Glossary – Photography Terms

It can sometimes feel like photographers are speaking their own language. And, whilst you may have a basic understanding of photography, it can be confusing and embarrassing when you don’t understand what someone is talking about when they discuss their specialist area. In the same way that i believe i have a pretty good understanding of computing until i speak to my friends in I.T. and then i feel like a moron for not knowing what an SSD is.

So here is a brief overview of the sort of terminology you may hear me using, broken down roughly into the categories of Photography, Lighting, Photoshoots & Retouching.

Photography Glossary


Aperture is the term used to describe the size of the diaphragm used to control how much light is allowed through the lens. Essentially, the bigger the whole (and counter intuitively the lower the number) the more light gets in, the smaller the hole, the less light gets in. Bigger apertures create a smaller focal area, narrower depth of field, and increase the amount of Bokeh or depth based blur.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is the name for the duration of time that the sensor is exposed to light. Initially referred to as Shutter Speed because on analogue and DSLR cameras, it is the duration of time that the shutter is open. On mirrorless cameras with no shutter, it is the length of time which the sensor is “Activated”. Longer shutter speeds give more opportunity for Motion Blur.


ISO refers to the “Film Speed” for analogue photography, and was adopted to refer to the sensitivity of the sensor in digital photography. A lower ISO number is a more sensitive film speed and will result in a brighter image and is perfect for photography in low light circumstances. Beware though, the higher the ISO, the grainier the image, and dependant on manufacturer, there can be a loss of quality in various different ways; colour, clarity and tonal depth.


Exposure is the sum total of the 3 elements above combined to create an image. Many people call it the exposure triangle… which to be honest is just a lazy name because there are three elements and theres no reason for it to be a triangle. Each element, ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture work together to modify the amount of light being captured by the sensor – the resulting Exposure is the image.

Image exposure is measured in Stops in plus and minus. Minus being under exposed (darker) and plus being over exposed (brighter).

White Balance

Categorised on a spectrum of Kelvin, the white balance denotes the colour of the light, from an orange candle, to blue winter sun. The main concept of this is from blue (cold) light to orange (warm) light, but there is also an added axis of magenta and green to compensate for fluorescent lighting (green). White balance is used to select the correct colour settings for the light being used, or used creatively to colour grade images.

Bokeh / Blur / Depth of Field

Bokeh is the term used to describe the blurred areas of an image. Specifically, the blurred areas created by a shallow depth of field. The depth of field (or size of focus area) is controlled by the aperture, and the shape of the aperture controls the shape of the blurred areas.


Noise refers to the amount of grain (dots) within an image. normally present in higher ISOs used for low light photography. Noise is naturally present in all digital photography to some extent but too much noise can affect the overall quality of an image.



Pretty self explanatory, but the location is somewhere you will shoot which is not your studio. This can be outdoor or indoor.


Short for Reconnaissance, and completely stolen from the military (with an almost identical meaning). Usually used for location shoots, a Recce is a visit to a location to identify key areas, strategic planning and work out logistics for a shoot.

Base Camp

Base camps are used when you are shooting on locations whereby the actual location cannot be used to get change, do hair and makeup, and store equipment. For instance, if you doing a street style shoot in london, you may source a coffee shop or a local office to have as a base camp.


Make up artist and Hair & Make up Artist. This person will make your models even more gorgeous.


Wardrobe stylist, Still life stylist. This person will make your products even more gorgeous.


Option is the term we use in the industry to pencil models. A provisional booking of sorts, You can option models up to a couple of days before a shoot, and it means that if the model gets another offer of work then you have a say on whether you definitely want to book them before they accept the other offer. It basically means “choice”.


Pre-production encompasses all the elements that go into planning a shoot, from moodboards and call sheets, to budgeting and model shortlisting.


Post-Production encompasses all the processes that happen after the shoot has taken place. This includes, Asset management and contact sheet, retouching and file formatting.

Call Sheet

The call sheet is a document with all the logistical details of the shoot, including locations address, contact details for the teams and most importantly, the call time!


Tethering is the term used to describe shooting whilst connected to a computer. This process allows for better viewing of imagery during the process and is great for finessed shoots which need to be PERFECT, but reduces mobility of the photographer, and allows for less freedom of movement.

Mobile Crew

A mobile crew is a light crew with no equipment on the ground. Usually used in street style projects. This sort of free moving set up is usually used to reduce costs of licensing for shooting in public, or used to allow for a lot of different locations in one sitting. As long as there is nothing on the ground, then your probably in a mobile crew.


Licenses are needed for lots of elements of photography, including model licenses for children & location licenses for public spaces.


A “release” is a legal document showing that you have permission to use the subject matter of the images. This can extend to models, locations and sensitive subject matter. Release can be simple or complex (think like acting contract for hollywood stars ). These are evidence that the photographer had prior permission to use the subject matter. Most publications and asset selling sites will require proof of release for any “recognisable” elements.



Does what it says on the tin a little bit. A short burst of light. There are many different types and brands of flash lighting and this could be a whole blog post on its own.


Continuous light is added light which is not flash, but constant. A lot of people refer to them as video lights. Tungsten, LED or HMI… can be used for photography.

Hard Light

Hard light is defined by its hard edged shadows and sting contrast between light and dark areas.

Soft Light

A more gradual fade between the light and shadows.

Indirect Light

A very soft light with indistinguishable direct and even shadowing.

Natural Light

Essentially sunlight. The light which is available from nature, either outside, or through windows.

Ambient Light

Light which is already there. Different from Natural Light in that it also encompasses artificial light sources. Be wary of photographers who say they “only use” ambient or available light, as this is often just masking the fact that they don’t know how to light their images.

Light Modifier

A light Modifier is an item used to shape and control light. Usually used to describe the specific modifiers that fit to flash or continuous light sources, but the term is quite loose and can also extends to reflectors and scrims.

Bounce / Sunbounce

A (Usually large) reflective item in white, gold or silver which is used to reflect light directionally. Often used with natural light, but is also a studio staple. Is often also referred to as a “reflector”

Flag / Skrim

This is an opaque or translucent material used to either control the amount of light which gets through, or completely block light. these can also be used to “pull” light away from products.


Diffusing light is Softening light. Diffusion can occur from clouds moving over the sun, or from adding a diffusion material (such as roscoe half spun) to a light. Diffusion essentially softens the edges of the shadows, and minimises the harshness of the light.


Coloured Gels are used in tandem with flash lighting to creatively affect the white balance of a shot, correct white balances, or create interesting coloured imagery.



This word is used by layman, confusingly, to denote both the overall appeal of an image (a quality image is good), and more technically by professionals to describe the amount of information stored in the pixels. An image lacking quality will appear jagged and duller than a higher quality version. not to be confused with resolution.


Resolution is the number of pixels used within an image. Shown either in a Width by Height and dots per inch format (3000px x 3000px, 72 DPI) or in an overall count format, normally shown in Megapixels (24MP). The higher the resolution, the more pixels there are.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio, also referred to as a crop ratio, is used to describe the shape of the crop. 1:1 would be square. Think of it a little bit like a fraction.


Crop is the term used to describe the areas left in an image after some areas are removed.


Sharpening is altering the contrast on a pixel level to create a bigger difference between light and dark pixels on a minute scale. Overall this effect gives an image the appearance of having more clarity on the details.


Contrast is the difference between the light and dark. Added contrast increases the difference, removing contrast decreases the diference.


This word is not often used by professionals, and is more used by the general public often as an all encompassing term to describe retouching… more specifically the elements of retouching which go into blemish removal and skin cleanup.

Dodge and Burn

Dodge (lighten) and burn (darken) is currently used in two main ways. 1. it is used to add contrast to specific areas of an image. 2. it is used on a small scale to remove blemishes for beauty retouching. Dodging and burning has been around since the dawn of photography, and is fascinating to look into how this was used to alter images in the pre-digital era. I highly recommend a good google session on it if you want to lose a few hours of time.

Split Frequency

Split frequency is a technique whereby the image is split into to elements. The tone and colour, and the texture. These elements can then individually be worked on to clean up an image. It is quicker than the dodge and burn technique, but the results are not quite as premium.

Check out my blog post about how different retouching techniques affect imagery.

Have i missed off any words?

Let me know!

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