Photography Definitions 101

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Basic Photography Terminology

Starting a new hobby is both exciting and nerve-racking. There is so much to learn and understand before you can truly start to master your new pursuit. But during learning, you are having fun, and there is nothing more exciting than getting a good grasp on the basics. Photography, just like stamp-collecting or gymnastics,  comes with its own set of vocabulary and jargon.  We know that the words ‘wickets’, ‘boundary’, ‘bat’ and ‘golden duck’ go with cricket. But what is ‘hue’, ‘panoramic’ and ‘ISO settings’?

In this guide, we hope to break down some of the terminologies one is likely to encounter in photography. By understanding the jargon or words associated with this pastime, you can better grasp and understand the ‘how’.  Knowing these words also helps you engage and communicate with other amateurs or professionals. It allows you to study further, participate in forums, and really master the perfect shot. The what? Well, read on and you’ll know what that means too.

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Basic Photography Terminology

  • Aperture – this is how much light the lens lets in, and is determined by the size of the opening. A smaller lens (lower aperture) will let in less light, as opposed to a wide open aperture, which lets in more light. The amount of aperture is measured using f-stops. A small f-stop, such as f/2 is a wider opening and a large f-stop like f/18 is a very narrow one. Aperture also affects how much of the image is in focus, so with a narrow aperture, the image remains sharper. Using a wide aperture would isolate the subject and the background would blur. So if you were shooting an image of your gran sitting in a rocking chair in a busy family room, you are going to get a lot of distracting sharp objects if you use a narrow aperture.
  • Shutter Release – This is the correct term for the button one presses to take a picture.
  • Exposure – A picture is created when the film strip is exposed to light. The amount of light the image receives, or the exposure, determines how light or dark the image will be. A dark photo is underexposed, and a lighter one will be overexposed. One of the factors that determine exposure is the aperture, the other two are shutter speed and ISO.

“think of a bucket of water with a hole in the bottom. If you have a large hole in the bottom of the bucket (large aperture), water will drain out quickly (fast shutter speed). Conversely, for the same amount of water, if you have a small hole in the bottom of the bucket (small aperture), the water will drain out slowly (slow shutter speed).”

  • ISO – This is the measure of how sensitive the camera is to light. Adjusting the ISO changes how light will affect the outcome of the image. An ISO of 100 ( A low ISO ) means the camera isn’t sensitive to light, and can easily capture a scene in full sun/ daylight. A high ISO ( ISO 3000 ) is extremely sensitive and allows you to capture a shot at low light/ nighttime. High ISO shots can appear grainy with less detail.
  • Noise – This is similar to grain, which is the flakes in an image.  Images taken at low ISO with have little noise, as opposed to one taken with high ISO.
  • Flash – The flash is the burst of light released when the shutter release is pressed. Some cameras can adjust the flash, to either release at the beginning or at the end of the photo.
Photograph of Hong Kong Family
Say “Cheese”
  • Focus – The object you wish to capture is usually the focus of the photograph. This object is sharp in comparison the background. The background might be referred to as “out-of-focus”.  If we were shooting an image of a sleeping cat, they would be in focus, and the background and the detail of the background would be blurred. If you were a family photographer in Hong Kong, about to capture mom, with all her shopping bags, dad and his wide-brimmed hat, and the three kids smiling,  the entire photograph might remain in focus, to capture all the finer details.
  • Bokeh – A fancy word for the effect achieved when the photograph contains multiple blurry balls of light. These orbs are created when the light is out-of-focus in a photograph. You can create this effect using a wide aperture.
Bokeh - Blurry Orbs of Light
Bokeh – Blurry Street Lights
  • Aspect Ratio – This is the dimension or resolution of the image. It can be set on some cameras or cropped according to specifications after the photograph is taken. Typical ratios would be width:height, like 8 x 10 or 16:9.  The aspect ratio describes if the image is square, wide or stretched.  The classic “Instagram shot” is a square-format.
  • Rule of Thirds – The subject you are photographing can be split up into a 9-block grid. With two vertical and horizontal lines breaking up the image. Aligning your image to either be focused on the central block or an intersection of the imaginary line, to create a more interesting photograph.
  • View Finder – This is the whole or viewpoint one looks through when capturing a photograph. Most traditional point-and-shoot cameras have a viewfinder. Cameras and some modern digital cameras have a screen that displays the subject as it will be taken.

There are countless more words and phrases used in photography, but the above should whet your appetite in wanting to learn more of the lingo. By understanding the above, and other basic photography terms, you can become a more-skilled photographer.

Although it is simple to pick up a camera and snap away, having a basic grasp of the terminology allows you to share your passion with others.  Oh, and the perfect shot, well that’s up to you to find out yourself!

We would love to hear which photography words or terminology you learnt this week. Leave your comments below.

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