Foxed by photography jargon? Here’s the Toehold Dictionary of Photography to the rescue, with a comprehensive glossary of the commonest photography-terms.
Click on a letter below to see terms starting from that letter, or keep scrolling to read everything. Also, note that all terms in bold font have been defined in the document and can be searched for. And to learn all of this in a streamlined and practical way, join our Art and Science of Photography Workshop in your city!
Short for 1080 pixels. A video resolution also known as full high definition (FHD or simply HD), of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
A highly popular camera format, employing a sensor whose width is 36mm (and height 24mm), also known as the full-frame format.
An autofocus area selection mode in Nikon cameras that allows the camera to automatically change focus points to track a subject.
Short for 4000: a video resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels (3840 being approximated to 4000).
Short for 720 pixels. A video resolution also known as HD Ready, of 1280 x 720 pixels.
Short for anti-aliasing filter, also called optical low-pass filter: an electronic filter used in sensors to reduce or eliminate the effect of aliasing, chiefly moire.
An image stabilisation (‘Vibration Reduction’) mode in Nikon lenses that cuts lens shake along all axes. Useful in situations such as when shooting from a moving vehicle.
A colour space that supports a wider gamut of colours than the web-use sRGB.
Short for auto exposure bracketing.
AE lock (AE-L)
A button used to temporarily stop the camera from metering and therefore prevent change of exposure.
An autofocus mode in Nikon cameras which enables the camera to automatically choose between AF-S2 and AF-C. Equivalent of AI Focus in Canon.
AF area selection mode
The set of options that determine how the intended area of focus is defined.
An autofocus mode in Nikon cameras which enables the camera to track focus on a defined subject continuously.
AF lock (AF-L)
A button used to temporarily stop the camera from focusing.
Short for ‘Autofocus Silent’. A type of Nikon lens that employs a silent wave motor (SWM) to ensure noiseless focusing.
Short for ‘Autofocus Single’. An autofocus mode in Nikon cameras which enables the camera to stop focusing once focus is attained. Contrast with AF-C.
An autofocus mode in Canon cameras which enables the camera to automatically choose between One Shot and AI Servo focus. Equivalent of AF-A in Nikon.
AI Servo focus
An autofocus mode in Canon cameras that enables the camera to track focus on a defined subject continuously. Equivalent of AF-C in Nikon.
The appearance of a jagged pattern due to the superposition of the sensor’s pixel pattern with the repetitive pattern of a piece of fabric in a picture, e.g. a knitted sweater.
The light naturally available on the subject in a scene.
Analog to digital converter
An electronic component in a camera that converts the analog signal emitted by the sensor to a digital signal.
The angle formed by the extreme edges of the viewing field of a lens.
The variable-size opening at the back of a lens. Not to be confused with f-number.
A ring on some older lenses, used to set the f-number for the aperture.
Aperture priority/value mode
A semi-automatic exposure-program mode used to set the aperture manually so that shutter speed is automatically set by the camera.
A camera employing a sensor that’s 50 to 60 percent smaller than 35mm full-frame. E.g. Canon 7D Mark II, Nikon D500
A camera employing a sensor 30 percent smaller than 35mm full-frame. E.g. Canon 1D Mark IV.
Artifact (usually JPEG artifact)
A distortion (such as banding) in an image, typically a JPEG file, due to compression.
The ratio between the horizontal size and vertical size of an image or video. The commonest ratio for still pictures is 3:2 and for video is 16:9.
A lens element whose surface is not uniformly spherical, and whose curvature varies across its surface, making for thinner and lighter lens element groups.
A lens that employs one or more aspherical lens elements.
A feature in some SLRs which reduces the amplitude of sound while recording a video.
Using bracketing to take pictures at varying exposures of predefined stop values.
Auto exposure mode
The exposure program mode in which aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all set by the camera automatically to achieve desirable exposures.
The process by which the camera automatically adjusts the lens to bring the subject into focus.
A small, local and movable area of the frame that’s used to define the subject of focus in your frame.
A switch on a lens, typically a telephoto lens, used to limit the distance range across which the lens is enabled to focus. Useful to make focusing faster in low light.
Back button focusing
Using the ‘AF On’, ‘AE-L/AF-L’ or asterisk button at the back of the camera to autofocus.
The tendency of a lens, camera or combination to focus behind the defined subject rather than on it. Not to be confused with back-button focusing.
A type of tripod and monopod head that uses a metal ball to provide easy and quick adjustment of angle and position.
The appearance of bands in usually the plain parts of an image, due to compression.
A lens-related flaw in images whereby straight lines, or even everything in the image in general, appears as convex.
A portable and handy bag that can be stuffed with a range of materials to be used as a support for photographing, particularly with telephoto lenses.
The loss of highlight detail in a part or entirety of an image due to overexposure.
The quality of out-of-focus areas in an image.
The function which enables a camera to take multiple versions of the same picture by varying a defined parameter, e.g. exposure bracketing.
The temporary memory in a camera which holds images until they’re written to card, particularly while shooting in a continuous burst.
An exposure mode in which exposures of longer than 30 seconds can be made.
A tool in Adobe’s image processing software using which parts of an image can be darkened.
A shutter release mode in which a burst of photos can be taken by keeping the shutter-release button pressed.
Short for colour calibration. A process by which a display is tuned to show consistent colours in relation to a colour space and a printer.
A reference to the size of a sensor in a camera.
A device used to connect a memory card to a computer via a USB port.
Short for colour cast. An unwanted tint in an image.
A metering mode in which the camera meters the entire frame but places metering-emphasis on the centre of the frame. Useful when your subject is at the centre of your frame and there’s differential lighting on it.
Short for ‘continuous high’. The setting in Nikon cameras which enables the camera to take pictures at its fastest burst rate.
The appearance of fringing and other colour flaws owing to refraction of differing wavelengths.
Circle of confusion
The largest deviation of the focal point from the focal plane where the light still looks like a sharp dot instead of a discernible circle. In simplified terms, the maximum distance from the point of focus, where objects in front or behind the subject also look sharp enough to be said to be in focus. Also see depth of field.
A type of optical lens filter that polarises light along one axis and leads to reduction of reflection and glare from shiny surfaces, and deeper-coloured skies when used in a specific way.
Short for ‘continuous low’. The setting that enables the camera to take pictures at a slower rate than its fastest burst rate.
Short for complementary metal oxide semiconductor: a technology used in most or all modern DSLRs.
Short for cyan, magenta, yellow, black. A colour space widely used in commercial printing.
A tool in Adobe’s image processing software which helps correct colour casts.
The spectrum of colours available in a colour space.
The temperature corresponding to the light in which a photograph is being taken, expressed in Kelvin. Also see white balance.
A dial used in a camera to change aperture, shutter speed, ISO and toggle through menus.
The mode in Nikon cameras in which an on-camera trigger or popup flash can be used to fire a wireless flash remotely.
Compact flash (CF)
A type of memory card that’s popularly used by many DSLR cameras.
The arrangement of objects, geometrical elements, tonal gradations, perspective, colours and other image components in your frame.
The sharpness delivered by a lens towards the edges of a picture (away from the centre).
Canon’s proprietary raw file format.
A mode in Nikon cameras which enables the camera to take pictures in pre-defined cropped dimensions.
A sensor smaller than 35mm full-frame.
A type of autofocus sensor that detects subjects in the defined area of the frame along both the horizontal and vertical axes.
Custom white balance
The process of choosing a white balance colour temperature by taking a sample from the scene.
The total distance from the nearest object that’s in focus to the farthest object that’s in focus.
A mechanism comprising a set of blades whose positions can be adjusted to control the size of the aperture.
The phenomenon by which pictures turn out soft when a very small aperture is used.
A tool in post-production processing software which simulates the effect of an optical filter.
Dioptre adjustment wheel
A knob on the viewfinder housing, which allows you to improve the sharpness of the readouts in the viewfinder by adjusting it to your eyes.
Short for digital negative. A universal raw file format owned by Adobe.
Short for ‘dots per inch’, synonymous with pixels per inch (PPI). This is the resolution of an image or a printer, and determines how many pixels are available for every inch of print.
A setting in DSLRs which determines if the camera takes only one picture or a burst of pictures when the shutter button is pressed.
A type of optical filter that’s slotted into position close to the lens-mount, typically found in ultra-telephoto lenses. Contrast with screw-on filter.
Short for digital single lens reflex (camera).
The 1.5x crop (APS-C) format in Nikon. Both cameras and lenses in this format are designated as DX. Contrast with FX.
An autofocus area selection mode in Nikon cameras in which the user selects a single point, but the surrounding points assist that chosen point in acquiring focus. Not to be confused with dynamic range.
The range of exposure values in a scene, that is, the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of a scene.
Short for extra-low dispersion. A type of glass in Nikon lenses which offers low levels of internal reflections, leading to higher contrast and lesser flare and ghosting.
A Canon lens compatible with their full-frame and crop-frame camera-mounts.
A Canon lens compatible only with their APS-C crop-frame (EF-S) camera mount.
A metering mode in which the camera meters the entire frame and takes an average of the exposure values.
Short for exchangeable image file format. The information stored in an image pertaining to the settings and camera equipment used to make it.
The process of allowing light to hit an image-capturing medium, such as a sensor, to take a picture.
A tool used to correct the tendency of a camera to underexpose or overexpose in a situation.
Exposure delay mode
A mode that enables the camera to take a picture a few seconds after the shutter-release button is pressed.
One of at least four modes available in an SLR, which allow the user to choose which aspects of the exposure triangle they’d like to control. E.g. Aperture priority mode
A hollow (glassless) element that can be mounted between a camera and a lens
The part of the viewfinder through which the user can look at a scene for composition before taking a picture.
The system of data in which an image is stored. Popular file formats are JPEG, raw (proprietary for each camera), DNG and TIFF.
The use of flash to lighten dark shadows in contrasty shooting conditions.
The embedded software in a camera.
A wide-angle lens that produces deliberately distorted images, in which straight lines appear convex. Contrast with rectilinear lens.
Fixed focal-length lens
A lens that is capable of working at only one focal length, also sometimes referred to as a prime lens.
A Nikon term used to denote a lens that employs flourite elements.
A device used to increase the range of an external flash.
A lens element made of flourite to deliver superior sharpness and contrast at reduced weight.
A number that together with the focal length, denotes the aperture size of a lens. E.g. f/8.
The distance between the focal point of a lens and the image plane (the camera’s sensor).
Focus assist lamp
A small bulb at the front of a camera that lights up to illuminate the subject in low light to assist the camera to acquire focus.
Focus lock button (AF-L or star)
A button used to stop the camera from continuing to focus when it’s in focus tracking (AF-C or AI-Servo) mode.
The process of adjusting your lens elements to bring a particular distance into sharpness.
A memory setting on a lens by which the focus can be brought with the press of a button to a preset distance.
A translucent screen in a camera that shows the autofocus points while previewing your image or composing through the viewfinder.
Short for ‘frames per second’, the unit of continuous burst speed: the number of pictures a camera can take in a second when used in continuous shooting mode.
The erroneous tendency of a lens to focus in front of a defined subject rather than on it, with the result that the defined subject goes unintentionally out of focus.
The unit of exposure. A relative unit, it refers to doubling or halving of light when the aperture, shutter speed or ISO is set to one f-stop higher or lower respectively.
Full frame (camera/sensor/format/angle of view)
A term used to refer to a 35mm camera or sensor, or the 35mm format or angle of view.
Nikon’s term for a 35mm DSLR.
Graduated neutral density filter – digital
A tool in Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom software which enables selective processing, usually used to darken the sky in an image.
Graduated neutral density filter – optical
A lens filter, usually rectangular, shaded over one half and gradually clear in the other, which helps increase the dynamic range of images.
Group area AF
An autofocus area selection mode in Nikon and Canon cameras where a group of autofocus points is chosen instead of a single point.
A specification of the output power of an external flash.
A smaller unit of exposure than a full stop, referring to a 50% increase or decrease in light.
High dynamic-range (HDR)
An image accommodating a wider range of exposures than normal for a straight-out-of-camera image, usually achieved in digital post-production processing.
An image in which the subject is well exposed but the background is very bright or even white, by design.
A tool available in most cameras to review the brightness levels of your image. It is essentially a graphical representation of the distribution of luminance values in your image.
A metal bracket on top of a camera which allows the mounting of a compatible accessory, such as an external flash, a microphone, or a remote trigger.
The focus distance to which when a lens is set, all subjects from half that distance to infinity are in focus (within the depth of field). Hyperfocal distance = f2/Nc, where f = focal length, N = f-number and c = circle of confusion.
Short for international colour consortium profile – a set of standards set by the ICC for colour management.
Image stabilizer – optical
A technology in a lens, or less commonly in a camera, which employs a moveable element to counter the shake arising from hand-holding the setup or photographing from an unsteady platform, to produce sharper pictures.
The plane on which the image formed by the lens is captured, viz. the sensor in the case of a digital camera.
Image review (esp. in Nikon terminology)
A feature in a digital camera that enables the camera to bring up a picture on the display as soon as it’s taken.
Incident light meter
An external light meter independent of a camera which measures incident light directly from the source and recommends exposure settings. Contrast with reflective metering.
The process of metering the light in a scene using an incident light meter.
The condition of a lens being set to focus at a distance too great to be measured.
The process of increasing image size (number of pixels) by adding pixels in computer software.
A handheld device in the shape of a remote release, which allows interval timer photography in cameras that don’t have an in-built intervalometer.
The sensitivity of a sensor to incident light, expressed in ISO ratings.
Canon’s second-generation image-stabilization technology for lenses.
The unit of measurement of colour temperature.
The phenomenon of straight lines in images appearing convex (barrel distortion) or concave (pincushion distortion) due to inherent lens-flaws.
The nomenclature used by Canon to indicate the presence of professional features.
The ability offered by a camera – which doesn’t have a lens permanently attached to it – to use different lenses.
The circular opening in a camera where a lens can be attached.
The process of lighting a part of a scene, typically with a torch, during a long exposure.
The use of the camera’s display (instead of the viewfinder) to compose pictures.
A type of image in which a subject is well-exposed but the background is very dark or even black, achieved when a subject is brighter than the background either in colour or in the light incident on it, and is exposed appropriately.
An exposure in which the shutter speeds lasts several seconds or even minutes.
A lens whose magnification is at least 1:1, commonly used for closeup photography.
The mode in which all three determinants of exposure, i.e. aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, are set by the user.
A type of exposure metering in which the camera measures light from the entire scene and takes an average. Equivalent of evaluative metering in Canon.
A camera that employs a sensor larger than 35mm full frame but smaller than 4 x 3” large format.
A term for million pixels (1,000,000 pixels).
The process of measuring the light in a scene so as to set an appropriate exposure on the camera.
Any of the multiple ways in which the light in a scene is measured to calculate the appropriate combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity in the camera for an ideal exposure.
(Pronounced /mwaar/): the appearance of wavy lines in a picture due to aliasing.
A single-legged support system for stability whilst photographing particularly with a heavy telephoto lens.
A piece of opaque, reflective glass used in DSLRs to direct the light coming through the lens into the pentaprism of the viewfinder, thus enabling the photographer to see through the same lens as that being used to capture the image.
A setting which locks the camera mirror in the lifted position exposing the shutter, until the shutter-release button is pressed or the camera is switched off.
Blur occurring in an image due to a combination of camera or subject motion and inadequate shutter speed (relative to the speed of motion).
Multiple exposure (in-camera)
A feature in some Canon and Nikon cameras, which, when pre-activated, combines the number of predefined pictures taken subsequently into a single image.
Nikon terminology to denote a lens that employs nano crystal-coated elements.
Nano crystal coating
A coating of crystalised nano-sized particles on lens elements to eliminate or reduce internal lens-reflections causing image aberrations.
Short for Nikon electronic format, Nikon’s proprietary raw file format.
The space around the subject in a picture. Contrast with positive space.
Random variation in brightness in an image which shows up as grain, especially when a high ISO sensitivity-setting is used.
A lens whose angle of view when used with its intended format produces a field of view similar to that of the human eyes.
An optical filter that reduces the amount of light going into a camera lens.
A rectangular or circular piece of coated glass that has a particular kind of effect on images. E.g. Neutral-density filter
Optical low-pass filter
An anti-aliasing filter used in a camera’s sensor to reduce moire.
An external flash used remotely (as against by mounting it on the camera’s hot-shoe) and triggered with or without a wire.
An autofocus mode in Canon cameras in which the camera stops focusing after acquiring focus the first time, unless the focus button is released and depressed again.
A smaller unit of exposure than a full stop, corresponding to a thirty-percent increase or decrease in exposure when the aperture, shutter speed or ISO sensitivity is set to one-third stop higher or lower setting respectively. Compare with half stop.
Excessive light captured in an image that results in an image or a part of it being ‘blown out’ (too bright with loss of highlight detail).
The act of moving the camera at a constant speed parallel to and in sync with a subject moving across the frame so as to track focus on it and take pictures. Also see slow-shutter panning.
An image made by stitching together multiple images taken by panning the camera across a scene to show a wider view of a scene than possible in a single picture.
The effect of the view in the viewfinder not being the same as the picture being taken (the view seen by the shooting lens), in rangefinder cameras.
A metering mode in Canon cameras which enables the camera to measure light in a part of the centre of the scene to arrive at the desired exposure. Compare with spot metering.
A five-faced prism with two silvered surfaces that reflect light at right angles, used in the viewfinder mechanisms of cameras.
Photo shooting menu
A menu in Nikon cameras that gives access to image quality, picture control, noise reduction, interval timer shooting and multiple exposure among others.
A set of in-camera preset levels of sharpening, contrast, colour saturation etc, which determine the appearance of an image, particularly while photographing in the JPEG mode.
A type of lens distortion in which straight lines in an image, or the entire image itself, appear concave.
The most fundamental unit of a digital image and also each of the tiny image-capturing elements of a sensor.
A menu in Nikon cameras which gives access to settings related to playback and review of in-camera pictures and videos.
Point and shoot
A basic non-DSLR compact still camera.
An in-built flash in a camera which pops up either manually when a button is pressed, or automatically when required, depending on the exposure program mode and/or enabling or disabling of flash in the camera.
The space occupied by the subject in a picture. Contrast with negative space.
The process of working on an image, post a shoot, particularly a raw file, to adjust, enhance and manipulate it as required to produce an end image.
Synonym for a fixed focal-length lens.
Programmable automatic (P) mode
A mode available in some cameras which makes shutter release quieter: helpful when photographing from a hide or in a public place where observing silence is necessary.
Quick release plate
A flat metal component that can be screwed on to the bottom of a camera or a lens (via the collar foot) and mounted and unmounted on the head of a tripod or a monopod easily.
A shortcut button in Canon cameras that gives access to several camera settings. Equivalent of the i (info) button in Nikon cameras.
A type of proprietary file (unique to each camera) that stores all of the image data captured at the time of shooting in an unedited format. E.g. .NEF (Nikon), .CR2 (Canon).
The rate at which image or video data can be read off a memory card by a camera or a computer, expressed in megabytes per second (MBPS).
A slow shutter flash mode where the flash fires at the end of the exposure. Contrast with front sync.
The reciprocal relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO in the determination of an exposure.
The breakdown in the normal reciprocal relationship between aperture and shutter speed, typically occurring with film during long exposures.
A lens that produces images in which straight lines appear as straight lines instead of convex shapes, as with a fisheye lens.
A common type of metering where a light meter built into the camera is used to measure light being reflected off the scene to determine the exposure (aperture, shutter speed or ISO, depending on the mode being used).
A cabled or wireless device used to remotely control the autofocus and shutter-release of a camera.
The size of an image in number of pixels, usually expressed in megapixels (millions of pixels), by multiplying the number of pixels on the horizontal side of an image with that on the vertical side.
The number of pixels per unit length (usually pixels per inch or PPI) available for viewing or printing.
A type of optical filter that’s attached to the front of a camera lens using a thread built into the lens barrel. Contrast with drop-in filter.
Short for secure digital. A type of very compact card that’s commonly used in many DSLR cameras. Sub types: SDHC and SDXC.
A setting in a camera which enables the camera to take a picture or a burst of pictures a defined time after pressing the shutter-release button.
The image plane in a digital camera; an electronic component on which the inverted optical image is projected before being captured as a digital picture.
A menu in Nikon cameras that gives access to firmware updation, saving and loading of settings, card formatting, monitor brightness, language selection and time and zone setting, among others.
An opaque curtain in front of the sensor that determines the duration of exposure by opening and closing as per a defined speed, called the shutter speed.
The time taken by the camera to actually take the picture after pressing the shutter-release button.
The button which when pressed causes the shutter to open and the camera to take pictures.
The amount of time the shutter takes to close after opening, to allow light to be gathered by the sensor for an exposure. Longer exposures are called slower shutter speeds and vice versa.
A type of image in which the subject appears as a dark outline, usually against a fairly plain background.
The technique of photographing a moving subject by panning the camera with a deliberately chosen slow shutter speed in accordance with the speed of the subject so that the subject is relatively sharp but the background is rendered as a motion-blurred streak.
Short for single lens reflex. The type of camera in which the same lens (a single lens) is used to compose pictures using an optical viewfinder, as well as take pictures.
Canon’s term for external flash.
A metering mode in which the camera meters the entire frame but places especial emphasis on a small user-defined part of the scene.
The depiction of the sun or a man-made source of light in an image in the shape of a star, with multiple sharp points around a circular centre.
A long-exposure (slow shutter-speed) image of the night sky, in which the stars are rendered as streaks due to the rotation of Earth in relation to the stars.
A ring attached to the front element of a lens to enable the use of an optical filter of a smaller diameter than that of the lens.
A ring attached to the front element of a lens to enable the use of an optical filter of a larger diameter than that of the lens.
The fastest shutter-speed at which a flash can function flawlessly.
A second dial (apart from the command dial) used to change the aperture, shutter speed, ISO or other settings depending on the camera.
A lens with a longer than ‘normal’(50mm on full frame) focal length.
Short for tagged image file format, a high-quality image format that supports lossless compression and is used for long-term storage and printing.
The practice of taking pictures of the same scene at intervals and then sequencing them together at a high frame rate to make a video.
The process of maintaining focus on a moving subject.
Short for ‘through the lens’: a type of flash metering available in compatible external flashes.
The quality of an image having a suboptimal brightness level. Contrast with overexposure.
A clear optical-filter that blocks out UV light from entering a lens.
Nikon’s term for image stabilization.
Second generation of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction.
A small optical component in a camera through which a scene may be viewed for composing and taking pictures.
The blackout experienced in the viewfinder when a picture is being taken (because the mirror is up and there’s no light going through to the viewfinder).
The unintentional darkening of corners in an image because of light falloff.
An image or a piece of text imprinted on an image to declare copyright and protect it from plagiarism or as an artistic signature.
The neutrality of white, and consequently of all other colours, in an image. As a camera setting, a colour temperature, either entered manually by the user or as one of a number of presets available, to ensure colour neutrality.
White balance bracketing
Using bracketing to take multiple pictures at various defined colour temperatures.
A lens with a focal length or range of focal lengths shorter than 50mm on the full-frame format.
The practice of taking wide-angle pictures of a macro subject from very close range so as to show its habitat.
The minimum distance from a subject that needs to be maintained in a particular situation in order to achieve a desired composition or depth of field.
The rate at which image or video data can be written on to a memory card by a camera.
A type of memory card that’s smaller than SD but larger than micro SD.
An autofocus area selection mode in Canon cameras where a ‘zone’ in the viewfinder comprising multiple autofocus points is chosen.
A type of image made by increasing or decreasing the focal length of a lens in the course of an exposure (with a slow shutter speed), resulting in the subject being sharp but motion-blurred streaks projecting from it.
A lens that has a variable range of focal lengths. Contrast with prime lens.