Basic Photography Jargon Explained

Updated: May 1, 2020

Learning Digital Photography can seem like a tough task when first starting out. There can be many paths people have taken to get to this point, some have come from film based technology (and understand most of this better than others) and some have been shooting in digital all along but perhaps don't always get the photo they want, or don't understand why a particular photo is blurry, too dark, too light or just not how they see the image with their eye.

With technology advancements in phones and the cameras they have, many people are even just using a mobile phone as their primary camera - why wouldn't you ? its always with you and is easy to pull out and take that quick photo you want to capture. However even these digital cameras work on the same principles as a full SLR camera. and you can alter certain aspects on the phone to get better results. If you are not completely aware of what the jargon and meaning is the. hopefully this will be of some help


To put it simply the aperture is size of the opening in the lens. Aperture is measured in f-stops, the f you will see on your camera at times and can go from a small f-stop like a f/1.4 to a large f-stop at f/24.

If you were to think of a lens just like a window.... the bigger the window, the more light it can let in, and a small little window will let in a smaller amount of light.

A trick for some players if that in the case of aperture - a small f-stop reading (like f/1.4) is actually the big window and lets in the most amount of light, where as a f/24 lets in a small amount of light.

So Aperture is one of THREE camera settings that will determine the exposure of an image (more on this in another blog), or how light or dark it is.

Aperture also determines how much of the image is in focus. f/2.8 will be a very sharp narrow focussed image, while f/16 will have more area all in focus and is good for say landscape shooting where you don't want to necessarily focus on one small area.

Depth of Field

Depth of field is a photography term that refers to how much of the image is in focus. The camera will focus on one distance, but there’s a range of distance in front and behind that point that stays sharp—that’s depth of field. Portraits often have a soft, unfocused background—this is a shallow depth of field. Landscapes, on the other hand, often have more of the image in focus—this is a large depth of field, with a big range of distance that stays sharp.


Exposure is how light or dark an image is. An image is created when the camera sensor (or film strip) is exposed to light—that’s where the term originates. A dark photo is considered underexposed, or it wasn’t exposed to enough light; a light photo is overexposed or exposed to too much light. Exposure is controlled through aperture, shutter speed and ISO.


When your eyes focus on an object that’s close to you, the objects far away will appear blurry. The common photography term “focus” has the same meaning. Something that is in focus is sharp, while an object that is out-of-focus isn’t sharp. Different focus areas determine if the camera is focusing on multiple points or one user-selected point.


The ISO setting on a digital camera, is the light sensitivity rating of the image sensor. So the lower the number (ISO100) the LESS sensitive to light and you get less "noise" in your photo. Depending on how bright it is you may need to keep the shutter open for longer to let in enough light. This is fine if shooting a still subject, however if you are shooting moving objects or something fast you will want to increase the ISO to a higher setting. This will allow you to capture more light without slowing the shutter speed or opening up your aperture more and can allow your to Freeze the Movement. Generally the higher the ISO the more "noise"you will get in your photos. This can be good or bad depending on what you are wanting.


If you are shooting with a DSLR chances are you are aware of the dial these cameras have. Depending on the level of camera some will have "preset" modes like sports (showing someone running) macro (a flower) etc but then they also have some other letters on there that you may not be familiar with. for the sake of this I am referring to the mode on a Canon as that is what I shoot with, Nikon etc have same features but often with a different letter, all meaning the same thing

P - Programmed Automatic - its a shooting mode that is halfway between Automatic and Manual. The brain of the camera still try to work out for you what is best for the shot you are taking. When you shoot in P you only get to control a few settings and the camera does the rest

Av - Aperture - this is where you control the Aperture setting and the camera will decide on the shutter speed required to get adequate exposure for the image. You can control the ISO yourself. I do most of my day to day shooting in Av mode

Tv - Shutter - this is where you control the speed of the shutter - useful if you want to perform long exposures (running water, nigh shots etc) or want a really fast exposure to capture a fast moving object. The Aperture is controlled by the camera. You control the ISO

M - Manual - this is full manual mode - you get to control everything and the camera lets you decide on all areas. Great for when you want total control of a shot and need each area to be something specific that the camera may try to do differently on its own.

B- Bulb - this setting will hold open the shutter for as long as you have your finger on the shutter button. Good for if you want to take a long exposure past what is in the normal Shutter settings


Noise is simply little flecks in an image, also sometimes called grain. Images taken at high ISOs have a lot of noise, so it’s best to use the lowest ISO you can for the amount of light in the scene.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is the part of the camera that opens and closes to let light in and take a picture. The shutter speed is how long that shutter stays open, written in seconds or fractions of a second, like 1/200 s. or 1”, with the “ symbol often used to designate an entire second. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light that is let in. But, anything that moves while the shutter is open will become a blur, and if the entire camera moves while the shutter is open the whole image will be blurry—that’s why tripods are necessary for longer shutter speeds

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