30 Terms Every Beginner Photographer Should Learn

Beginner Photography Terms

Photography is a technical topic.  Jump on to any photography related website and there’ll be all kinds of funny jargon on there that you’re not familiar with if you’re just getting started.  To help you out here are some beginner photography terms to reduce the feeling of overwhelming.


Stands for ‘Digital Single Lens Reflex’.  A digital camera that uses an internal mirror to reflect what the lens can see, to the viewfinder.

Example: Nikon D810


Also known as a ‘Compact System Camera’, or CSC.  These types of camera do not have the mirror mentioned above.  They use an electrical viewfinder instead.

Example: Fuji XT20

Full Frame

This refers to the size of the sensor in the camera.  A full frame sensor is the same size as the 35mm film format.

Example: Nikon D810

Cropped Sensor

A cropped sensor is smaller than full frame which in turn increases the focal length.  Generally speaking, full frame cameras perform better than cropped sensors in terms of image quality.  More on this another day!

Example: Nikon D5500


Slang terminology used for lenses.


Refers to lenses with a focal length less than 35mm.

Example: Sigma 10-20

Standard Lens

Refers to lenses with a focal length between 35mm – 50mm

Example: Nikon 50mm


Any lens longer than 50mm

Example:Sigma 70-200mm


A lens with a variable focal length.

Example: Tamron 24-70mm


A lens with a fixed focal length.

Example: Nikon 35mm


How a photograph is put together to achieve balance and be pleasing to the eye.  In my opinion, a firm understanding of composition is the most important skill any photographer can learn.  It can be the difference between a poor photograph and an excellent photograph.


An exposure is what happens when you press the shutter and take a photograph.  There are three factors to consider when taking a photo to ensure you achieve the correct level of exposure.  These are; ISO, aperture and shutter speed and will be explained in further detail next.

ISO (International Standards Organisation)

In digital photography, this refers to how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to the light and can be changed using the camera’s settings whenever you like.  The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the sensor is. Think of ISO like a sponge and light as water.  The bigger the sponge is, the more water it can hold.  The drawback to a higher ISO a reduction in image quality.  High ISO values mean more grain (or noise) is added to the photo.

A similar principle applies to film photography.  Except instead of an electrical sensor, you’re using a piece of film which needs to be wound on after every exposure.  The ISO setting cannot be changed once the film is loaded.  ISO in film photography is also referred to as ASA (American Standards Association) or film speed.  A higher number means ‘faster’ film.


When you look through a lens you’ll see a collection of blades forming a circle.  When you change the aperture setting, the size of that hole changes.  A smaller aperture setting means a larger hole which also means more light can reach the sensor or film (and vice versa).  Larger apertures also have a narrower ‘depth of field’ (explained later) with smaller apertures having a greater depth of field.

Think of aperture as the tap that you’re using to soak the above-mentioned sponge with.  The more you open the valve, the more water is let through on to the sponge.

Aperture is measured in ‘f/ stops’.  f/ meaning ‘focal ratio’

Shutter Speed

In front of the sensor is a shutter.  Pressing the button on your camera that takes the photograph forces that shutter to lift up and down.  Shutter speed refers to the amount of time it takes for the shutter to complete that action.  Faster shutter speeds mean less light can reach the sensor and will freeze movement depending on the speed of your subject.  More on this another time.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds.

Exposure Value (EV) or ‘Stop’

The three settings above combine to make an exposure value.  Decreasing or increasing a setting by one whole increment means that you’ve altered your settings by one exposure value or a ‘full stop’.  The graphic below illustrates some examples of full stop increments with the bar at the bottom demonstrating the effect on exposure levels.

Exposure Values

Depth of Field

How much of the photo is in focus from the nearest object to the furthest (front to back).  An image that is sharp from front to back has ‘good depth of field’.  An image where only the subject is sharp has a ‘shallow depth of field’.


An image where only the subject is sharp.

Long Exposure

An exposure with a shutter speed that is too long (or slow) to be taken handheld without blurring the photo.  A tripod must be used instead.

Shutter Release

A remote used to activate the shutter.

Exposure Compensation

A setting in the camera that allows you to adjust the exposure that the camera is calculating when in an automatic or semi-automatic shooting mode.


How the camera calculates exposure when in an automatic or semi-automatic shooting mode.  There are three main ways that a digital camera will meter for exposure:


The camera will only calculate exposure for light in the area where the dot is that you can see when looking through the viewfinder.


Similar to spot but will also take into consideration a small area around the dot.

Matrix (Nikon) or Evaluative (Canon)

The camera will measure the light for the whole scene.


A graph that shows all the details from the brightest to the darkest parts of a photo.


A file type generated by a digital camera that contains all the information that makes up the photograph.  Remember the negatives you used to get back after developing a roll of film?  If you don’t, ask your parents.  Think of a RAW file as like a digital negative.


Multiple exposures combined to form a single photograph that is larger than would have been possible with a single exposure.

Aspect Ratio

How big one size of a photo is compared to the other.  Most modern DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras produce images of a 3:2 ratio.

Flash Sync Speed

The fastest shutter speed that can be used with a flash.

Hot Shoe

A plate on top of the camera used for triggering accessories such as a flash.


A series of photographs taken at set intervals that are close together over a long period of time to form a short video.  Some digital cameras have a function to create the video in camera

White Balance

The colour temperature of light measured in Kelvin.