

Camera resolution

Expressed in megapixels is the dimensions your camera’s sensor is capable of capturing. For example, Canon’s new 6D has a resolution of 5472 x 3648 which equals 19,961,856, which they’ve rounded off to 20 megapixels. This is not the only factor in image quality, but generally the large the number, the larger prints you can produce from it without loss of quality.
File format jpg versus RAW – most DSLR’s have the ability to shoot both formats. If you choose JPG, the camera will shoot a RAW file, process it using the picture style you’ve selected in your menu, save it as a JPG and discard the RAW version. If shot in RAW the resulting file will be larger, carry more information (but the same pixel resolution, see above) and require software to process. It gives you the photographer more control over the final look of your image. 

Full frame vs cropped sensor

I get asked about this all the time. A full frame sensor is roughly the size as the “old” 35mm frame of film. Lenses are made to create a circle of light just large enough to cover that area (covering power). In a cropped sensor camera the physical size of the sensor is smaller so it only captures a portion of the entire image the lens is projecting, effectively cropping part of the image out. For more information on this see “Crop factor explained“. Common crop factors are 1.5 or 1.6x so if you put on a 50mm lens it is more like a 75mm with a 1.5x crop factor.

We use a full frame camera at Nousha Photography

We use a full frame camera at Nousha Photography

Camera modes

Manual: full manual the user is setting the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Shutter priority (Tv on a Canon or S on a Nikon) the user is selecting ISO and shutter speed, the camera is then choosing the aperture to make a correct exposure. Aperture priority (Av for Canon users, A for Nikon) the photographer selects the ISO and aperture and the camera picks the shutter speed.