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Optic Groove Photography - Creative Photography by Dave Wicks

glossary of photography terms (Photography Jargon)


Below is a growing but by no means a complete outline of photographic terms and jargon that may assist those in need of knowledge or simply curious about the world of both traditional and digital photography. Photography, what a great way to capture slices of history never to be repeated in exactly the same way!



Ambient Light
The available light completely surrounding a subject. Light already existing in an indoor or outdoor setting that is not caused by any illumination supplied by the photographer.

Angle Of View
The area of a scene that a lens covers or sees. Angle of view is determined by the focal length of the lens. A wide-angle lens (short-focal-length) includes more of the scene-a wider angle of view-than a normal (normal-focal-length) or telephoto (long-focal-length) lens.

Lens opening. The opening in a camera lens through which light passes to expose the film. The size of aperture is either fixed or adjustable. Aperture size is usually calibrated in f-numbers-the larger the number, the smaller the lens opening.

Aperture Priority
An exposure mode on an automatic or autofocus camera that lets you set the aperture while the camera sets the shutter speed for proper exposure. If you change the aperture, or the light level changes, the shutter speed changes automatically.

Architectural Photography
Photographing structures to produce an informative building study which also yields stand-alone images of artistic merit in their own right.
See Architecture samples

American Standards Association. See ISO.

Aspect Ratio
The ratio of width to height in photographic prints - 2:3 in 35 mm pictures to produce photographs most commonly measuring 3.5 x 5 inches or 4 x 6 inches; Advanced Photo System cameras deliver three aspect ratios as selected by the user.

Autofocus (AF)
System by which the camera lens automatically focuses the image of a selected part of the picture subject.

Automatic Camera
A camera with a built-in exposure meter that automatically adjusts the lens opening, shutter speed, or both for proper exposure.




Light coming from behind the photo subject. Can cause underexposure of the main subject with autoexposure systems.

Accordion-like device on cameras that allows the lens to move toward or away from the film-plane. Usually used for close-up or macro work.

Black and White Film
Light-sensitive film that, when processed, produces a black and white, negative image. The resulting "negative" is projected onto light-sensitive paper to make black and white photographic prints.

Unsharp. Caused by inaccurate focus or excessive movement of the camera or subject.

A word, of Japanese origin, used to describe the out-of-focus elements in an image (e.g., "That image has nice bokeh.").

Practice of varying exposure to insure accurate exposure of a given subject; e.g., exposing "one stop under" and "one stop over".

Shutter speed setting where the shutter stays open as long as the shutter release is depressed. Usually indicated by a B on the shutter speed selector.




Cable Release
A cable device for releasing the shutter. Usually used for slow shutter speeds when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

Chromatic Aberration
A type of image distortion that usually appears as a rainbow on the edge of objects towards the outside of an image. Occurs when light rays passing through a lens focus at different points, depending on the light wavelength. An "apochromatic" lens corrects for this problem.

Chromogenic Film
Black and white film made for processing in C-41 color chemicals.

Circle Of Confusion (COC)
The point at which the light rays come closest together from the lens on the plane bringing the image into sharpness, or focus. As this point is usually not a perfect point but a disc or circle, it is small enough that it seems to be in focus to the human eye. (This is a very simple explanation and will be expanded on).

Color-negative Film
Light-sensitive film that, when processed, produces a colored, negative image. The resulting "negative" is projected onto light-sensitive paper to make photographic prints.

Where light rays pass through an off-axis point causing the lens to focus at different points causing blur.

Construction Photography
Specialist photography catering for the “Built Environment”. Images of buildings under development and or the people and machinery working are common.

Continuous Service AF
Used to allow the camera to continue focusing as long as the shutter release is slightly pressed. This allows an AF camera to take a picture even if the picture is not in focus. Used for taking pictures of fast moving subjects. "Predictive Autofocus".

The difference between light and dark values. Usually refers to the gradation between black and white. Fewer gray values are described as "high contrast." Many shades of gray are low contrast.

To enlarge an image so that parts are cut or left off the print.

Curvature of Field
When light rays passing through a lens tend to focus on a curved plane rather than a flat plane resulting in images that are not sharp.




Dark material used to cover the photographer's head and the ground-glass viewing screen on large format cameras.

"Dark", light-tight space for processing and printing photographic materials.

Thin, flat piece of metal or plastic, which protects unprocessed film from light exposure.

Dedicated Flash
Electronic flash designed to work with the meter and exposure system of a specific camera.

The amount or "density" of silver on an exposed and processed piece of film.

Depth of Field (DOF)
The distance between the farthest and nearest points which are in focus. "Depth-of-field" can also be used to describe the zone of acceptable sharpness before and behind a given focused subject. DOF varies according to numerous factors such as lens focal length, aperture, shooting distance, etc.

Chemical that converts silver halide on film to a visible, black image.

Another word for aperture. Can also be a type of shutter.

Bounced light. Light "refracts" off opaque materials softening and blurring an image.

Material that softens and "diffuses" light in order to soften the edges in an image.

Light rays of different wavelengths deviate different amounts through a lens causing a rainbow effect around points and edges.

Optically, where straight lines are not rendered perfectly straight in a focused image. The two types of "distortion" are barrel and pincushion.

Another term similar to "Thingy" but meaning approximately the same thing. General description for any knob, button, switch, gadget, part or component in a photographers kit that the photographer has no idea what it's for or why it's there, but it seems to work just fine on it's own. (Not an official term, but a commonly used one). See also "Thingy".

Dots per inch
(DPI) is a measure of
printing dot density, specifically the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the measurement of 1 inch. The DPI value tends to incorrectly be reffered to in digital imagery and screen resolution, but is related only indirectly. When referring to screen resolution PPI or Pixels Per Inch should be used. See PPI




ED (Extra Low Dispersion) Glass
A glass developed and trademarked by Nikon Corporation, used in telephoto lenses to obtain optimum correction to help prevent chromatic aberration. These lenses are resistant to temperature changes, preventing focus shift problems in lenses that use calcium fluorite crystal elements.

EF Lens
Designation for Canon EOS system autofocus lenses.

The light sensitive, chemically active surface on photographic film and paper.

A photographic print made by "enlarging" an image from a piece of film.

Exchangeable image file format
(Exif) is a specification for the
imagefile format used by digital cameras. The specification uses the existing JPEG, TIFF and Rev. 6.0 file formats, with the addition of specific metadata tags.

The amount of light that reaches film or the combination of f-stop and shutter speed that controls the amount of light. Also used to describe an exposed piece of film.

Extension Tubes
Hollow metal tubes used to extend the length of a lens. Used for "macro" or close-up photography.




F Numbers or f-Stop
Numbers on the outside of the lens corresponding to the aperture opening. The larger the number (e.g., F/22), the smaller the opening of the lens; the smaller the number (e.g., F/2.8) the larger the opening of the lens. The f-number or f-stop is equal to the focal length divided by the aperture diameter.

Photosensitive material used in analogue cameras to record an image. Made from a thin, transparent base coated with light sensitive chemicals.

Transparent lens attachments used to change the color, or other characteristics, of an image. They are used both on the camera and in the darkroom.

Fisheye Lens
Super wide-angle lens. Angle of view can approach 180 degrees. Nearly infinite depth- of-field.

Fixed Focal Length
A camera with a non-removable, non-zoom lens. The lens focal length can't, therefore, be changed.

Reflected light from lens elements, metal, etc. Appears as a non-uniform haze or bright spots on the film. Usually occurs when bright light (such as the sun) enters the lens.

Artificial light source. Usually camera mounted but also larger studio models called strobes.

Flash Sync (Synchronization)
The shutter speed that corresponds to the timing of the flash. Any faster and the shutter won't be open for the duration of the flash. Any shorter and subject movement might cause blur.

A special glass used by Canon in selected pro lenses to correct for chromatic aberration.

Focal Length
The distance between the back lens element and the focal plane. In 35mm format, lenses with a focal length of approximately 50mm are called normal (standard), lenses 35mm and shorter are called wide-angle, and lenses with a focal length of more than approximately 70mm are called telephoto lenses.

Focal Plane
The area of the camera where the lens focuses on the film or sensor (digital).

Focal Plane Shutter
A shutter placed just off the surface the focal plane.

Focal Point
The point on the optical axis where light rays form a sharp image of a subject. An ideal lens would allow light rays to reflect from a subject, travel through the optical axis and converge to a point after they pass through the lens.

To move the lens, or film, in relation to the focal plane in order to record a sharp image on the film.

Focus Mode
Three basic types of focus modes exist for AF cameras: Single servo AF, Continuous AF and Manual AF.

Focus Priority
\A camera mode where the shutter cannot be released until the subject is in focus.

Focus Tracking
Where the camera's microprocessor (computer) analyzes a moving subject's speed, anticipates the position of the subject at the exact moment of exposure, and focuses the lens based on this information.

Focusing Screen
Usually on large format cameras- a piece of frosted glass at the focal plane where the lens projects an image for focusing and composition.

Can mean either the size of the camera or the size of the film. For camera sizes there are APS, 35mm, medium and large formats. For film formats there are APS, 35mm, 645, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, 4x5, 5x7, 8x10, etc.




The sand-like or granular appearance of a negative, print, or slide. Graininess becomes more pronounced with faster film and the degree of enlargement.

Gray Card (Grey Card)
A gray card is a middle gray reference board, sheet or similar material, typically used together with a reflective light meter either in camera or hand held, as a way to produce consistent image exposure and/or color in film and digital photography.
Also used in Audio Visual (Motion Picture) industries.



One of the three selectable Advanced Photo System print formats; identical to the 9:16 aspect ratio used in high-definition television (HDTV); suitable for wider shots than usual, such as groups; produces prints of 3.5 x 6 inches or 4 x 7 inches. See also Aspect Ratio and Interspersed Aspect Ratio.

High Contrast
A wide range of density in a print or negative.

The brightest areas of a subject and the corresponding areas in a negative, a print, or a slide.

Hot Shoe
The fitting on a camera that holds a small portable flash. It has an electrical contact that aligns with the contact on the flash unit's "foot" and fires the flash when you press the shutter release. This direct flash-to-camera contact eliminates the need for a PC cord.

Hyperfocal Distance
Distance of the nearest object in a scene that is acceptably sharp when the lens is focused on infinity.

The name for a fixing bath made from sodium thiosulfate, other chemicals, and water; often used as a synonym for fixing bath.




Interspersed Aspect Ratio
A basic requirement of certified photofinishers and certified photofinishing equipment; specifies the three system print formats - C, H and P - that users select during picture-taking must be available at photofinishing.

Information about a photo that can be attached to a photo file using the metadata standard defined by the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC).

ISO Speed
The emulsion speed (sensitivity) of the film as determined by the standards of the International Standards Organization. In these standards, both arithmetic (ASA) and logarithmic (DIN) speed values are expressed in a single ISO term. For example, a film with a speed of ISO 100/21° would have a speed of ASA 100 or 21 DIN. On digital cameras this reflects the sensitivity of the sensor. A higher ISO will create more grain.

IX (Information Exchange)
The ability of Advanced Photo System film to communicate with devices, and devices to communicate with film; can be accomplished optically or magnetically using a thin magnetic layer on the film that records digital data. See also Transparent magnetic layer.



Acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group, and pronounced jay-peg. JPEG is a lossy compression technique for color images. Although it can reduce files sizes to about 5% of their normal size, some detail is lost in the compression.



Eastman Kodak Company is a multinational American corporation which produces imaging and photographic materials and equipment. Long known for its wide range of photographic film products.



Latent Image
The invisible image left by the action of light on photographic film or paper. The light changes the photosensitive salts to varying degrees depending on the amount of light striking them. When processed, this latent image will become a visible image either in reversed tones (as in a negative) or in positive tones (as in a color slide).

LCD panel
Liquid Crystal Display on cameras that shows such information as remaining exposures, flash status and aspect ratio selected.

One or more pieces of optical glass or similar material designed to collect and focus rays of light to form a sharp image on the film, paper, or projection screen.

Lens Shade
A collar or hood at the front of a lens that keeps unwanted light from striking the lens and causing image flare. May be attached or detachable, and should be sized to the particular lens to avoid vignetting.

Lens-Shutter Camera
A camera with the shutter built into the lens; the viewfinder and picture-taking lens are separate.

Lens Speed
The largest lens opening (smallest f-number) at which a lens can be set. A fast lens transmits more light and has a larger opening than a slow lens.



Macro Lens
A lens that provides continuous focusing from infinity to extreme close-ups, often to a reproduction ratio of 1:2 (half life-size) or 1:1 (life-size).

A lighttight metal container (cartridge) that holds 135 film (cylindrical magazine).

Photofinishing operation that operates on a retail level, serving consumers directly and processing film on-site.

Motor Drive
A mechanism for advancing the film to the next frame and recocking the shutter, activated by an electric motor usually powered by batteries. Popular for action-sequence photography and for recording images by remote control.



The developed film that contains a reversed tone image of the original scene.

Negative Holder
A device designed to hold the negative in proper position in an enlarger.

Normal Lens
A lens that makes the image in a photograph appear in perspective similar to that of the original scene. A normal lens has a shorter focal length and a wider field of view than a telephoto lens, and a longer focal length and narrower field of view than a wide-angle lens.



Off-The-Film Metering
A meter which determines exposure by reading light reflected from the film during picture-taking.

Ortho (Orthochromatic)
Denotes film sensitive to blue and green light.

A condition in which too much light reaches the film, producing a dense negative or a very light print or slide.



"Pan" format - one of the three selectable Advanced Photo System print formats; a 1:3 aspect ratio that produces prints of 3.5 x 10.5 inches or up to 4.5 x 11.5 inches; suitable for panoramic shots and tall or wide subjects. See also Aspect Ratio and Interspersed Aspect Ratio.

Pan (Panchromatic)
Designation of films that record all colors in tones of about the same relative brightness as the human eye sees in the original scene, sensitive to all visible wave-lengths.

Moving the camera so that the image of a moving object remains in the same relative position in the viewfinder as you take a picture.

broad view, usually scenic.

With a lens-shutter camera, parallax is the difference between what the viewfinder sees and what the camera records, especially at close distances. This is caused by the separation between the viewfinder and the picture-taking lens. There is no parallax with single-lens-reflex cameras because when you look through the viewfinder, you are viewing the subject through the picture-taking lens.

Regularly and accurately spaced holes punched throughout the length of 35 mm film for still cameras.

Polarizing Screen (Filter)
A filter that transmits light traveling in one plane while absorbing light traveling in other planes. When placed on a camera lens or on light sources, it can eliminate undesirable reflections from a subject such as water, glass, or other objects with shiny surfaces. This filter also darkens blue sky.

The opposite of a negative, an image with the same tonal relationships as those in the original scenes-for example, a finished print or a slide.

Pixels per inch
(PPI) or pixel density is a measurement of the resolution of devices in various contexts such as computer displays, image scanners or digital camera image sensors. Commonly mistaken for DPI or Dots Per Inch. See DPI

A positive picture, usually on paper, and usually produced from a negative.

Printing Frame
A device used for contact printing that holds a negative against the photographic paper. The paper is exposed by light from an external light source.

Developing, fixing, and washing exposed photographic film or paper to produce either a negative image or a positive image.

Program Exposure
An exposure mode on an automatic or autofocus camera that automatically sets both the aperture and the shutter speed for proper exposure.

Push Processing
Increasing the development time of a film to increase its effective speed (raising the ISO number for initial exposure ) for low-light situations; forced development.



Quasi-Fish-Eye Lens
The Quasi-fish-eye lens produces an image on the film that covers the entire frame, whereas a True fish-eye lens has its circular image contained wholly within the film frame. 



A device included on many cameras as an aid in focusing.

Any device used to reflect light onto a subject.

Most films are designed to be exposed within a certain range of exposure times-usually between 1/15 second to 1/1000 second. When exposure times fall outside of this range-becoming either significantly longer or shorter-a film's characteristics may change. Loss of effective film speed, contrast changes, and (with color films) color shifts are the three common results. These changes are called reciprocity effect.

Cracking or distorting of the emulsion during processing, usually caused by wide temperature or chemical-activity differences between the solutions.

Altering a print or negative after development by use of dyes or pencils to alter tones of highlights, shadows, and other details, or to remove blemishes.

RF Output
The playback output level of the recorded FM signal. Lower RF output levels can result in increased noise levels in the playback signal.



An enclosed darkroom lamp fitted with a filter to screen out light rays to which film and paper are sensitive.

An attribute of perceived color, or the percentage of hue in a color. Saturated colors are called vivid, strong, or deep. Desaturated colors are called dull, weak, or washed out.

Selective Focus
Choosing a lens opening that produces a shallow depth of field. Usually this is used to isolate a subject by causing most other elements in the scene to be blurred.

Blades, a curtain, plate, or some other movable cover in a camera that controls the time during which light reaches the film.

Shutter Priority
An exposure mode on an automatic or autofocus camera that lets you select the desired shutter speed; the camera sets the aperture for proper exposure. If you change the shutter speed, or the light level changes, the camera adjusts the aperture automatically.

Light striking the subject from the side relative to the position of the camera; produces shadows and highlights to create modeling on the subject.

Simple Camera
A camera that has few or no adjustments to be made by the picture-taker. Usually, simple cameras have only one size of lens opening and one or two shutter speeds and do not require focusing by the picture-taker.

Single-Lens-Reflex (SLR) Camera
A camera in which you view the scene through the same lens that takes the picture.

A photographic transparency (positive) mounted for projection

Soft Lighting
Lighting that is low or moderate in contrast, such as on an overcast day.

Discolored areas on film or paper, usually caused by contaminated developing solutions or by insufficient fixing, washing, or agitation.

Stop Bath
An acid rinse, usually a weak solution of acetic acid, used as a second step when developing black-and-white film or paper. It stops development and makes the hypo (fixing bath) last longer.

Stopping Down
Changing the lens aperture to a smaller opening; for example, from f/8 to f/11.



Telephoto Lens
A lens that makes a subject appear larger on film than does a normal lens at the same camera-to-subject distance. A telephoto lens has a longer focal length and narrower field of view than a normal lens.

General description for any knob, button, switch, gadget, part or component in a photographers kit that the photographer has no idea what it's for or why it's there, but it seems to work just fine on it's own. (Not an official term, but a commonly used one). See also "DooDad"

Thin Negative
A negative that is underexposed or underdeveloped (or both). A thin negative appears less dense than a normal negative.

Through-The-Lens Focusing
Viewing a scene to be photographed through the same lens that admits light to the film. Through-the-lens viewing, as in a single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera, while focusing and composing a picture, eliminates parallax.

Through-The-Lens Metering
Meter built into the camera determines exposure for the scene by reading light that passes through the lens during picture-taking.

Time Exposure
A comparatively long exposure made in seconds or minutes.

Shades of white in a finished print, controlled by the color of the paper, varying from white to buff.

The degree of lightness or darkness in any given area of a print; also referred to as value. Cold tones (bluish) and warm tones (reddish) refer to the color of the image in both black-and-white and color photographs.

Intensifying or changing the tone of a photographic print after processing. Solutions called toners are used to produce various shades of colors.

A positive photographic image on film, viewed or projected by transmitted light (light shining through film).

A three-legged supporting stand used to hold the camera steady. Especially useful when using slow shutter speeds and/or telephoto lenses.

Tungsten Light
Light from regular room lamps and ceiling fixtures, not fluorescent.



A condition in which too little light reaches the film, producing a thin negative, a dark slide, or a muddy-looking print.

Ultra-Wide angle lens
An extra-wide angle lens. Generally refers to 35mm camera lenses with focal lengths shorter than 24 mm.

A lighting accessory that resembles a rain umbrella, used to soften illumination by bouncing or diffusing the light.

Unsharp Mask
In image-editing software (Such as photoshop), this is a tool that permits you to incrementally increase sharpness in an image. It differs from the Sharpen tool in that it allows you to control the degree of sharpening.

Urban Landscape
A photograph of a city taken in the manner of a landscape photograph, using buildings and other man-made features as graphical elements of composition that are treated in the same way the photographer would treat a natural image or a photo of nature such as mountains and trees.

UV Filter
a clear, neutral filter that absorbs ultraviolet radiation, with no effect on visible colors. Doubles as protection for the lens glass, or plastic if you can't afford a good lens... :)


A viewing lens on a camera used to see the field of view taken in by the camera’s lens and the portion of the view that will be recorded on film.

Viewfinder Camera
Camera with a viewfinder that is separate from the lens used in taking the picture. Usually positioned at the top of the camera body and seperate from the lens.

Location of the camera relative to the subject to be photographed.



The rinsing of film or photographic papers with water to remove chemicals.

Washing Agent
A solution that reduces washing time by quickly removing processing chemicals.

Wetting Agent
A chemical solution that lowers surface tension and causes film to dry faster evenly, reducing the risk of water spots on the film.

White Balance
The Global adjustment of the intesity of colours. Also known as Colour Balance. The adjustment of the colour temperature of an image to portray the image in a natural manner. Often a Gray (Grey) Card can be used to measure the correct temperature of the environment. Balance can also be adjusted to produce creative results.

Wide-Angle Lens
A wide-angle lens has a focal length which is less than the diagonal of the film format

Supporter of a married male photographer who dissapears at odd times during the day to capture that "perfect shot".



X Setting
Shutter speed setting at which flash synchronization occurs. For some manual cameras, the X setting designates the maximum shutter speed at which the camera synchronizes with flash attached to the camera.



Yellow Filter
Commonly used with black and white film. A yellow filter absorbs blue (its complementary color), it provides significantly greater contrast between blue and yellow or white subjects. A yellow filter absorbs UV and is useful in reducing haze, particularly in landscape photography



Zone System
A method created by photographers, Ansel Adams and Fred Archer, to determine optimal exposure and appropriate development of a photograpic image.

Zoom Lens
A lens in which you adjust the focal length over a wide range. Effectively a lens with multiple focul lenghts.