A Glossary of Photographic Terms

These are common vocabulary terms that all photographers know. Many of these you will already know. Learn the ones that you don't.

Adjustable camera - A camera with manually adjustable distance settings, lens opening, and/or shutter speeds. 

Adjustable-focus lens - A lens that has adjustable distance settings.

Aesthetic - A system of criteria used for evaluating works of art. Criteria may be visual, moral, social, or any combination of these. The term may also refer to the quality of beauty that defines or is perceived in a work of art.

Angle of view - The portion of a scene that is covered through a camera lens. The width of this wedge-shaped portion is determined by the focal length of the lens. A wide-angle (short-focal-length) lens includes more of the scene—a wider angle of view--than does a normal (normal-focal-length) or telephoto (long-focal-length) lens.

Aperture - Lens opening. The opening in a lens system through which light passes. The size of aperture is either fixed or adjustable. Lens openings are usually calibrated in f-numbers.

Aperture priority - A camera feature that lets you select the desired aperture, and the camera sets the shutter speed for proper exposure. When you change the aperture or when the light level changes, the shutter speed changes accordingly.

Autofocus - The camera focuses automatically on the subject in the center of the viewfinder when you press the shutter release.

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

Background - The part of the scene that appears behind the principle subject of the picture.

Backlighting - Light shining on the subject from the direction opposite the camera

Balance - Placement of colors, light and dark masses, or large and small objects in a picture to create harmony and equilibrium.

Bellows - The folding portion in some cameras or enlargers that connects the lens to the camera body.

Between-the-lens shutter - A shutter whose blades operate between two elements of the lens.

Blow-up - An enlargement; a print that is made larger than the negative or slide.

Bounce lighting - Flash or tungsten light bounced off the ceiling or walls to give the effect of natural or available light.

Burning-in - Giving additional exposure to part of the image projected on an enlarger easel to make that area of the print darker. This is accomplished after the basic exposure by extending the exposure time to allow additional image-forming light to strike the areas in the print you want to darken while holding back the image-forming light from the rest of the image. Sometimes called printing-in.

Camera angles - Various positions of the camera (high, medium, or low; and left, right, or straight-on) with respect to the subject, each giving a different viewpoint or effect.

Candid pictures - Un posed pictures of people, often taken without the subject's knowledge. These usually appear more natural and relaxed than posed pictures. Close-up A picture taken with the camera close to the subject.

Close-up lens - A lens attachment placed in front of a camera lens to permit taking pictures at a closer distance than the camera lens alone will allow.

Coated lens - A lens covered with a very thin layer of transparent material that reduces the amount of light reflected by the surface of the lens. A coated lens is faster (transmits more light) than an uncoated lens.

Color balance - The ability of a film to reproduce the colors of a scene. Color films are balanced in manufacture for exposure to light of a certain cc or quality: daylight, tungsten, et, Color balance also refers to the reproduction of colors in color prints, which can be altered during the printing process.

Composition - The arrangement of all elements in a picture: main subject, foreground, background, and supporting subjects.

Contrast - The density range of a negative print, or slide; the brightness range of a subject or the scene lighting.

Contrasty Higher-than-normal contrast. The range of density in a negative or print is higher than it was in the original scene.

Cropping - Printing only part of the image that is in the negative or slide.

Darkroom - A light tight area used for processing films and for printing and processing papers; also for loading and unloading film holders and some cameras.

Dedicated flash - An automatic flash that works in conjunction with speech cameras As the flash emits light, a sensor usually in the camera, measures the light reflected from the subject and turns off the flash when the correct exposure has been reached.

Definition - Clarity of detail in a photograph.

Density - The blackness of an area in a negative or print that determine the amount of light that will pass through it or reflect from it.

Depth of field - The distance range between the nearest and farthest objects the appear in acceptably sharp focus in a photograph. Depth of field depends on the lens opening, the focal length of the lens, and the distance from the lens to the subject.

Diaphragm - Lens opening. A perforated plat or adjustable opening mounted behind or between the elements of a lens used to control the amount of light that reaches the film. Openings are usually calibrated in f-numbers.

Diffusing - Softening detail in a print with diffusion disk or other material that scatters light.

Dodging - Holding back the image-forming light from a part of the image projected on an enlarger easel during part of the basic exposure time to make that area of the print lighter.

Double exposure - Two pictures taken on one frame of him, or two images printed on one piece of photographic paper.

Existing light - Available light. Strictly speaking, existing light covers all natural lighting from moonlight to sunshine. For photographic purposes, existing light is the light that is already on the scene or project and includes room lamps, fluorescent lamps, spotlights, neon signs, candles, daylight through windows, outdoor scene. at twilight or in moonlight, and scenes artificially illuminated after dark.

Exposure - The quantity of light allowed to act on a photographic material; product of the intensity (controlled by the lens opening) and the duration (controlled by the shutter speed or enlarging time) of light striking the film or paper.

Exposure latitude - The range of camera exposures, from underexposure to overexposure, that will produce acceptable pictures from a specific film. Exposure meter - An instrument with a light-sensitive cell that measures the light reflected from or falling on a subject; used as an aid to selecting the exposure setting. The same a- a light meter.

Exposure setting - The lens opening (aperture) plus shutter speed selected to expose the film.

Fill light - Auxiliary light from a lamp or reflector used to soften or fill in the shadows or dark picture areas caused by the main light source. .

Film speed - The sensitivity of a given film to light, indicated by a number such as ISO 200; the higher the number, the more sensitive or faster the film. Note: ISO stands for international Standards Organization.

Filter - A colored piece of glass or the transparent material used over the lens to emphasize, eliminate or change the color or density of the entire scene or certain elements in the scene.

Finder - A viewing device on a camera to show the subject area that will be recorded on the film. Also known as viewfinder and projected frame

Flash - A brief, intense burst of light from a flashbulb or an electronic flash unit.

Flat - Too low in contrast. The range in density in a negative or print is too short.

Flat lighting - Lighting that produces very little contrast or modeling on the subject.

F-number - A number used to indicate the size and light-passing ability of the lens opening on most adjustable cameras. Common f-numbers are f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22. The larger the f-number, the smaller the lens opening. In this series, f/2 is the largest lens opening and f/22 is the smallest. These numbers indicate the ratio of the focal length of the lens to the effective diameter of the lens opening; f-numbers help you get the right exposure.

Focal length - The distance from the lens to a point behind the lens where light rays are focused when the distance scale is set on infinity. Focal length determines image size at a given lens-to-subject distance.

Focal-plane shutter - An opaque curtain containing a slit that moves directly across in front of the film in a camera an- allows image-forming light to strike the him.

Focus - Adjustment of the distance setting on a lens to define the subject sharply.

Foreground - The area between the camera and the principal subject.

Frame - A tree branch, arch, doorway, etc, that frames a subject.

Frontlighting - Light shining on the subject from the direction of the camera.

Graininess - The sand like or granular appearance of a negative, print, or slide resulting from the clumping of silver grains during development of the film. Graininess becomes more pronounced with faster film increased density in the negative, and degree of enlargement.

High contrast - A wide range of density in a prim or negative.

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

Hot shoe - The fitting on the 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.

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).

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

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

Lighting - The illumination falling on a subject, particularly the direction or arrangement of the illumination.

Light meter - (See Exposure meter.)

Mechanics - The technical aspects of doing something

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.

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

Panning - 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. Also (M) moving a movie camera in a horizontal or vertical plane while taking movies for a panorama effect. Panning should be used sparingly.

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

Panorama - A broad view, usually scenic.

Parallax - At close subject distances, the difference between the field of view seen through the viewfinder and that recorded on the film. This is due to the separation between the viewfinder and the 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.

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

Program Exposure - Camera meters the scene and sets both shutter speed and aperture for proper exposure.

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

Reflector - Any device used to reflect light onto a subject.

Reflex camera - (also M) A camera in which the scene to be photographed is reflected by a mirror onto a glass where it can be focused and composed. In a reflex movie camera or a single lens reflex (SLR) camera, the scene is viewed through the same lens that takes the picture, thus avoiding parallax. With a twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera, the scene is viewed through the top lens, and the picture is taken through the bottom lens.

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

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.

Sequence - A series of shots (or scenes) that relate to each other.

Shot - A picture.

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

Shutter priority - A camera feature that lets you select the desired shutter speed, and the camera sets the aperture for proper exposure. When you change the shutter speed or when the light level changes, the aperture changes accordingly.

Sidelighting - 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.

Soft focus - Produced by use of a special lens that creates soft outlines.

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

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 an narrower field of view than a normal lens.

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 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.

Tone - 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.

Toning - Intensifying or changing the ton- of a photographic print after pro ceasing. Solutions called toners are used to produce various shades of brown and blue.

Tripod - A three-legged supporting stand used to hold the camera steady

Tungsten light - Light from regular room lamp and ceiling fixtures, not fluorescent.

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

Unipod - A one-legged support used t hold the camera steady.

Viewfinder (See Finder.)

Vignetting - Printing the central area of a picture while shading the edge so they'gradually turn to white/black.

Vision - A vivid mental image. Imagination: the formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses.

Wide-angle lens - A lens that has a shorter focal length and a wider field of view (includes more subject area) the a normal lens.

Zoom lens - A lens in which the focal length can be adjusted over a wide range, giving the photographer, in effect, lenses of many focal lengths.