27 Useful Photographic Terms You Should Know
Photographic terms are words and descriptions that have emerged to describe all things photography related.
Other photographic terms have evolved that relate to, and describe the process of taking a photograph.
Almost every endeavour that human beings undertake accumulated its own vocabulary over time.
This is only the very tip of the iceberg as far a photographic terms goes, there are many more.
1. Image Sensor
An image sensor is and integrated circuit chip that converts an optical image into an electronic signal.
They are used in digital cameras, most are CCD (charged coupled device) or CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) sensors.
2. Blown Out
These are very bright areas in a photograph that are over-exposed and are therefore said to be blown out.
Blown out areas are pure white and don’t hold any colour, and beyond rescue.
3. PC lens
This is a photographic term for a protective-control lens, which is simple another name for a shift lens.
The f-stop number is the size of the lens maximum aperture, measured as a fraction of the focal length of the lens.
Some zoom lenses can have two apertures shown on them, perhaps like f/4-5.6.
This means that the maximum aperture gets narrower when you zoom the lens in.
Sometimes the maximum aperture is written on the lens in the form of a ratio like 1:4-5.6..
A diffuser is any material that spreads out the light when it passes through it.
While doing so it softens the illumination which thereby makes shadows less distinct than the would otherwise be.
You use diffusers with an artificial light sources, which can have concentrated or harsh light.
Outdoors clouds can act as natural diffusers, noticed mostly on sunny days.
What sharpening does is it boosts the contrast around the edges of objects which increases definition.
This helps combat the ingrained softening effect which is part of digital capture.
Printing an image with an Inkjet printer softens the image even further.
This means that when you print an image, it needs to be sharpened more than it does to be viewed on-screen.
7. Prime lens
A prime lens is a lens that does not zoom, it’s one with a single and fixed focal length.
Prime lenses generally take sharper photographs than zoom lenses for that reason.
8. Grey Card
A card that reflects 18% grey which is used as a standard reference to determine consistent photographic exposure.
In use, it’s placed in a scene to be photographed, where a reflected light meter takes a reading from it.
The idea is its use will avoid avoid problems with under or over exposure.
This photographic term describes flaws in an image caused by shortcomings in the recording or manipulation system.
These can include colour or tonal banding, erratic blotches or a speckled grainy look.
10. Clone Stamp
A clone stamp is an image editing tool that lets you replace part of an image.
It does so by replacing it with pixels from another part of the image.
If you want you can use pixels from another image altogether to replace what you want replaced.
Normally you use it to repair defects or replace unwanted objects in an image.
11. Red Eye
Red eye is a problem which is often caused by the built-in flash that cameras have.
The retina of the subject’s eye reflects the light from the flash as it fires.
In the photograph produced, the reflection shows the eyes as bright red instead of their proper colour.
You can tone it down or even correct it in-camera, or later at the editing stage.
12. JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
This is a file format commonly used for digital photographs when they are saved to a memory card.
The file is compressed resulting in some detail being lost to keep the file size low.
It’s one of the most common file types used by digital cameras to store the images they take.
RAW and TIFF are alternatives, that retain more detail and result in much bigger files, filling memory cards faster.
This photographic term is one that stands for Electro Focus.
When Canon introduced their first autofocus SLR cameras in 1987 they gave this name to the lens mount.
The EF lenses can be used on all Canon SLRs, and with adapters by their mirrorless range.
This is a glow around the edge of objects created when they’ve been over sharpened in photo-editing software.
They can be even more pervasive in HDR images than in other photographs.
15. Time Lapse
Time lapse is a procedure where a series of photographs are taken of a subject at set intervals.
Some time lapse projects are recorded over a long period of time.
They can record drawn out events like a flower blooming, a plant growing or other such happenings.
This is exposing a subject for longer than you should in the prevailing lighting conditions.
When you do this, it causes details in the highlight areas to be ‘blown out’ and completely lost.
Sometimes it’s necessary to over-expose, like when shooting a snow scene, which the meter will not read as white.
When shooting a high-key photograph it’s usually necessary to over-expose to some degree.
This describes the total range of colours that any device can display or print.
These letters are used by Sigma to distinguish some of the lenses they produce for DSLRs.
They are the lenses the make for crop-factor DSLRs and they cannot be used on full-frame DSLR cameras.
Backlighting is when a subject is lit by a light source behind the subject in relation to the camera.
The light is coming into the camera from behind the subject and is not shining on the subject.
It can make a silhouette or separate the subject from the background.
It comes in the shape of a cone or cylinder and is a tube-like attachment for a light unit.
A snoot is made to fit in front of a studio light or flash unit and controls the light.
The photographer fixes it to control the width and direction of the light from the source.
By doing so the light can be concentrated on the subject or part of it for a precise lighting effect.
This is where someone unexpected gets into the background of a posed portrait.
Sometimes it’s accidental, but often it’s either of malicious or jocular intent.
The subject of the portrait is unaware that there’s and extra person in the photograph, until they see the result.
22. Bounce flash
This is when you aim the flash at a surface other than the subject, the light bounced onto the subject.
It diffuses and spreads out the light and has a softer effect on the subject than direct flash.
Make sure the surface you bounce it off is white or the subject in the photo will have a colourcast.
Megapixel is a photographic term describing the measurement of the resolution of a digital camera.
A megapixel is equal to 1,000,000 pixels.
24. Frontal Lighting
This is when you place the light source lighting a subject directly in front of it.
By doing this you place the light level with or behind the camera taking the photograph.
Chiaroscuro is a photographic term that originated as an artistic term from Renaissance painting.
The photo is generally very dark with some parts highlighted with strong focussed light.
Artists noted for their use of Chiaroscuro include; Caravaggio, Rembrandt, de La Tour and Joseph Wright of Derby.
Plugins are computer software programmes that add an extra element to another programme.
They’re widely used to add extra functionality to WordPress websites.
Digital image manipulation programmes use then to extent the capabilities of the software.
There are many plugins that complement Photoshop and Elements for example.
This is a new term for an old type of photograph; a self-portrait.
Since the introduction of smartphones this type of photo has reached new heights of popularity.
This is just an introduction to the many photographic terms that have evolved since photography began.
That was almost two hundred years ago when the first ever photograph was taken.
Those that had invented photography knew they introduced something great, but I wonder did they have any inkling of how great.
That first photograph barely hinted at what was to come, and is still coming, and will for some time yet.