Photography Jargon Buster!

I've been learning, blogging about, and teaching photography for so long now that most of the photography terms trip off my tongue without any thought to them, but I do remember being so confused by some of the terms that people bandied about!  So I figured that a little jargon buster might be in order :) 

Ever think photographers are talking in a foreign language? Here's a guide to some of the more confusing terms in photography, and what they mean!

So here are just some of terms photographers use which will hopefully help you understand some of the words used in photography, and get a deeper understanding of them at the same time. Woot woot! 


Aperture is the size of the hole in your lens that lets light reach the camera sensor.  You can read much more about Aperture in this beginners guide. 

Aperture Priority 

Aperture Priority is a semi automatic mode setting on your camera that allows you to choose the Aperture, but the camera will take care of the other two settings (Shutter Speed and ISO) to balance your exposure.  It's great for taking over some control of your camera whilst you are still learning. 

Back Button Focusing 

This is when you assign a button on the back of your camera to activate the focus system.  So instead of half depressing the shutter button, you would depress the button you assigned instead. It's useful for action shots, since you can, in theory, keep focus on a subject whilst firing the shutter, since the two are no longer linked.  You can read more about back button focusing here, but personally I wouldn't advise moving onto that until you have the basics of focus down! 

Back Focusing

Not to be confused with back button focusing, back focusing means that your lens is focusing on an area behind where it is meant to. Your lens could also front focus too, so it is basically it's when the auto focus is a little bit off and you need to calibrate your lens.  Although this can need to be done, if you images are a little soft, it's usually more to do with your focusing technique, rather than an equipment issue. We go through a whole host of reasons whilst your images might not be tack sharp in the Auto to Awesome course, and your lens back (or front) focusing is last on the list :) 


When you turn on your highlight warnings in camera, any areas which are blown (in other words too bright to have any detail) will flash black on your camera's LCD screen, hence the term "blinkies"! 


Bokeh is just the blurred areas in your image, like a blurred background. The word bokeh is simply a Japanese word meaning blur or haze.  

Buffer / Buffering 

The buffer a is the temporary space available which stores the photos when you take them, before they are automatically transferred to the memory card. If you have ever had your camera not allow you to take an image for a few seconds, it's because your buffer is full and your camera needs time to process the images you have already taken.  Once the images have been moved from the buffer to your memory card, you can take images again!  


Chimping is a slang term for when you look at the preview image on your camera's LCD screen, to check the image you have just taken to make sure that you caught the moment you wanted to, and check the histogram, focus etc. 


If you have blown highlights or shadows in your images, this is called "clipping" - basically meaning that you have areas that are too black or too bright to print well.  Clipping is best avoided, especially on your subject! 

Depth of Field / DOF 

Depth of Field (often abbreviated to DOF) relates to how much of the scene will be in focus. If you have a shallow or narrow depth of field,  only a small area will be in focus, whereas if you have a large depth of field, a larger area is in focus. 

ETTR - Expose to the Right

In very general terms, for a shot to be well exposed, you have your histogram with a lump in the middle. When you ‘expose to the right’, you push the peak of the histogram further over to the right, being careful not to cause any clipping (see above!).  The idea behind this is that the RAW file will have less noise in the shadow areas, increasing your image quality. 

Exposure Triangle

The Exposure Triangle is just a way of showing that you have three elements to exposure (Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO) and that you need to keep all three balanced.  When you have reached the correct exposure, but then make a change of the settings (say you increase your shutter speed) your perfectly balanced triangle goes out of shape, and to get the exposure correct again, you would need to change one or both of the other two elements to balance your triangle again.  

F Stop 

An F-Stop is the measurement of the size of your aperture (the hole in your lens!) and is written as F followed by a number. 

Fast Lens 

This refers to a lens that allows you to use a very large aperture such as F2.0 or F1.2.  Because you are letting more light into the camera through your aperture, you can use a higher shutter speed, which is why they are referred to as "fast" lenses. 

Focal Point 

This almost has two meanings - the first is that it refers to what is the most important item in the scene, and what we want our viewers eyes drawn to first, but also that the focal point is the sharpest point of an image. 

Golden Ratio 

The golden ratio is something that is often found in nature, and artists have used the same ratio for years to create something that is pleasing to the eye, and drawn several different ways of composing an image or picture from it. You can read more about golden compositions here. 

Golden Hour

Often touted as the best time to take photographs, the Golden Hour is one hour before sunset and one hour before sunrise, when scenes are bathed in a beautiful golden light. 


Histograms seem complicated, but in fact, are not that bad!  A histogram is simply a bar graph (admittedly one with an awful lot of bars) that shows you how all the different tones in your image are distributed. 


Kelvin is a scale that shows the temperature of light, and it is used in photography for measuring the color temperature of light sources.  You basically find the type of light you are photographing in on the scale, and use that to set your white balance.  You can read more about using Kelvin for white balance here, but I really recommend that you don't use this until you are happy eyeballing your white balance. 


Noise refers to the grain in your images - that speckles over image. They are caused by a high ISO, or can come out even when you use a relatively low ISO, but underexpose and then bring up the exposure in processing. 

Post Processing 

Post processing refers to editing your images on your computer.  If you shoot in JPEG, the camera processes the image for you (by applying noise reduction, sharpness, saturation, contrast and so on) but if you shoot in RAW, YOU do the processing back on your computer.  This is also where you can add in some artistic flare! The vast majority of photographers will do some post processing on their images. 


RAW is a file type, in the same way JPEG is file type, or .xls is a file type. If I'm going to be pedantic, it's not "RAW" it's "raw"  - that's because the letters don't actually stand for anything (like JPEG does) - it really does just mean raw, as in uncooked :) As I said above, you need to take a RAW file into editing on your computer to process it, or "cook" it!

Shutter Priority Mode 

Another semi automatic mode for your camera, but this time one that allows you to set the Shutter Speed, and the camera sets the other two elements for you to balance the exposure triangle! 

Stopping Up / Down 

Stopping down is when you close up your aperture. So if you were shooting at F2.0, you might stop down to shooting at F4.0 which would make your aperture smaller.  As you probably guessed, stopping up means that you open up your aperture by choosing a smaller F number - so say going from F4.0 to F2.0.  I still get this one the wrong way round all the time - I can't seem to help myself! 

Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob is the term given to an amateur who dares to get in the way of a professional! Usually a term heard uttered by wedding photographers :)

Wide Open

If you hear that someone is shooting wide open, that means that they are shooting with the Aperture of their lens at the widest setting. So if you had a 50mm F1.8 lens and shot at F1.8, you would be shooting wide open! 

Did I get them all? Or did I miss one? Let me know in the comments below!