Welcome to the Life after Photoshop photography jargon buster! This is a growing collection of photography terms, explained in plain English and linking, where available, to more in-depth articles. If you see anything that’s been missed, explained badly or is just (heaven forbid) just plain wrong, leave a comment below or get in touch at lifeafterphotoshop@gmail.com

Photography jargon: 1-9

1-inch sensor

A new sensor size roughly half way between the small sensors in point and shoot digital cameras and the much larger ones in digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras. It’s found in more advanced high-end compact cameras, and Nikon uses it for its Nikon 1 mirrorless cameras. It’s been adopted by a number of makers as a way of getting better image quality from compact (non interchangeable lens) cameras.

14-bit RAW file

The ‘bit depth’ of RAW files is a factor in the picture quality they can produce, so this is a selling point for advanced digital cameras. Some cheaper models can only shoot 12-bit RAW files, but while this sounds like a small difference, the extra bit depth potentially offers 4x the image data so 14-bit RAW files are a worthwhile benefit, especially if you want to process photos heavily later.

1.5-inch sensor

A unique sensor size used by Canon in its top PowerShot compact camera, the G1 X II. It’s just a little smaller than the APS-C format used by most DSLRs and larger than the 1-inch sensors used in other high-end PowerShot models, so it gets close to the quality of a good interchangeable lens camera.

16-bit image

These are photos with 16 bits of data for each of the red, green and blue colour channels. These aren’t created directly by the camera, but you can generate 16-bit images from RAW files and they withstand heavy image manipulation better than regular 8-bit images. The file sizes are much larger, though, which puts more pressure on your computer’s storage capacity and slows down file transfer speeds, and not all software can edit 16-bit images.

16:9

The aspect ratio for HD video, full HD, UHD 4K and most computer monitors and TVs.

4K video

The latest consumer video standard, with a horizontal resolution of 4,000 pixels or thereabouts. 4K video is appearing on an increasing number of cameras and even smartphones, and 4K TVs are gaining in popularity. Strictly speaking, the dimensions for 4K video are 4.096 x 2,160 pixels and the aspect ratio is slightly wider than the 16:9 standard for HD video. In fact, what most makers and users are referring to is UHD video at 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, which does have a true 16:9 aspect ratio.

5-axis stabilisation

The latest kind of image stabilisation technology, where the camera’s sensor can be tilted or shifted on 5 axes to counter a much wider range and types of movement than regular lens-based image stabilisers, and it’s a particular advantage for video, where these additional movements can pose problems during handheld filming. 5-axis stabilisation used in the Pentax K-1 full frame DSLR, Olympus OM-D mirrorless cameras and the latest Sony A7-series compact system cameras.

8-bit image

These are photos which use 8 bits of data for each of the red, green and blue colour channels. This is enough to give over 16 million colours – more than enough for photographic images. The JPEG photos taken by digital cameras are 8-bit images.

Photography jargon: A

AA batteries

These are used rarely in digital cameras (except in some cheap point and shoot models) but used extensively in external flashguns and battery grips. Alkaline AAs will do in an emergency, but rechargeable NiMH batteries are more cost effective and last longer between charges.

Aberrations

These are optical flaws produced by camera lenses and which are largely unavoidable except in the most expensive or the simplest lens designs. They include distortion, chromatic aberration (colour fringing), vignetting (corner shading) and edge softness.

Adobe RGB

This is a professional colour space offered by more advanced cameras and it captures a slightly wider range of colours than the usual sRGB colour space used by most consumer devices. It can be useful if pictures are destined for commercial print production, but it does introduce complications with colour profiles and monitor calibration.

Action cam

A small, simple and largely automated video camera (you can also shoot stills) designed to attach to a helmet, handlebars, surfboard or any other kind of object and provide dramatic first-person video of adventure sports and other activities. Almost all use fixed focal length super-wideangle lenses and shoot full HD video – some can shoot 4K.

Active D-Lighting (Nikon)

An exposure mode on some Nikon digital cameras which balances up the exposure in high-contrast scenes. The camera reduces the exposure to make sure it captures bright highlight detail and then processes the image to brighten up dark shadows. It can be applied in different strength settings.

Adobe Camera Raw

Software that works alongside Adobe Photoshop to open and process RAW files before they open in Photoshop itself. Adobe Camera Raw’s tools are also built into Adobe Lightroom. Most people use Adobe Camera Raw to process their RAW files simply because they’re using Photoshop or Lightroom, but other RAW converters are available. See also: Lightroom CC review

AE-L/AF-L

This stands for AE (auto-exposure) and AF (autofocus) lock. Often it’s useful to fix the exposure settings and focus point ahead of taking a picture and on most cameras you can do this by half-pressing the shutter button, holding it in position, then reframing the picture. By default, the AE-L/AF-L button does the same, locking both the exposure and the focus, but you can also configure this button to lock either the exposure or the focus, not both, so it’s more versatile than simply half-pressing the shutter button.

AF Assist

In dim lighting the camera’s autofocus system may struggle to lock on to your subject, but on some cameras a lamp on the front of the camera will light up in low light and shines a bright, tightly focused beam of light at your subject to help the autofocus system lock on. Not all cameras have or need this kind of focus assistance.

AF Fine-tune

Most cameras use the main sensor for focusing, but digital SLRs have a different system. They use a separate phase detection autofocus sensor which must be precisely aligned with the main sensor for the focus to be accurate. Sometimes this and different lens designs can lead to small misalignments and slight focus errors, so more advanced DSLRs have an autofocus fine tune feature to correct any discrepancies.

AF (autofocus) point

An area on the screen where the camera can check for sharp focus. Typically, the more focus points the better because this gives you more choice about where to focus and usually indicates a faster and more sophisticated focus system.

Affinity Photo (Serif)

For a long time Adobe Photoshop has been the only real professional level image-editing program, but software company Serif has launched a Mac-only professional photo editing software which competes directly with Photoshop at a much lower price – and for a single payment rather than the software subscription system introduced by Adobe. Affinity Photo has been built from the ground up for speed and performance and compatibility with the Photoshop PSD file format, and Serif has now announced it’s working on a Windows PC version. See also: Serif Affinity Photo 1.5 review

Album

A kind of ‘virtual’ container for photographs you want to keep together. When you use an album (or ‘collection’) in photo editing software, it keeps the images together without actually moving them on your hard disk.

Aperture (lens)

This is the adjustable hole in the lens diaphragm that controls how much light passes through the lens and is used to adjust the exposure. Aperture setting values are the same across all cameras and lenses, and here’s a part of the series: f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11 – though the theoretical aperture range is much wider than any single lens can manage. The maximum aperture – how wide the lens opening can go – is a big selling point because wider apertures let more light through. The lens aperture also has an effect of depth of field, or the near-to-far sharpness in the picture, and the number of aperture blades is a selling point because it affects the way the lens’s ‘bokeh’.

Aperture blades

The adjustable hole in the lens diaphgram is created by a set of overlapping metal leaves, or ‘blades’. The greater the number of blades, the rounder the hole created and the better the lens’s ‘bokeh’ in out of focus areas. Aperture blades are often curved, too, to enhance that circular shape.

Aperture priority (A) mode

This is an exposure mode on more advanced cameras where you choose the lens aperture yourself and the camera then sets a shutter speed that gives you the correct exposure. This gives you creative control over depth of field, for example, without losing the convenience of automatic exposure.

APS-C sensor

This is the most common sensor size in cameras designed for enthusiasts and experts and it’s found in consumer DSLRs, mirrorless compact system cameras and some high-end compacts. APS-C sensors are around half the size of a full-frame sensor or the 35mm negative, and measure approximately 24 x 16mm. They have a crop factor of 1.5x, which means that you have to multiply the lens’s focal length by 1.5x to get its effective focal length in 35mm/full frame camera terms.

APS-H sensor

This is a relatively uncommon sensor size mid-way between APS-C and full frame. Canon used it for its EOS-1D high-speed pro sports/press photography DSLRs before these were merged with the introduction of the full frame EOS-1D X. Canon has since announced the development of a 250MP APS-H format sensor, though this has not yet been used in any commercial product. Sigma, meanwhile, has announced a new Sigma SD Quattro H mirrorless camera with a new APS-H format Foveon sensor. APS-H sensors measure approximately 30 x 20mm, or a couple of millimetres less.

Analog

A term now used to design old-fashioned chemical processes to capture images rather than digital – so you can get ‘analog’ cameras, ‘analog’ films and ‘analog’ image effects which replicate the look of these old processes. See also: 6 tips for getting an authentic analog film effect

Analog Efex Pro (Google Nik Collection)

Analog Efex Pro is part of the Google Nik Collection. It’s a plug in which offers a selection of ‘analog’ film styles which mimic a variety of film types, darkroom processes and ageing effects. It’s also possible to choose these effects manually and build your own preset styles. See also: Google Nik Collection review

Anti-aliasing filter

Another name for the ‘low pass’ filter fitted in front of most camera sensors. It’s designed to prevent digital artefacts such as moiré patterns and colour fringing caused by interaction between fine linear or rectangular patterns in real-world subjects and the camera’s rectangular grid of photosites.

Articulating LCD

A rear LCD screen that can be flipped out and swivelled to face in any direction. This can be especially useful for filming video clips and for composing still images in confined spaces or at awkward angles. Some cameras offer tilting LCDs instead. These have a more restricted range of movements (up and down) but are still more versatile than regular fixed screens.

Aspect ratio

This the picture’s proportions as width versus height. DSLR sensors have a 3:2 ratio, so that photographs are 3 units wide to 2 units high. Most compact camera sensors have a slightly squarer 4:3 aspect ratio. It doesn’t matter what the units are – the ratio stays the same, so a photo could measure 3 inches by 2 inches or 6 meters by 4 meters and still have the same 3:2 aspect ratio. You can shoot in different aspect ratios by cropping the sensor area. HD video is shot in a wider 16:9 ratio.

AVCHD

A video file format commonly used by Sony and Panasonic cameras. It’s an efficient file format for high-definition video, keeping file sizes relatively small while keeping the quality high. It uses a complicated directory structure, though, so that you don’t get simple self-contained video files in the way you do with other video formats.

Aurora HDR (MacPhun)

Mac-only HDR software developed in conjunction with HDR specialist Trey Ratcliff. It can work with single images or merge a series of bracketed exposures. You can apply one of many different preset effects or create your own with the manual controls. See also: Aurora HDR 2017 review

Auto exposure

This is where the camera measures the light levels in the scene using its in-built light meter, works out the exposure value and then sets a shutter speed and lens aperture to give the correct exposure. Practically all cameras have auto exposure systems and its only the more advanced models which offer manual exposure.

Autofocus

Practically all cameras have automatic focusing systems where they can check the focus at different points around the frame and then adjust the lens’s focus so that that point in the scene is precisely in focus. You can let the camera choose the autofocus (AF) point automatically or select it yourself (manual AF point selection). The autofocus system will either operate once only before you take the shot (single-shot AF mode) or constantly if you’re using the camera’s continuous shooting (burst) mode (continuous AF mode).

Auto ISO

On simpler cameras the Auto ISO option simply increases the ISO setting in poor light to keep shutter speeds high enough to avoid camera shake. On more advanced cameras you can program in both the maximum ISO you want to use and the minimum shutter speed, which makes Auto ISO much more useful.

Average metering

This is a very simple type of exposure reading where the camera’s light meter just measures the total amount of light in the whole scene. It often leads to underexposure because bright areas in the scene have a disproportionate effect. Today’s digital cameras offer a range of more sophisticated exposure metering patterns and only a few still over averaged metering amongst these – some photographers still like it because although it’s a crude way of measuring the light, it’s quite predictable and easy to interpret.

Photography jargon: B

Back button focus

Usually the camera will autofocus when you half press the shutter release button, but on more advanced cameras it’s possible to split off focus activation and assign it to a button on the back of the camera. Sports and action photographers generally find this a much more instinctive way to take pictures but it is hard to adapt to if you’re used to the usual method – half-pressing the shutter button.

Backlighting

This is where the lighting for the scene shines directly towards the camera and through or around the subject. It can make the exposure difficult to work out because the camera’s light meter needs to work out whether to set the exposure for the bright background or your subject, but it produces striking lighting effects. With portrait subjects it gives attractive ‘rim-lighting’ effects around the hair and it can give transparent or translucent subjects like stained glass windows a rich, luminous colour.

Barrel distortion

This is where straight lines near the edge of the picture appear to bow outwards, and you see this a lot with zoom lenses at their wideangle setting. It’s most noticeable if the horizon is near the top or bottom of the picture. Barrel distortion is very difficult to eradicate completely from the lens design, but it can be fixed using software, and some cameras now have distortion correction built in. It’s one of a number of common lens aberrations. Telephoto lenses often show the opposite effect, ‘pincushion distortion’.

Batteries

Most cameras use dedicated rechargeable lithium-ion cells, but some accessories like external flashguns, battery grips and hotshoe mounted LEd panels use regular AA cells instead.

Battery grip

This is an accessory that attaches to the bottom of some DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. It provides a longer battery life for long periods of shooting and it’s popular with sports and action photographers taking lots of shots in continuous shooting mode. Battery grips often have duplicate controls for shooting with the camera in a vertical position, which also makes them ideal for busy portrait and fashion photographers.

Battery life

This is usually quoted as the number of shots you can expect to be able to take before the camera’s battery runs out. Compact cameras may only be able to take a couple of hundred pictures, while a DSLR might be able to take a thousand. Battery life is normally quoted using the CIPA standard so that battery life can be compared in standardised conditions.

Bayer sensor (pattern)

Most camera sensors use a single layer of photosites (pixels). These are only sensitive to light, not colour, so a mosaic of red, green and blue filters (the ‘bayer pattern’) is placed on top of the sensor’s photosites so that individually they capture red, green or blue light. When the camera processes the sensor data to produce an image, it ‘demosaics’ the red, green and blue data, using colour information from surrounding photosites to ‘interpolate’ full colour data for each pixel.

Bits and bit depth

‘Bits’ are the basic building block of digital data, and the more bits of information used in digital images, the subtler the colours and tonal transitions. Bits and pixels are related, in that the greater the ‘bit-depth’ used to create a pixel, the better the quality of the colour/tone information in that pixel. Digital cameras typically capture 10, 12 or 14 bits of data for each pixel, and this is then processed down to produce regular JPEG photos (8 bits) or converted into high-quality 16-bit TIFF files.

Black and white

Technically, black and white should be ‘less’ than colour, but its popularity is, if anything increasing. Black and white suits some subjects extremely well, drawing more attention to shapes, lighting and composition than is generally possible with colour photography. Most cameras have black and white picture modes, which is very useful when you’re composing images, but you get more control over the results by converting colour images to black and white on a computer later, so it’s a bit of a dilemma which route to take. See also: Black and white filters | Learn better black and white photography – with your phone

Black and white filters (contrast filters)

It does seem a bit crazy that black and white photographers use coloured filters, but there is a reason for this. When you shoot in black and white, the camera or the film is converting different colours into shades of grey. When you use a coloured filter, you’re shifting and changing the brightness of the different colours in the scene, and this changes their shade of grey in the photograph. This is why they’re sometimes called ‘contrast’ filters too. For example, a red filter allows red light through but blocks light of other colours. Anything red in the scene becomes proportionally much brighter, anything opposite to red, like a blue sky, comes out a much darker shade of grey – nearly black, sometimes.

Bokeh

This is a Japanese word to describe the particular visual quality of out of focus areas in a picture. You might think it hardly matters what things look like when they’re out of focus, but there’s a bit more to it than that. ‘Bad’ bokek produces unnatural-looking outlines and highlights, while ‘good’ bokeh looks ‘creamy’, smooth and natural. Good bokeh is associated with the shape of the diaphragm in the lens – more aperture blades and rounded aperture blades produce a more circular shape and better bokeh. Some photographers confuse bokeh with how out of focus a subject is, but that’s not the same thing. A lens with a wide maximum aperture can make background objects extremely defocused, but that doesn’t mean they have good ‘bokeh’. 

Bracketing

This is the process of taking a series of shots at different settings in quick succession so that you can choose the best one later and (usually) discard the rest. It’s most often used for exposure bracketing in tricky lighting conditions – there often isn’t time to work out the correct exposure on the spot. Some cameras offer white balance bracketing and some (only a few) offer autofocus bracketing.

Bridge (Adobe)

Image and file browsing tool from Adobe that’s used alongside its creative applications like InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Many photographers find it perfectly adequate for organising their photos.

Bridge camera

This is a compact camera with an extremely long zoom range, sometimes as much as 50x, 60x or more, and designed to act as a ‘bridge’ between regular compact digital cameras and digital SLRs. The lens can’t be swapped, though, and bridge cameras (mostly) have small sensors, which restricts the picture quality.

BSI (back-side illuminated) sensor

A newer type of sensor where the circuitry has been moved to the back so that the light receptors on the front are unobstructed. This gives a modest but useful improvement in light-gathering power, digital noise and overall image quality, but it’s not the dramatic technical leap that manufacturers often suggest.

Buffer

This is short-term internal memory used by the camera to store image data captured by the sensor while it’s waiting to be processed and saved to the memory card. It becomes important in the camera’s continuous shooting mode because the camera can capture photos faster than it can save them, so before long this buffer fills up. The larger the buffer, the longer you can keep shooting.

Bulb (B) exposure

Usually, the camera’s exposure time is set by the shutter speed you’ve selected, so that the exposure ends automatically. But in Bulb mode the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter button is held down, so it’s used a lot for night photography, where exposures can range from 30 seconds to 30 minutes (in moonlight). In the old days you’d use a cable release with a locking screw; these days you’d use a remote release with a bulb mode (using a remote release means you don’t risk moving the camera by keeping your finger on the button).

Burst mode

This is another name for ‘continuous shooting’ mode and it’s the term used by cheaper point-and-shoot cameras – though it’s actually the same thing. In this mode, the camera keeps taking pictures all the time you hold down the shutter button, right up until the time you release the button or the camera’s internal memory buffer fills up and it has to stop to process and save the pictures to the memory card.

Photography jargon: C

Cable release

The old-fashioned way of firing a camera remotely so that you don’t jog the camera by pressing the shutter button. The cable screws into a thread in the shutter release button and you push the plunger on the other end of the cable to fire the shutter. There’s a locking screw to keep the plunger pressed in for long exposures. Cable releases are rarely seen now – most cameras use wireless remote controls – though a few still have threaded shutter buttons.

Camera shake

This is image blur caused by camera movement during the exposure. The longer the exposure (the slower the shutter speed), the more time there is for camera movement to take place. Any movement is also exaggerated with longer focal length lenses (telephotos). There is a simple way to estimate the risk of camera shake – take the effective focal length of the lens and divide it into 1 to get the minimum ‘safe’ shutter speed. So with a 30mm lens, the minimum safe shutter speed would be 1/30sec. However, today’s image stabilisation systems reduce shake and make slower shutter speeds possible.

Capture One Pro

All-in-one image capture (tethered shooting), cataloguing and editing software from Danish company Phase One. Born out of its medium format studio camera products, Capture One is now a professional RAW conversion tool for DSLR and mirrorless camera owners too. It’s a premium product and its closest rival is probably Adobe Lightroom. See also: Capture One Pro 9 review

Card reader

Device used for easily transferring photos from a memory card to a computer. Card readers plug into a computer’s USB port and have slots for inserting memory cards. When the card is inserted it appears on the computer’s desktop as an external disk drive. It’s then an easy matter to copy photos across to the computer. Many computers how have card readers built in.

Cataloguing software

Software designed to organise large collections of photos using an internal database that speeds up searches and lets you create ‘virtual’ albums and smart albums without actually having to move images on your hard disk. Adobe Lightroom is a good example, using a database ‘catalog’ to organise search and display images. Cataloguing software is more complex and powerful than image ‘browsers’ like Adobe Bridge, which simply show you the contents of folders on your computer.

CCD

An older type of digital camera sensor still used on a few specialised cameras but now mostly replaced with more efficient CMOS sensors. These produce less heat and noise and are better suited to use in cameras with full time live view and video features.

Centre weighted metering

This is one of the various light metering patterns offered on most digital cameras. It’s a relatively crude system which averages the light across the whole scene but gives special emphasis to the centre. It’s less reliable for for novices shooting in a wide variety of conditions, but its simple response to scenes actually makes it easier for more experienced photographers to interpret the results.

Channel (colour)

The data used to create digital photos is split up into three colour ‘channels’ – red, green and blue, or ‘RGB’. These are then mixed to produce the millions of different colours required for lifelike pictures. In commercial printing, this red, green and blue (RGB) colour model is swapped for cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK), which are the four colours used by commercial printing presses.

Chromatic aberration (colour fringing)

This is a lens aberration that produces colour fringing around the outlines of objects near the edges of the picture. It’s very hard to eradicate completely from lens designs without making them extremely complex or expensive, but it is possible to correct chromatic aberration using software and many cameras will now correct it automatically as they process the image.

CIPA (battery life)

CIPA stands for the Camera and Imaging Products Association, an independent body which reports on the state of the camera industry and sets up standards for measuring different aspects of camera performance, notably battery life. When a camera quotes CIPA after the battery life, you know it’s been measured in standardised conditions and it can be compared directly with the battery life of other cameras that quote the CIPA test in their results.

Close up

This is a pretty vague term that describes any photography at closer than normal distances. Most camera lenses can shoot close-ups, but if you want to get closer still for true life-size ‘macro’ photography, which does have a proper definition, then you will need a dedicated macro lens.

CMOS sensor

This is the most common type of sensor in today’s digital cameras. One of its main advantages is its lower heat output compared to the CCD sensors used in the past. This makes it particularly suitable for cameras with larger sensors and mirrorless cameras where the sensor is always ‘on’.

CMYK

This is a colour model used in printing processes, where colours are defined in terms of cyan, magenta, yellow and black colour channels (black is represented by the letter ‘K’). Desktop printers use CMYK inks but carry out the conversion from regular RGB photos automatically. In commercial printing, a designer will convert a regular RGB photo to CMYK to check the colour rendition and prepare it for printing.

Color Efex Pro (Google Nik Collection)

A software plug in that’s part of the Google Nik collection. Color Efex Pro offers a huge variety of preset image effects you can browse through and apply to your photos with a single click, but you can also adjust the filters manually and even stack them to create custom ‘recipes’. Color Efex Pro also offers localised adjustments via ‘control points’. See also: Google Nik Collection review

Colour management

For designers and professional photographers it’s often important to maintain consistent colour rendition from the camera, through to the computer display used for browsing and editing photos and right through to the final output device, generally a printer. Colour management tools use software ‘profiles’ and hardware monitor calibration and printer calibration devices to try to ensure this consistency of colour. It’s a complex process, and it’s worth pointing out that when images are going to be displayed on a screen rather than being printed, you have no control over the colour rendition of the output device. Many photographers don’t use colour management at all.

Colour model

This is the system used by computers and other digital devices for defining colours. In photography, the RGB system is almost universal – colours are defined using red, green and blue colour ‘channels’. In printing, it’s CMYK, or cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Some image-editing processes use Lab mode, which consists of a ‘lightness’ channel and two (‘a’, ‘b’) colour channels.

Colour profile

A software file used in colour management processes that describes the properties of a specific device so that your computer can correct or ‘normalise’ the way it displays or prints colours. If you don’t use colour management in your workflow, you don’t need to worry about this.

Colour space

Different devices can’t always display the same range of colours, so your camera may be able to record a wider range of colours than your computer monitor or tablet can display, for example – in other words, the monitor offers a smaller ‘colour space’. To get round this, there are two main RGB colour spaces you can work on. The sRGB colour space is a smaller, universal colour space that practically any device can match. Adobe RGB is a larger colour space that your camera and printing systems can capture but your monitor probably can’t, which means some complex workarounds and pitfalls and really needs a switch to a more complex colour managed workflow. sRGB is the simplest solution, and (though some will debate this) you’re unlikely to see any real advantage to Adobe RGB in everyday photography.

Colour temperature

A traditional technical measurement for the white balance setting that uses temperature values in degrees Kelvin rather than named presets like ‘Direct Sunlight’, ‘Cloudy’ and so on. Colour temperature is used for choosing and controlling the colour of photographic lighting equipment and you can use it an alternative to white balance presets on more advanced cameras.

Compact camera

You might imagine that this refers to smaller, pocket-sized cameras but the definition is a little wider than that and includes any camera with a fixed (non-interchangeable) lens. ‘Compact cameras’ include regular point-and-shoot compact cameras, high-end compacts, bridge cameras and long-zoom ‘travel’ compacts.

Commander mode (Nikon)

A flash control mode on some Nikon DSLRs and external flashguns (Speedlights) which can fire other Speedlights remotely via infra-red. It’s possible to control quite complex lighting setups in this way, and it’s part of Nikon’s CLS (Creative Lighting System).

Compact Flash

An older, larger memory card type still used in many professional cameras. It’s around twice the size of the more recent SD card format and thicker too. Compact Flash memory card capacity is measured in the same way in GB (Gigabytes) but speed standards may vary, especially for video use. Professional CF cards offer the same speeds and capacities as pro SD cards.

Compression

A software process that reduces the storage space taken up by photo or video image files. It comes in two type: ‘lossless’ and ‘lossy’ compression. Lossless compression is used by TIFF files, for example and retains all the image data but does not produce the biggest savings. Lossy compression is used for the JPEG format and produces much smaller files, but some data is lost in the process – though this may not be visible in real-world viewing conditions.

Continuous AF (autofocus)

In continuous AF (autofocus) mode, the camera continually refocuses all the time you have the shutter button half-pressed or fully-pressed. It’s used in continuous shooting mode to keep moving subjects in focus as you follow them with the camera. Continuous AF mode may include subject tracking or predictive autofocus capability.

Continuous shooting

In this mode the camera keeps taking pictures for as long as you hold down the shutter release button. The speed it can take them is the continuous shooting speed, which is quoted in frames per second (fps), and the number the camera can take is determined by the size of the image files, the quality setting (JPEG or RAW) and by the camera’s internal memory buffer capacity.

Contrast AF

A relatively simple autofocus system that measures the contrast around the edges of objects and then adjusts the focus to see if the contrast goes up or down. When the contrast is highest the subject is in focus. Contrast AF is accurate because it uses the image being captured by the sensor itself, but because it uses trial and error it’s not as fast as phase detection autofocus, the system used by digital SLRs and an increasing number of mirrorless compact system cameras (CSCs).

Contrast filter

A colour filter used in black and white photography to change the shade of grey that colours are reproduced as. They’re called ‘contrast’ filters because they can change the contrast (in shades of grey) between different colours. See also: Black and white filters

Control dial

A wheel on the camera body which you turn with a finger or your thumb to change one of the camera settings. The control wheel’s function will depend on the mode or function you’ve selected. More advanced cameras have two control wheels for quicker adjustments.

Converging verticals

A type of perspective distortion caused by tilting the camera upwards to photograph tall buildings. It’s worse with wideangle lenses because they let you stand closer, so you tilt the camera even more. The only solution is to compose the shot with the camera completely level. See also: Capture One keystone correction tips | DxO ViewPoint 3 review | Lightroom upright tool

Copyright

You own the copyright in any photo you take, though if you photograph a model or an important building, you may not have the right to use your photos commercially without their permission (or ‘release’). Some cameras can embed a copyright message automatically in each photo’s metadata.

Creative Lighting System (Nikon)

Wireless flash system used by Nikon to control one or more external Speedlights from one place. Speedlights can even be combined in ‘groups’ for more power or more sophisticated lighting effects.

Crop factor

Used to work out the effective focal length of lenses on cameras which don’t have full frame sensors. You multiply the actual focal length by the crop factor to get the effective focal length. The crop factor of an APS-C camera is 1.5, so a 50mm lens has an effective focal length of 75mm.

CSC (Compact System Camera)

Another name for ‘mirrorless’ cameras and used to distinguish them from digital SLRs. They are ‘system’ cameras in that they take interchangeable lenses and accessories – just like a digital SLR. However, they don’t have a DSLR’s mirror mechanism, and this ‘mirrorless’ design makes them more compact.

Custom settings

Most advanced cameras offer a custom settings menu for changing the behaviour of the camera’s controls to better suit the way you like to work. For example, you might want to change the direction of the control dials, or the order in which bracketed exposures are taken.

Photography jargon: D

Darkroom

Room set aside for film development and printing, typically equipped with a ‘wet’ area with running water, an enlarger for making prints and blackout materials to produce complete darkness.

Demosaic

Process where the camera (or RAW conversion software) takes the ‘mosaic’ of red, green and blue pixel data from the sensor and converts it into full-colour information.

Depth of field

Depth of field is the near-to-far sharpness in a picture. If both foreground and distant objects are sharp, there’s lot’s of depth of field – this shot is a good example. If only the subject is sharp and the foreground and background are blurred, it’s shallow depth of field.

Depth of field preview

Usually you view the scene with the camera lens wide open and it only stops down to your chosen aperture the moment you press the shutter button, so it’s hard to judge just how much depth of field the final photo will have. The depth of field preview stops the lens down to the taking aperture, though, so you can judge the effect in the viewfinder or on the LCD display.

Dfine (Google Nik Collection)

Software plug in for reducing noise in images and part of the Google Nik Collection. Like many other noise reduction programs, Dfine analyses the image and calculates a noise reduction profile. It’s also possible to define the areas used for analysis manually. See also: Google Nik Collection review

Diaphragm (lens aperture)

Mechanism inside a lens which uses interlocking metal leaves, or ‘blades’, to produce a variable-sized aperture within the lens. This is used to control the amount of light passing through and hence the exposure.

DIGIC (Canon)

Canon’s brand name for the image processors in its digital cameras. These take the raw data captured by the sensor process it into image files as well as handling many of the camera’s internal functions. Other makers have their own brands of processor.

Digital SLR (DSLR)

The digital equivalent of the single lens reflex camera, where the image seen through the lens is reflected upwards by a mirror in the body and into the optical viewfinder. The mirror flips up and out of the way at the moment of exposure so that the image then passes through to the back of the camera and the shutter and sensor.

Digital zoom

Zoom function that comes from blowing up the central part of a digital image, not by increasing the magnification of the lens. Digital zooms produce lower resolution and less detail, despite what the makers say.

Dioptre adjustment

A small knob or lever next to the viewfinder which you use to adjust the focus of the eyepiece to match your own vision. The information in the viewfinder should appear sharp without you having to strain to bring it into focus.

Distortion

An optical effect in some lenses where straight lines come out slightly bowed. You often see ‘barrel distortion’ with wideangle lenses or ‘pincushion distortion’ with telephoto lenses at their longest zoom setting. More expensive lenses tend to have less distortion but, generally, the longer the lens’s zoom range the more likely you are to see distortion creeping in. See also: DxO Optics Pro 11 review

Distortion correction

Software correction carried out either in the camera during image processing or later on in software to correct bowed edges caused by lens distortion.

D-Lighting (Nikon)

Exposure adjustment tool offered in some Nikon software for brightening the darkest parts of a picture without altering the rest. It’s a less advanced version of the Active D-Lighting system built into Nikon cameras. Regular D-Lighting just brightens the shadows – it’s too late to adjust the exposure at the software stage.

DNG Converter (Adobe)

This is a handy free tool you can download from the Adobe website for converting digital camera RAW files into Adobe’s generic DNG format. It’s useful if you have a new camera but an older version of Photoshop, Elements or Lightroom that won’t open its RAW files.

Drive mode

This controls what happens when you press the shutter release. In regular single-shot mode the camera takes a single photo. In continuous mode, it keeps taking pictures for as long as you hold down the shutter button. You’ll also find a self-timer mode and other options.

Drone

Any remote control flying craft that can carry a camera. The drones available to the public are helicopter-style ‘multi-rotor’ devices – typically ‘quadcopters’ rather than the aircraft used by the military. The rotors are controlled by a central computer for easier flight controls.

Dust off (Nikon)

A system offered with Nikon DSLRs for dealing with dust spots on the sensor. You take a reference shot of a white card which highlights any dust spots, and then Nikon image-editing software can use this to target dust spots on your photos and process them out.

DX format (Nikon)

This is Nikon’s name for its APS-C format DSLRs. Some Nikon lenses are designed specifically for these smaller format models, and they include ‘DX’ in the lens name to signify that the can’t be used on the full frame models (well, they can, but only in a ‘DX crop’ mode.

DxO Optics Pro

RAW conversion software which not only produces very high levels of image quality but automatically corrects lens aberrations for a large number of commercially available camera and lens combinations. See also: DxO Optics Pro 11 review

Dynamic range

This is the brightness range the camera can capture before starting to lose detail in bright areas (like the sky) and dense, dark shadows. Generally, the larger the camera’s sensor, the better its dynamic range. RAW files capture a slightly wider dynamic range than JPEGs.

Dynamic range expansion

A feature on some cameras which expands the range of tones the sensor can capture. It works by using a higher baseline ISO setting but then holding back the ISO amplification for brighter areas. The darker areas of the picture are well exposed but the camera holds on to the highlight detail too.

Photography jargon: E

Effective focal length

The angle of view of a lens changes according to the size of the sensor in the camera. A smaller sensor captures a narrower angle of view and makes it look as if the lens has a longer focal length. So in addition to the actual focal length, the manufacturers will usually quote the ‘effective’ focal length too.

Effective pixels (sensor)

Camera makers quote two megapixel figures. The bigger, ‘gross’ figure counts all the photosites on the sensor, but many of those around the edges are used for calibration and other technical purposes, so makers also quote the ‘effective’ pixels, which are the ones actually used to make the image. This is the important figure.

Effects (in camera)

Many cameras offer a range of special image effects, usually taking over some or all of the camera controls and using in-camera image processing too. Examples include vintage sepia toning, tilt-shift ‘miniature’ effects, toy camera or cross-processing effects.

Electronic rangefinder

A feature which uses the camera’s autofocus mechanism to confirm focus even when you’re using manual focus mode. You turn the focus ring and the AF point lights up when the subject below it comes into focus. It can be useful when it’s hard to judge sharp focus by eye.

Electronic shutter

Some cameras now offer electronic shutters which start and stop the exposure digitally rather than with a mechanical shutter. These are silent and can offer very high shutter speeds, though most use a ‘scanning’ process which makes them unsuitable for action photography.

Electronic viewfinder (EVF)

Essentially, this is a tiny LCD display seen through a magnifying eyepiece. They’re used on some bridge cameras and high-end compact cameras, and on many mirrorless cameras. They replace the optical viewing system you get with a DSLR.

Elements (Photoshop Elements)

Cut-down version of Adobe Photoshop designed for novices and enthusiasts. It comes with a handy Organizer app for managing your photos, but a lower-powered version of Adobe Camera Raw. You pay outright rather than via subscription.

EXIF data

Date, time and shooting information embedded invisibly in digital photos by the camera. It includes the shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO setting and more. EXIF data is useful later on if you want to see how certain pictures were shot or search for photos based on their settings.

EXPEED (Nikon)

Nikon’s own brand name for the image processors used in its digital cameras. More powerful processors are needed for higher-resolution sensors and faster continuous shooting speeds, and play a part in noise reduction at high ISOs and image quality generally.

Exposure

The art of making sure the sensor gets exactly the right quantity of light to produce a good result. Exposure is adjusted using shutter speed (the length of the exposure), lens aperture (how much light is passed through) and ISO (the sensitivity setting of the camera0.

Exposure bracketing

Taking a series of shots at different exposure settings in quick succession so that you can choose the best later or combine them in an HDR (high dynamic range) image. See also: Top 12 HDR tips

Exposure value (EV)

A numerical value given to the amount of light in a scene. For example, bright sunlight might produce an EV of 17. In practice, cameras deal only in shutter speeds and lens apertures and you’re only likely to see EV values on handheld light meters.

Exposure (Alien Skin)

Exposure 10 recreates the look of old films and processes. It works both as a plug in and as a standalone application, and in this version it adds browsing tools and non-destructive editing. Adjustments are stored alongside photos rather than being applied directly. See also: Alien Skin Exposure X2 review

Exposure mode

This controls the camera’s operation, from fully-automatic (the camera controls everything), semi-automatic (you can choose the shutter speed or lens aperture) to manual (you choose all the settings).

Exposure preview

Some cameras can simulate the effect of exposure adjustments on the LCD screen or electronic viewfinder (this is not possible with an optical viewfinder), making the image lighter or darker as you adjust the exposure. It’s not a precise guide to exposure but it can be useful.

Exposure steps/increments

Digital cameras offer finer exposure adjustments than whole stops (EV) values. By default, they offer 1/3EV adjustments to the shutter speed, lens aperture and ISO setting – though some cameras offer 1/2EV adjustments as an alternative, in line with older film cameras.

EXR sensor (Fuji)

A type of sensor used by Fuji in its smaller compact cameras with special modes for increased sensitivity or increased dynamic range. Confusingly, ‘EXR’ is also the brand name given to the image processing system used across the Fuji camera range.

External flash

A flashgun designed to clip to the top of the camera on its accessory shoe or to be used off-camera and fired remotely by cable, radio control or infra-red. External flashguns have more power than the camera’s built-in flash and a lot more flexibility in the way you can control and direct the light.

Eyepiece shutter

A tiny blind in the viewfinder eyepiece that stops light entering and upsetting the exposure (normally the eyepiece is covered by your eye). It can be useful for long exposures or other shots where you’ve stepped away from the camera. Some cameras come with a small viewfinder cap fixed to the shoulder strap.

EV (exposure) compensation

Used to adjust the camera’s automatic exposure setting to make the picture come out lighter or darker. Camera meters aren’t foolproof and sometimes you do need to make adjustments. Doing it this way is quicker than swapping to full manual control.

Eye-Fi

A brand of memory card that includes Wi-Fi capability so that you can transfer photos wirelessly to a smartphone, tablet or computer. More and more cameras are coming out with Wi-Fi built in now, though, so these provide the same functionality as Eye-Fi cards.

Photography jargon: F

Face detection

Some autofocus systems identify human faces within a scene and then adjust the focus and exposure for that face. It’s popular on compact cameras and is used on some DSLRs and mirrorless cameras too.

Filename/number

Digital cameras automatically give each photo a unique filename, usually consisting of a series of letters and then a number. There is one key option to be aware of – you can have the camera start renumbering from scratch each time you erase/format the memory card, or you can have it continue from the last number. This second option is the one to choose because it means that you won’t get duplicate filenames later on your computer.

FilmPack (DxO)

Software that replicates the look of old films and darkroom processes together with ageing effects like scratches and light leaks. It can work as a standalone application and as a plug-in (Elite edition). It also integrates with DxO Optics Pro, DxO’s RAW conversion/correction tool. See also: DxO FilmPack 4.5 review

Film simulation

Image settings on some cameras which attempt to recreate the colours and tonal quality of classic films. Fuji offers Velvia, Provia and Astia film simulations to replicate its films of the same name. You can choose these in-camera if you shoot JPEGs, or apply them later to RAW files. See also: Lightroom’s Camera Calibration panel

Filters

This can mean the filters you attach to the front of the lens to change the appearance of the picture, or software filters that do the same thing on your computer.

Filter systems

Most filters these days are designed as modular filter systems consisting of a square filter holder with slots for three rectangular filters and, sometimes, a circular polarising filter too. The filter holder attaches to the camera lens via an adaptor ring. In this way, the same filter holder and filters can be used with many different lenses.

Filter thread/size

This is a fine screw thread cut into the front of almost all DSLR and mirrorless camera lenses. This is where you screw in glass filters, or the adaptor rings for square filter holders. The size of the filter thread varies, so make sure you buy filters or adaptors the right size for your lens.

Film

‘Analog’ film comes in three main types: colour transparency (slide) film, colour negative and black and white negative. It also comes in many sizes, from 35mm through medium format roll film to large format sheet film. Smaller formats than 35mm are still available, such as 110 and 126, but are less popular now.

Firmware

Programmable hardware inside the camera (somewhere between hardware and software) that handles the camera’s controls, functions and features. Camera makers sometimes release firmware updates to fix bugs or add new features.

Fisheye lens

A fisheye is an ultra-wideangle lens that no longer attempts to render straight lines as straight and instead produces images with strongly curved edges and a characteristically surreal look. It’s a striking effect, though one to be used occasionally.

Flash

Most cameras come with a built-in flash, but it’s also possible to add a more powerful and versatile external flash to more advanced cameras. Flash illumination can be harsh and unpleasant, but in expert hands it can offer useful artificial illumination.

Flash compensation

Flash power is normally handled automatically by the camera, but you can increase or reduce the flash power with the flash compensation option – it’s just like using the exposure compensation option with automatic exposure.

Flash output (manual)

Flash power is usually handled automatically by in-built flashguns and external flashguns. The exception is studio flash, where you adjust the power manually in fractions of full power. 1/1 is full power, 1/2 is half power, 1/4 is quarter power and so on. Some smaller flashguns offer manual power settings too.

Flash sync speed

Digital SLRs and compact system cameras use focal plane shutters and these have a design limitation – there is a maximum speed at which the whole sensor is exposed at once. This is the maximum flash synchronisation speed. Beyond this, the sensor is exposed in a moving strip, which is no good for flash.

Flexible program (Nikon)

Nikon’s name for its ‘program shift’ control, where you can change the balance of lens aperture and shutter speed without having to leave the program AE mode – you simply turn the command dial until the camera displays the lens aperture or shutter speed you want.

Flickr

Photo sharing website where you can publish pictures from your own portfolio and get comments from other people, as well as commenting on other photographer’s photos. It’s free to join and you can upload up to 1TB of images.

Fn (Function) button

One or more buttons on more advanced cameras which can be used for quick access to useful settings such as picture style, white balance, ISO setting or more. They will have default settings already which you may find useful, so you don’t have to change them.

Focal length

This tells you a lens’s magnification or angle of view (it’s the same thing really) and it’s quoted in millimetres. Sometimes the makers quote actual millimetres and sometimes they quote the ‘effective’ focal length, which is what the lens would be equivalent to if it was a 35mm camera.

Focal plane mark

A small marking on the top plate of some cameras which indicates the position of the focal plane – the sensor surface – inside the camera. You’re unlikely to need this unless you are using manual macro photography setups based on precise focus and magnification values.

Focal plane shutter

The type of shutter used by interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) such as DSLRs and compact system cameras. The shutter is mounted directly in front of the sensor (at the focal plane) and shutter ‘curtains’ open to start the exposure and close to end it.

Focus limiter

A switch found on some telephoto and macro lenses to restrict the autofocus to a specific range. This speeds up the autofocus for situations where you know you won’t need the lens’s full focus range.

Focus (MacPhun)

Focus is a Mac-only software tool for creating shallow depth of field, tilt-shift (miniature) or ‘bokeh’ effects by progressively blurring the image away from a central sharp area. Digital defocus techniques can look convincing, but it does depend on the subject. See also: Boost your bokeh with MacPhun Focus 2 Pro

Focus mode

Camera autofocus systems work in one of three modes: single-shot autofocus (usually abbreviated to ‘S’), continuous autofocus (‘C’) and manual focus (‘M’). If you’re taking one photo at a time, use single-shot autofocus – the camera will focus once and then fire. If you’re using continuous shooting mode, use continuous autofocus – the camera will keep refocusing all the time the shutter button is held down.

Focus peaking

A special display mode designed to help with manual focusing when using an LCD display or electronic viewfinder. It exaggerates the edges of objects when they come into focus and can give a much more visible focus ‘snap’ than the regular display.

Focus points

Autofocus systems can focus at different points around the frame – the more advanced the autofocus system, the greater the number of AF points. You can either leave the camera to choose the autofocus point with ‘auto AF’ mode (or ‘auto area AF’) or select it yourself with single-point AF mode. Some cameras offer face-detection or subject-tracking AF options.

Forced flash

A mode where the flash is made to fire whether the light is low or not. Normally, the camera won’t fire the flash in bright light, but forced flash mode overrides this. Flash can be useful for fill-in light for portraits, even in daylight, and especially if your subject’s face is in shadow.

Format (memory card)

Completely wiping a memory card so that you’re starting again with a clean slate, so to speak. It’s not essential if you only ever use one camera, but if you use the same card in more than one it will clear up unwanted files and folders left behind by other cameras.

Foveon sensor

Sigma’s Foveon sensor uses a unique layered design to capture blue, green and red light on separate layers. It mimics the multi-layer construction of colour film.

FPS (frames per second)

In stills photography, this is the camera’s maximum continuous shooting speed – the number of frames it can capture per second. In video, this is the number of frames of video per second, typically 30fps, though sometimes 25fps or 24fps.

Full-frame-sensor

This is a sensor the same size as the 35mm film negative, measuring 36 x 24mm. This is the most desirable camera type for most enthusiasts and pros, but full frame cameras are bigger, heavier and more expensive. Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras use smaller APS-C sensors.

Full HD video

Video with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. It’s sometimes abbreviated to ‘1080 video’.

FX format (Nikon)

This is Nikon’s name for its full frame DSLRs, to distinguish them from its APS-C size ‘DX’ models. Most Nikon lenses are designed to fit this larger FX format. Those that don’t have ‘DX’ in the model name – though they can still be used on an FX Nikon in ‘DX crop’ mode.

Photography jargon: G

Gigabytes (GB)

A unit of storage used both for computer hard disks (and SSDs) and for memory cards. 1GB is approximately 1,000 megabytes (MB).

Google Nik Collection

A suite of software plug-ins for Photoshop and Lightroom available via the Google website and consisting of programs previously made and sold by Nik Software. The collection includes Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Dfine, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro Silver Efex Pro and Viveza. See also: Google Nik Collection review

GoPro

One of the best known brands of action camera. GoPro has made its name through the activities of high-profile adventure sports personalities and even TV production companies. The cameras are small, square and tough and at the centre of a large range of camera mounts, supports, gimbals and other accessories.

GPS

GPS receivers use global positioning satellites to fix the camera’s location and embed this in the photo’s metadata. You can look this up later and many programs can show the location the photo was taken on a map. Only a few cameras have GPS built in, but it’s standard on smartphones.

Graduated filter

Graduated filters are clear at the bottom but darkened at the top, with a smooth, graduated blend in between. You use them in landscape photography to tone down bright skies without affecting the land. You can also create graduated filters ‘digitally’ in image-editing software. See also: Top 10 graduated filter tips

Grain (film)

Film grain is caused by the random clumping of silver halide grains (black and white) or dye clouds (colour film) – the individual grains or colour spots are too small to see. Film grain looks very different to digital noise – many photographers use film grain simulation filters and tools. See also: Create a grainy black and white effect in Lightroom

Grey card

Used for accurate white balance calibration, usually under artificial lighting where the colour of the light sources is unknown or variable. You can use the camera’s manual white balance preset control to take reading from the grey card, or set the white balance using the card and the WB eyedropper tool in many  image-editing programs.

Guide number (flash)

A measure of the power of a flashgun, whether it’s a built in flash or an external flashgun. You take the guide number and divide it by the subject distance in metres to get the lens aperture you should use. Flash power is usually controlled automatically these days, though, so the guide number is just an indication of the maximum power.

Photography jargon: H

Handheld photography

Any photography – obviously – where you’re holding the camera with your hands rather than using a tripod or some other form of camera support. It has special implications for night and low light photography where it’s important to use shutter speeds fast enough to prevent camera shake.

HD video

‘HD’ stands for ‘high definition’ to distinguish it from older, lower resolution video standards. HD actually comes in two formats: standard HD has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, full HD is 1920 x 1080 pixels. Both use the same 16:9 aspect ratio.

HDMI

Standard digital interface for connecting video and display equipment. Cameras have HDMI ports for direct connection to TVs, for example, but more advanced models can also connect to external monitors for video recording, or external video recorders.

HDR (high dynamic range)

HDR stands for high dynamic range photography. It combines a series of frames taken at different exposures to capture a much wider dynamic (brightness) range than the camera could capture with a single exposure. These exposures are merged using HDR software. See also: Aurora HDR 2017 review | Top 12 HDR tips

HDR Efex Pro (Google Nik Collection)

Software plug-in for creating HDR (high dynamic range) effects from single images or bracketing sets of exposures. It’s part of the Google Nik Collection. You can apply preset HDR styles with a single click or adjust and make your own effects using extensive manual controls. See also: Google Nik Collection review

Headphones/socket

All DSLRs or compact system cameras which shoot video will have an external microphone socket for better sound quality – but for pro videographers it’s just as important to have a headphone socket for monitoring sound levels while shooting. You only get this on more advanced models.

High-end compact

More advanced type of compact camera which attempts to match the controls and features of a digital SLR or mirrorless camera but in a smaller body. High-end compacts have larger sensors than regular point-and-shoot models and better lenses with wider maximum apertures.

High key

A photo where the tones are predominantly bright or white. It’s partly the subject that makes a photographer high key – a white cat on a white cushion, for example, and partly the exposure technique – slight overexposure will give a high key look.

Highlights

The lightest tones in a picture. It’s a pretty vague definition, but most photographers take it to mean tones which are at or near a full, featureless white. Retaining or recovering highlight detail – in bright skies, for example – is a big priority for keen photographers. See also: Shadow and highlight recovery in Lightroom

Histogram

A graphical display of the brightness values in the picture. The darkest tones are at the left and the brightest on the right, and the vertical bars show the number of pixels for each brightness value. Histograms are an invaluable exposure aid when taking pictures, and when editing them later. See also: How to preview and control histogram clipping in Lightroom

Hotshoe

Accessory shoe on the top of more advanced cameras that’s designed for sliding in an external flashgun, though these days it may also be used for electronic viewfinders, wireless remote control units and more.

Hybrid AF

Autofocus system that combines contrast autofocus and phase detection autofocus. It works using special phase-detection sensors built into the sensor. Contrast AF is typically slow but accurate, while phase detection AF is typically fast if potentially less accurate.

Photography jargon: I

ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera)

Any camera where you can change lenses. Once, this was just DSLRs, but now mirrorless cameras are included in this category and, for the sake of argument, Leica’s ‘rangefinder’ cameras should be included too. ILC is not a widely used term but it is the most correct description.

Image editor

Any software used for enhancing or manipulating digital photos.

Image quality setting

As well as saving JPEG photos at different sizes, cameras also offer different quality settings like ‘Fine’, ‘Normal’ and ‘Basic’. Fine produces the best picture quality and is the one to go for if you can. If your camera shoots RAW files, this is where you’ll find the RAW option.

Image size setting

Digital cameras offer a choice of image sizes. Normally, you’d choose ‘Large’, which gives you the maximum resolution offered by the sensor. But most cameras also offer ‘Medium’ settings (around half the pixels) and ‘Small’ (around a quarter the pixels).

Image stabliser

A mechanism that counteracts camera movement during the exposure. Lens-based stabilisers use a moving lens element, while sensor-based stabilisers move the sensor itself. Image stabilisers are used to get sharper telephoto shots and low-light shots without camera shake.

Intelligent Auto (iA) (Panasonic)

This is a fully automatic mode on Panasonic digital cameras which analyses the scene in front of the camera and automatically selects an appropriate scene mode – normally you have to choose them manually – here, the camera is doing it for you, hence ‘intelligent auto’.

Intensify (MacPhun)

Mac-only application which increases global and localised contrast effects to give images extra drama and ‘punch’. It works either as a standalone application or as a plug-in, and as usual with MacPhun software you can use one of many different presets or use your own manual settings. See also: MacPhun Intensify 1.01

Interpolation

Using mathematical analysis to fill in the gaps in data. The photosites on sensors only capture red, green or blue light, so interpolation is used to examine surrounding pixels and calculate full colour values from those. When you increase the size (in pixels) of a photo, the software interpolates new pixels from the existing ones.

Interval timer

Sometimes called an ‘intervalometer’, this is a feature on more advanced cameras that takes picture at fixed intervals automatically. It’s most often used for time lapse photography. You set the interval between pictures and the number of shots you want the camera to take.

Intervalometer

A camera setting or remote controller which fires the camera’s shutter at set intervals, stopping when it’s taken a specified number of images. The pictures can then be used to analyse movement or change over time or, more likely, combined to make a time lapse movie.

ISO (sensitivity)

This setting increases the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Each ISO step doubles the sensitivity, so it’s easy to use ISO as another exposure control alongside shutter speed and lens aperture. The more you increase the ISO, though, the more the image quality degrades. See also: Lightroom noise reduction and why you need it

ISO expansion

Many cameras offer extended (expanded) ISO settings beyond the standard range. These can help you out in an emergency but they’re not designed for everyday use because the image quality is significantly reduced. Some cameras also offer expanded low settings such as ISO 50.

Photography jargon: J

JPEG

This is a standardised, universal file format for digital photos that can be displayed by practically any device without any kind of conversion. It uses powerful compression to reduce the file size of digital photos so that you can get more on to a memory card or a hard disk, and they’re quicker to transfer. There can be some loss of quality (often invisible to the naked eye), so for ultimate quality many photographers shoot photos in their camera’s RAW format instead. It’s only more advanced cameras that offer this RAW option, and it produces much larger files which you will need to process yourself later on.

JPEG vs RAW

Most digital photos are shot as JPEG images. This is a universal image file format that uses sophisticated compression to keep the files small and manageable. JPEGs are created by processing the RAW data captured by the camera. Some cameras let you save these RAW files instead. The files are larger and you need to process them later on a computer, but they offer the potential for better quality.

Photography jargon: K

Kit lens

A relatively inexpensive general purpose lens sold with a camera body as a kit. Buying both at the same time is much cheaper than buying them individually. Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are also sold ‘body only’ for those who already have lenses.

Photography jargon: L

Landscape format

Where the shot is taken with the camera held horizontally – pictures are wider than they are tall.

LCD display

The key specs here are the size, measured across the diagonal, and the resolution, measured in thousands of dots. For example, you might get a 3-inch LCD with 921k (921,000) dots.

LCD backlight

Some DSLRs have an LCD status panel on the top plate for basic shooting information, battery life remaining and other items. This uses a high-contrast display with no backlighting to save power, but it can be hard to see in dim light, so there’s usually a backlight switch too.

LED lighting

New type of ‘continuous lighting’ that uses relatively little power but still provides enough light for video, still lives or portrait shots. Small LED panels can clip to a camera’s hotshoe, larger ones have their own stands and control panels.

Lens hood

Lens hoods can reduce lens flare and improve contrast when there’s a bright light source just outside the edge of the frame,  but they won’t help if the sun, for example, is in the frame. Lens hoods are usually ‘petal’ types that allow for the fact the image frame is rectangular.

Lens Modulation Optimiser (LMO)

A processing algorithm used by Fuji in some of its cameras to counteract the softening effects of diffraction at small lens apertures, and image softness at the edge of the frame. It seems likely the LMO is simply applying some intelligent sharpening.

Lens mount

This is the physical connection between a lens and the body of a DSLR or mirrorless camera. It consists of a twist-lock bayonet mount and electrical connectors. The lens mount is specific to a camera brand – you have to make sure you get lenses in the right fitting for your camera.

Light meter

A device for measuring light levels. Digital cameras come with their own sophisticated internal light meters, but it is possible to get external light meters where the settings have to be transferred to the camera manually. This is slower, but has advantages in some circumstances.

Lightroom (Adobe)

All-in-one photo cataloguing, organising and editing tool that also synchronised with a mobile app so that you can browse and share your images while you’re on the move. It uses the same RAW conversion engine and tools as Adobe Camera Raw, which comes with Photoshop. See also: Lightroom CC review

Lithium ion

Standard rechargeable battery type for digital cameras. Lithium ion batteries have good capacity, supply a constant output from fully charged until drained and have none of the ‘memory effects’ that affect other rechargeable battery types – you don’t have to wait until a lithium ion battery is flat before charging it again.

Live view

Where the camera displays what the sensor is capturing either on the rear LCD or in an electronic viewfinder. All compact cameras and mirrorless cameras are effectively in ‘live view’ all the time. It’s only out of the ordinary on a DSLR, which has to go into a special mirror-up ‘live view’ mode.

Long exposure

Long exposures turn moving subjects like water and clouds into an atmospheric blur. The exposure time often needs to be several seconds or longer, so a tripod is essential. In bright light you’ll need a neutral density (ND) filter to get these long exposures.

Low key

A photo where most of the tones are dark, such as a black cat in a coal cellar. You can also give photos a low key look with slight underexposure. It gives photos a dramatic, moody look, though the subject matter has to be right for this to work properly.

Low pass filter

A filter directly in front of most camera sensors to prevent interference (moiré) effects between any fine patterns and textures you photograph and the rectangular grid of photosites on the sensor. These filters actually blur fine detail slightly, and some makers no longer use them.

Photography jargon: M

Macro mode/button

Many cameras and some telephoto lenses offer a ‘macro’ button or mode. This is rarely the same as true macro photography at 1:1 magnification. Instead, ‘macro’ is simply used as another word for close-up. This is the macro button on a Fuji X30 compact camera.

Macro photography

Strictly speaking, macro photography where a real-life object is captured at the same size on the sensor. So a bee 10mm long would form an image 10mm long on the sensor. True macro photography needs dedicated ‘macro’ lenses.

Manual exposure

Where you set both the shutter speed and the lens aperture used by the camera. The camera’s exposure meter may recommend the settings, but you’re free to use or ignore this information. Manual exposure gives you total control but requires some experience.

Manual focus

Useful when you want to make the most of depth of field – with often means focusing between two objects rather than on one or the other. It’s also handy for ‘zone focusing’ in shoot-from-the-hip style street photography, where you want an instant shutter response.

Maximum aperture

The maximum light-gathering power of a lens and a major selling point.It lets you use faster shutter speeds or lower ISO settings in poor light.This lens has a maximum aperture of 1:2.8. This is the same as f/2.8 – different makers use slightly different terminology.

Medium format

Professional cameras that use sensors larger than full frame. These fill the space previously occupied by 120 roll film cameras, though they are massively more expensive. ‘Medium format’ sounds like there should be a larger size still, but it harks back to the days of film when you could get large format 5×4” or 10×8” sheet film cameras. See also: Fine art black and white with the Fujifilm GFX

Memory cards

Removable storage media used to store digital images in the camera. They come in different types (SD, Compact Flash, XQD, CFast), different capacities and speeds.

Memory card capacity

This is measured in gigabytes (GB), and the larger the memory capacity the more photos and video clips you can store. It’s hard to give precise advice since cameras and user needs vary so much, but 16GB is a good starting point if you shoot RAW files as well as JPEGs, and consider 64GB-256GB if you want to shoot video, especially 4K.

Memory card speed

Memory card makers quote the card’s maximum read/write speed in MB/sec, but it’s also important to know the minimum sustained speed for video recording. This is quoted using Class ratings (SD cards). Typically, you need Class 10 for 4K video as a minimum.

Megapixels (MP)

The number of pixels captured by the camera’s sensor. Smartphones typically have around 8 megapixels and upwards, while regular digital cameras typically have 16 megapixels or more. Megapixels used to be a good guide to image quality but now sensor size is more important.

Metadata

Any information embedded in a digital photo. It can include time, date and shooting information (EXIF data) embedded by the camera, keyword, caption and copyright (IPTC data) added by image cataloguing programs and, sometimes, image processing data added by non-destructive image-editing programs. See also: The ticking time-bomb of non-destructive editing

Metering mode

Digital cameras usually use multi-pattern/multi-segment light metering, but they also offer other ‘metering modes’ – centre-weighted metering (simpler) and spot metering (more precise). The camera will have a button or a menu option for changing the metering mode.

Microlens (sensor)

In order to maximise their light gathering power, each photosite on the camera sensor is covered by a tiny domed ‘microlens’ to capture and funnel in the light more effectively. Improvements to the microlens array can improve the sensor’s performance.

Microphone

Any camera which shoots video will have a microphone built in, often stereo mics. For serious video work, though, an external microphone is needed. Some types plug into the camera’s hotshoe, others are used on the end of a boom or clipped to a presenter’s clothing (lapel mics).

Miniature effect

Special effect provided in some cameras and image-editing programs which makes real-world scenes look like miniature models. It does this by blurring the top and bottom of the image to simulate the shallow depth of field of a close-up shot. See also: Tilt-shift effect

Mirrorless camera

A relatively recent design that takes interchangeable lenses, just like a DSLR, but doesn’t use in internal mirror for its viewing system –if you take off the lens you see the sensor itself. Mirrorless cameras allow a shorter lens-to-sensor distance and full time live view.

Mirror up (MUP) mode

An option on more advanced DSLRs that flips the mirror up in advance of the exposure in order to give any vibrations from the mirror mechanism time to die down. It’s popular with fans of macro photography and some landscape photographers.

Mode dial

Just about all digital cameras have these or an equivalent and you use it to set the exposure mode, such as full auto, program auto exposure, scene modes, movie mode and so on. More advanced cameras add PASM modes – Program AE, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual.

Moiré

A fine interference pattern sometimes visible when you photograph fine patterns. It happens when these clash with the rectangular grid of pixels on the camera sensor. Actually, you almost never see it – most cameras have anti-aliasing/low pass filters to prevent, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue for those that don’t.

Monitor calibration

Monitors rarely display colours with complete accuracy, so some professionals use calibration kits that use a sensor to read the monitor’s colours and then apply a software profile to correct the display.

Mount adaptor (lens)

An adaptor which lets you mount a lens designed for one camera or brand on a different make or type of camera. For example, you can get adaptors for fitting DSLR lenses on some mirrorless cameras. Mount adaptors are used widely in videography.

MP4

MP4 is a video file format used by many digital cameras. It’s simple to work with because it produces a single file containing both the video and audio and it’s simple to drag from one device to another. It’s often provided as a similar alternative to AVCHD on Sony and Panasonic cameras.

Multi-pattern/multi-segment metering

This is the most sophisticated form of light metering used by cameras. The light values are measured at many points across the frame and compared to ‘known’ scenes so that the camera can work out what the subject is likely to be and the best way to expose it properly.

Multiple exposure

Taking two shots on a single frame. In the days of film this meant locking the film advance when cocking the shutter and taking another picture on a frame of film that’s already been exposed. On a digital camera, the camera stores the first image in its memory and then merges it with the second. 

Photography jargon: N

Navipad/multi-selector

A control that’s practically universal on digital cameras. It’s a circular controller on the back of the camera with up/down/left/right buttons which can be used for positioning the autofocus point, menu navigation, camera settings and more.

Neutral density filter

A filter which reduces the amount of light passing through the lens or reaching the sensor without affecting it in any other way. It allows longer exposures in bright daylight (useful for creative blur effects) or controls bright light in a camera with limited exposure controls.

NFC

Stands for Near Field Communication, a wireless transfer system that relies on very close contact between devices – sometimes you simply tap or touch the devices together to establish contact. It can be used for transferring photos from a camera to a compatible printer, for example.

NiMH battery

The most common type of rechargeable AA battery, and they’ve taken over from older, less efficient Ni-Cad batteries. NiMH batteries are inexpensive and often used in cheaper compact cameras, flashguns, battery grips and LED lights.

Noise

Random ‘speckling’ in an image caused by variations in the light levels captured by the photosites on the sensor. Noise is worse with the smaller photosites on small sensors and at higher ISO settings generally. You can get ‘chroma’ (coloured) noise and ‘luminance’ noise (general ‘grittiness’) the same colour as the background.

Noise reduction

Camera makers use special noise reduction processing techniques to reduce the appearance of noise in photos, but the drawback is image softness and haziness and a kind of ‘watercolour’ effect where areas of fine, subtle detail are smudged beyond recognition. Bad noise reduction can do as much harm as image noise – or more. See also: Lightroom noise reduction and why you need it

Noiseless (MacPhun)

Noiseless is a Mac-only noise reduction tool which works both as a standalone app and a plug in. It smooths out noise in high ISO images via a range of presets designed to tackle different kinds of noise. You can adjust the strength of the noise reduction and set the  controls manually if you wish.

Non-destructive editing

Software which doesn’t make any direct changes to the pixels in a photo, but saves processing instructions alongside it. These instructions are used to change the appearance of the photo when it’s displayed and can be applied permanently to a new ‘exported’ image. See also: The ticking time-bomb of non-destructive editing

Photography jargon: O

OLED display

OLED stands for ‘organic light emitting diode’. It’s a more advanced display tech than regular LCDs with wider viewing angles, faster response, better brightness and reduced power consumption. The OLED electronic viewfinder is a selling point in the Fuji X-T1, for example.

ON1 Photo 10/RAW

An all-in one image organising and editing program which includes a large array of preset effects and manual tools for manually adjusting and ‘stacking’ effects in layers. Includes tools for black and white and portrait photography and also works as a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom. See also: ON1 Photo RAW 2017 review

Optical stabiliser

Image stabiliser which moves physical elements within the lens, or the sensor itself, to keep the image steady during the exposure. This is superior to ‘digital stabilizers’ which use image processing techniques to reduce blur, but which also lead to a loss in quality.

Optical viewfinder

The viewfinder in a digital SLR is optical because it’s created by an image formed by the lens on a glass ‘focussing screen’. The direct vision viewfinders on some compact cameras are optical because you’re seeing the world through a set of lenses and not via a digital display.

Optical zoom

A zoom function produced by changing the magnification of the lens rather than by simply blowing up a central part of the image (digital zoom). Makers will always specify optical zoom and digital zoom separately in their specifications.

Photography jargon: P

Pancake lens

A fixed focal length (‘prime’) lens designed to be as slim as possible so that the camera/lens combination is lighter, more compact and more unobtrusive. Their only real concession compared to a regular prime lens is maximum aperture – typically f/2.8 for a pancake lens.

Panorama

Extra-wide image sometimes shot in one pass with specially designed cameras but more often these days made by stitching together a series of overlapping frames taken in quick succession as the camera ‘pans’ across the scene. Many cameras can now do this as you shoot. See also: How to create panoramas with Lightroom CC

PASM modes

A set of four exposure modes that distinguishes a serious camera from simple point and shoot models. It stands for Program AE, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual modes. You’ll find these on many better compact cameras and all DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Perspective control

A means of correcting converging verticals in architectural shots and other perspective issues. You can get ‘perspective control’ lenses which use complex lens adjustments to fix the problem optically, or you can use software with perspective correction tools. See also: Capture One Pro’s Keystone Vertical tool | DxO ViewPoint 3 review

Phase One

Danish company which produces professional medium format cameras and lenses and publishes Capture One Pro, a high-quality RAW conversion and image-editing program that’s also a powerful tethered shooting tool for studio photographers. See also: Capture One Pro 9 review

Pixel

The individual building block of digital images. Each individual pixel is a single block of colour, but when there are enough of them viewed from far enough away they merge to form the impression of a continuous-tone photographic image.

Phase detection AF

An autofocus system that checks the position of objects from two angles. If they don’t line up the object is out of focus – and the system can use the difference to work out how far to refocus the lens and in which direction. Phase detection AF sensors are used on DSLRs and now phase detection pixels are built into some mirrorless camera sensors.

Photography Plan (Adobe)

A subscription plan which includes Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC. It’s designed for photographers and does offer very good value for money compared to the old scheme, where you paid a much larger amount for a ‘perpetual’ licence, and also had to pay to upgrade to new versions. See also: Lightroom CC review

Photoshop (Adobe)

Rightly regarded as the king of image-editing programs, Photoshop is the most powerful program there is for image enhancement, correction and manipulation, though it does not have the image cataloguing tools or the range of special effects offered by some rivals.

Photosite (sensor)

This is the correct technical name for the individual light receptors on a sensor, though many people call them pixels because each photosite corresponds to a pixel in the final image. Each photoreceptor gathers light (photons) and turns them into an electrical charge (electrons) which can be measured.

Picture control/style

Cameras usually offer a range of picture ‘styles’ such as ‘Standard’, for neutral results, ‘Vivid’ for richer colours, ‘Portrait’ for gentler tones and more. These are applied to JPEG images saved by the camera. If you shoot RAW files you can choose the picture style later on. See also: Lightroom’s Camera Calibration panel

Pincushion distortion

This is where straight lines near the edge of the picture appear to bow inwards. It’s not as common as barrel distortion, but you do see it quite a lot with telephoto zoom lenses when the lens is set to its maximum focal length. You may not notice it with many types of subject, but it can be corrected with software later anyway. See also: DxO Optics Pro 11 review

Pixelmator

Low-cost image-editor for Mac and iOS which has a clean and simple interface but powerful editing, retouching, selection and layering tools and a range of customisable effects. It also has painting tools and vector drawing tools, making it equally suitable for art projects, illustrations and diagrams. See also: Pixelmator Kaleidoscope filter

Plug in

A software tool designed not to be used on its own, but as an add-on to programs like Photoshop and Lightroom. Plug-ins typically offer specialised tools and effects not usually found in regular image editing programs. See also: Google Nik Collection review

Point and shoot camera

It’s about the easiest way of describing simple digital cameras that are inexpensive and designed for novices. They offer fully-automatic shooting modes that don’t require any particular photographic know-how and zoom lenses which cover most everyday needs. They quality is only average, though, and there’s little scope for overriding the camera.

Polarising filter

Polarising filters darken blue skies and can cut through reflections and glare in water, glass and polished surfaces. They come in two types: linear polarisers are cheaper and older and don’t work well with modern autofocus systems; circular polarisers are more expensive but they are the type needed for modern cameras. See also: Create a one-click polariser effect in Aperture

Pop-up flash

Most cameras have a built-in flashgun which pops up automatically in low light or can be popped up by pressing a button. The flash can provide emergency light, but it’s harsh and short range. In many instances it’s best to leave the flash off and use higher ISO settings.

PowerShot (Canon)

The brand name for Canon’s more advanced compact digital cameras. They include long-zoom compacts, bridge cameras and Canon’s more sophisticated high-end compact cameras, which feature extensive manual controls and larger sensors.

Predictive autofocus

Here, the camera tracks subject in continuous autofocus mode and uses its movement within the frame and any changes in its distance from the camera to work where it’s going to be at the moment the shutter fires.

Printer calibration

Printers don’t always produce accurate colours, particularly when using third-party papers or inks. A printer calibration kit will measure the colours produced by the printer and then create a software printer profile which adjusts the colour data sent to the printer.

Program AE (P) mode

In this mode, the camera chooses combinations of shutter speed and lens aperture automatically to give a good compromise between safe shutter speeds (no camera shake) and reasonable depth of field (smaller apertures).

Program shift

An override option in program AE mode which shifts the shutter speed and aperture combinations in favour of faster shutter speeds or smaller apertures. This is often quicker than swapping to aperture-priority or shutter-priority mode if it’s for a single picture.

Photography jargon: Q

Q (Quick) menu

A useful feature on some cameras which puts all the most commonly used camera settings on a single screen. You can then use the cursor buttons to quickly select the setting you want and change it. It’s a pretty common option across all cameras, though the name may be different.

Quadcopter

A type of drone which uses four independently powered rotors. This is the most common type available to consumers though there are drones which use more rotors in order to achieve greater lifting power. When people say ‘drone’ they usually mean quadcopter.

Quiet mode

A very useful option if you need to take pictures in a theatre, church or museum where  it’s important to make no noise. Some Nikon DSLRs have a Quiet mode, though you can’t completely eliminate the noise from a DSLR’s shutter or mirror mechanism.

Photography jargon: R

Rangefinder

An older camera designed still used by celebrated German manufacturer Leica. The ‘rangefinder’ is used for focusing – as you turn the focus ring on the lens, a small mirror in the top of the camera rotates to line up a ‘ghost’ image with the main image in the viewfinder. When this ghost image lines up, your subject is in focus.

RAW converter

Software that processes RAW files from a camera and converts them into regular image files. Not all RAW converters are the same. The closest analogy is the different developers used to process film. Examples include Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One Pro and DxO Optics Pro. See also: Lightroom CC review | DxO Optics Pro 11 review | Capture One Pro 9 review

RAW file

Usually when you take a picture the camera will process the data captured by the sensor into an image file. More advanced cameras can save the image in its unprocessed state – a RAW file – so that you can do the processing yourself later on your computer.

RAW processing (in camera)

Some cameras now let you process RAW images and save them as new JPEG files on the memory card. That might sound a bit pointless when you could shoot JPEGs in the first place, but it does mean you can try out different white balance settings, picture styles and more. See also: In-camera RAW

Red filter

Used in black and white photography to darken blue skies and lighten skintones and foliage. It can produce dramatic, high-contrast images. See also: How to create a red filter effect in Silver Efex Pro

Rear curtain flash

A special slow sync flash mode which fires the flash at the end of the exposure not the start. This gives more natural-looking results with moving subjects because any movement trail will be behind your subject and not ahead of it (which looks odd).

Remote release

A device which fires the camera’s shutter release from a distance, either via an electrical cable or a wireless signal. It’s useful if you need to stand some distance away from the camera and avoid jogging the camera when you fire the shutter.

Reset (camera)

More advanced digital cameras have many shooting and setup options – so many, that you can sometimes forget what you’ve set them up to do. To get back to the default settings you need two options: 1) Reset shooting settings; 2) Reset custom settings.

Resolution

This can mean one of several things depending on the context. Camera resolution is the number of megapixels on the sensor, lens resolution is how well the lens is able to resolve fine detail. Screen resolution is the number of dots on the screen and therefore how sharp/clear it looks.

RGB

RGB stands for red, green and blue, the three colour ‘channels’ that go to make up all the colours in a digital image. It comes in two varieties – sRGB is a ‘universal’ RGB that can be used and displayed by any device, whereas Adobe RGB is a more specialised alternative for pros.

Rule of thirds

A ‘rule’ of composition that says that pictures look best if objects are placed one-third of the way in from the edge or top/bottom of the picture, rather than being placed directly in the centre. It can be helpful, though calling it a ‘rule’ gives it more importance than it deserves.

Photography jargon: S

‘Safe’ shutter speed

A shutter speed fast enough to prevent camera shake during the exposure. Normally, it’s a second divided by the effective focal length of the lens, so for a 60mm lens a shutter speed of 1/60sec should be ‘safe’. The advent of image stabilisers, however, has made it possible to get sharp handheld shots at much slower shutter speeds.

Scene mode

Automatic mode designed for beginners where the camera applies the settings that best suit the subject you’re shooting (landscape, portrait, action etc). Some cameras can analyse the scene in front of you and choose a scene mode automatically. Experts don’t normally bother with scene modes because they’re designed solely for those who don’t really want to get involved with individual camera settings. If you do know your way around a camera, you’ll generally want to make your own choices about the settings.

SD/SDHC/SDXC cards

These are all the same size but there are important differences. Older cameras may only be able to  use SD cards, but more recent ones will be able to use SDHC cards too, but may not be able to use the latest SDXC format. Check your camera’s manual before buying these.

Selective colour

A special effect which converts the whole image into black and white except for one specific colour range. One the the most common examples is a black and white image with a bright red subject – the girl in the red coat in the film ’Schindler’s List’, for example. See also: Lightroom selective colour technique

Selfie (self portrait)

Popular feature on smartphones, compact cameras and many mirrorless models. On a smartphone you use the front-facing camera so that you can see yourself on the screen as you compose the shot. On regular cameras you use a flip-up/flip out screen and face it to the front.

Selfie stick

Horribly popular gadget that mounts your camera or smartphone on the end of a what is essentially a lightweight monopod – some are rigid, some have extendable sections. The camera can be fired using the self-timer or, sometimes, by a built in remote release.

Self timer

The camera waits for a set delay before firing the shutter. This gives the photographer time to get in position for a group shot – but it’s also useful for tripod shots or long exposures where you want to fire the shutter without jogging the camera.

Sensors

There are two main things to look for in sensors: the sensor size and the resolution, in megapixels. It’s more important to get a bigger sensor than to get more megapixels.

Sensor cleaning (in camera)

DSLRs and compact system cameras sometimes collect spots of dust on the sensor. The makers get round this by applying a high-frequency shaking action to the sensor to shake it off. This happens automatically when you switch the camera on or off but you can also start it manually.

Sensor cleaning (manual)

Sensor cleaning can be an automatic process carried out by the camera to shake any dust particles from the sensor, but sometimes manual (user) cleaning is needed. This requires a special sensor brush (‘dry’ cleaning) or a swab and sensor cleaning fluid (‘wet’ cleaning). Manual cleaning needs a degree of skill and confidence. See also: How to remove sensor spots automatically in Capture One Pro

Sensor size

This is the physical size of the sensor, which is independent of the number of megapixels it has. Bigger sensors capture more light and produce sharper, clearer images with less noise. In fact sensor size is the single most important factor these days in a camera’s picture quality – megapixels are mostly secondary.

Sepia toning

An old black and white darkroom technique that turns regular black and white prints a vintage brown. It also adds depth and richness to monochrome images. These days it’s an effect that’s easy to create digitally and is just one of a number of popular toning effects. See also: How to use the Lightroom split toning feature

Serif software

Previously known mostly for its budget design and illustration software, Serif has now branched out into professional design and image-editing with its state of the art Affinity range. See also: Serif Affinity Photo 1.5 review

Shadows

The darkest tones in a picture. A pretty vague term (like ‘highlights’) but usually taken to mean the darkest areas where you can still see some image detail. Digital cameras often retain more shadow detail than you can see initially, and this can be brought out later on a computer.

Shadow/highlight recovery

Feature on some cameras and in some image-editing programs that lets you recover very bright or dark areas of the picture which would otherwise be lost to over- or under-exposure. It uses the extra image data captured in RAW files, so you have to shoot RAW to be able to do this later on a computer. See also: Shadow and highlight recovery in Lightroom

Sharpening

A standard part of digital image processing either in-camera or later on a computer. Sharpening processes increase the contrast around object outlines to make them look crisper. Good sharpening is all but invisible, bad sharpening leaves edge ‘halos’ you can see under magnification. See also: How to use creative sharpening in Lightroom

Sharpener Pro (Google Nik Collection)

Software plug-in for sharpening images and part of the Google Nik Collection. It comes in two parts – Sharpener Pro Raw Presharpening for enhancing images straight from the camera, and Sharpener Pro Output Sharpening for preparing images for printing on different devices. See also: Google Nik Collection review

Shutter

The mechanism that control the length of the exposure. On some smaller cameras this may be in the lens (a ‘leaf’ or ‘in-lens’ shutter), but on DSLRs and mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses, it’s a ‘focal plane’ shutter directly in front of the sensor.

Shutter priority (S) mode

Exposure mode where you choose the shutter speed and the camera selects a lens aperture to give the correct exposure. You get to choose the shutter speed manually, but the camera still takes care of the exposure automatically. On Canon cameras this is called Tv (time value) mode.

Shutter speed

The length of time the shutter is open during the exposure and usually quoted as fractions of a second. Each shutter speed is half as long as the one before, for example 1/30sec vs 1/60sec. This exposure ‘halving’ is the basis for balancing up lens aperture and ISO settings. A few cameras have external shutter speed dials but most simply display the shutter speed on the LCD display – you turn a control dial to change the speed.

Silent mode

A useful mode if you’re shooting in a theatre or museum, but one that’s only available on compact cameras with in-lens shutters and mirrorless cameras with electronic shutters. On compact cameras you can get the same effect by turning off the focus ‘beep’ and shutter sounds.

Silver Efex Pro (Google Nik Collection)

Software plug-in for creating authentic-looking black and white film looks, and part of the Google Nik Collection. Silver Efex Pro can replicate the look of classic black and white materials and darkroom effects. It also offers ‘control points’ for localised dodging and burning. See also: Google Nik Collection review

Single-shot AF mode

Here, the camera focuses once when you half-press the shutter release then holds that focus point until you press the button the rest of the way to take the picture. This is the usual mode for taking one photograph at a time (as opposed to continuous shooting).

Slow flash/slow sync

Special flash mode where the camera’s exposure is extended beyond the brief burst of the flash. This makes it possible to record some of the ambient lighting too, and it’s a popular technique for illuminating a nearby subject brightly without losing background colour and detail.

Slow motion

Video shot at a higher frame rate and played back at a normal frame rate. For example, video shot at 60fps and played back at 30fps would appear to be running at half speed. Higher frame rates require more processing power, so not all cameras offer them.

Smart album/collection

An album or collection in a photo organising application that automatically brings together images that match the properties you choose. For example, you could have a smart album/collection containing pictures shot on a Sony A7 camera in the RAW format with the keyword ‘winter’. See also: Lightroom Folders and Collections

Smartphone

Many smartphones have pretty good cameras. The best ones have sensors about the same size as those in point and shoot cameras and fixed focal length lenses. The lack of a zoom is a restriction, but otherwise the quality is just as good. There’s even a growing art movement around mobile photography. See also: Top 10 iPhone photography tips

Snapheal (MacPhun)

Snapheal is a Mac-only software tool for removing unwanted objects from pictures. It does this using one of three removal algorithms which use surrounding detail to produce an ‘invisible’ repair. It also offers manual cloning tools, and it works as a standalone app or a plug in. 

Soft focus

An effect often used for portrait photography which gives a flattering or glamorous look to female faces. There’s more to it than just defocusing the picture, though – soft focus filters add a soft haziness to highlights and areas of even tone but preserve the underlying image detail.

Software subscription

A new way of paying for software where you pay a monthly or a yearly subscription rather than paying a single sum for a licence to use the software for as long as you like.

Speedlight/Speedlite

The names used by Nikon and Canon respectively for their camera flash units, both built-in pop-up flash and external flashguns. There’s nothing intrinsically different about these compared to regular flashguns – it’s just a different choice of name.

Split toning

A more complex type of toning where two colours are used not one – shadows are tinted with one tone and highlights with another. The results can be very effective, though it’s not always easy to find good-looking toning combinations and split toning doesn’t work with all images. See also: Lightroom Split Toning feature

Spot metering

A metering mode where the camera measures the light from a very small area of the scene. This might be right in the centre or, on some cameras, it’s directly beneath the selected autofocus point.

sRGB

A standard colour space used by digital devices. It doesn’t cover the widest possible range of colours – some shades of green lie outside its range, for example – but you can be sure that all digital devices can display sRGB colour.

Status display

More advanced DSLRs have a secondary LCD display on the  top so that you can check the main shooting settings without needing the rear screen. Status displays are black and white (or black on green) and usually have a backlight button for use in dark conditions.

Subject tracking autofocus

A focus mode where the camera continually refocuses on a moving subject. The more advanced the AF system, the better it will be at keeping the subject in focus. It’s used mostly in continuous shooting mode for sports and action photography but can also be used for video.

Super-macro mode

A mode on some compact cameras that lets you shoot extreme close-ups from distances as short as 1cm. However, this is always at the wideangle end of the zoom range where the magnification is lowest. It can also be difficult to photograph timid subjects like insects at this distance.

Super-wideangle lens

A lens with a much wider angle of view than your camera’s kit lens. In 35mm camera terms, a super-wideangle lens is one with a focal length of around 20mm or less. Super-wideangle lenses are quite expensive and characterised by large, bulbous front lens elements.

Sync terminal (flash)

A cable connector for socket external flash units that’s still found on higher-end cameras like pro DSLRs but is becoming less and less common as photographers switch to wireless flash systems. These are usually triggered by a ‘master’ unit attached to the camera.

Photography jargon: T

Teleconverter

A special magnifier lens that fits between a telephoto lens and the camera body to increase its focal length. Teleconverters are often matched to specific lenses to ensure optical quality and performance. They typically come in 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x magnifications.

Telephoto lens

A lens which gives a magnified view of the scene. The magnification is proportional to the focal length of the lens, so a 100mm telephoto gives 2x the magnification of a 50mm standard lens.

Tethered shooting

A technique used by professional studio photographers where the camera is connected to a computer and the computer is then used for controlling the camera, checking pictures as soon as they’re taken and then correcting and enhancing them as necessary before saving.

TIFF format

An image file format that uses ‘lossless’ compression but produces much larger files than JPEGs. It’s sometimes offered as a file format on more advanced cameras but it’s more useful later on as an image file format for image editing and manipulation on a computer.

Tilting screen

One that tilts up and down but doesn’t flip out and rotate in all directions (an ‘articulating’ screen). Tilting screens are nonetheless useful for composing pictures with the camera at waist or ground level or above head height.

Time and Date setting

All digital cameras record the time and date and embed it in the photo’s EXIF data. It’s important to set the time and date correctly on the camera because it’s used later on when you want to search for photos on your computer or sort them in chronological order.

Time (T) exposure

A close relative of the bulb (B) shutter speed setting and, like bulb mode, it’s used for long exposures. With time (T) exposures, though, you don’t hold the shutter button down all the time – you press once to start the exposure and a second time to end it.

Time lapse

A filming technique where frames shot at intervals are combined to make a video. For example, if you shot 300 frames at 1-second intervals and turned them into a movie running at 30fps, then five minutes of real time would be compressed into a 10-second movie.

Tint (white balance)

A secondary white balance adjustment used alongside colour temperature for more complex light sources like fluorescent lighting. Colour temperature works across an amber-blue spectrum, while tint adds a green-magenta axis. 

Tonality (MacPhun)

Tonality is a software tool for creating a wide variety of black and white image effects but also includes some colour processes too. It comes with a wide range of preset effects, each of which can be adjusted using manual controls. You can also create and save effects of your own.

Toning

Adding a coloured tone to black and white pictures to add depth or atmosphere. The most famous is sepia toning, so often used for Victorian portraits. These days most people simulate toning effects digitally using colour controls and effects filters.

Touch AF

Autofocus mode where you tap on a touch-sensitive screen to choose the focus point for the picture. Some cameras also offer a touch shutter option where tapping the screen not only sets the focus point but fires the shutter too.

Touch screen

Pretty self-explanatory really – an LCD screen offering touch control for camera settings, setting the focus point, menus and more. These are becoming increasingly popular on compact cameras and mirrorless models as a way of supplementing or replacing knobs and dials.

Toy camera effect

A deliberately low-quality image effect that mimics the retro look produced by cheap old film cameras. Pictures have added contrast and colour saturation and strong vignetting at the edges of the frame. Some toy camera effects add a colour shift to simulate old and out of date film. See also: 6 tips for getting an analog film effect

Travel camera/compact

A more advanced version of a point and shoot camera with a much longer zoom range and, sometimes, more advanced photographic controls. The 20x or 30x zoom range makes these cameras much more versatile, but they use small sensors so the picture quality is limited.

Photography jargon: U

UHD video

This is what most people are referring to when they talk about ‘4K’ video. UHD video has a frame size of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, so it’s slightly less than 4,000 pixels wide, but it does have a true 16:9 aspect ratio, so the picture proportions are the same as standard HD and full HD video.

UHS-I/II SD cards

UHS is a new ultra high speed bus (data transfer connection) for SD memory cards. There are two versions: UHS-I and a more advanced UHS-II type. This refers to the physical construction of the card and does not directly indicate its speed. There are speed standards for UHS cards: UHS 1 guarantees a minimum speed of 10MB/s, which is suitable for full HD video recording, and UHS 3 guarantees a minimum transfer speed of 30MB/s, which is what you’d need for 4K video.

Underexposure

Where a picture comes out darker than you expected because of the way the camera has adjusted the exposure, or where you deliberately make the photo come out darker for dramatic effect.

USB

Standard connection between cameras and computers, though these days most photographers would remove the memory card and use a card reader to transfer photos. USB ports can also be used for charging on some compact cameras and ‘tethered shooting’ on professional cameras.

UV filter

Almost colourless filter which is designed to cut blue (UV) haze in distant scenic shots, though this is less of an issue with digital imaging than it was with film. UV filters are still used, though, as a simple and inexpensive lens protector.

Photography jargon: V

Video

Almost all digital cameras can now shoot video as well a stills. The key specifications are the resolution (standard HD, full HD or 4K) and the frame rates (30fps, 25fps or 24fps). Some cameras offer faster frame rates for slow motion effects.

Viewfinder coverage

The percentage of the scene shown by the viewfinder. In better DSLRs you see 100% of the scene that will be captured, but in cheaper models it might only be 95-97%. That small difference can lead to objects showing at the edge of the frame that you hadn’t realised were there.

Viewfinder grid

These are an option on both DSLRs and in electronic viewfinders. You can use the grid to make sure horizons are level and buildings are vertical – some grids confirm to the ‘rule of thirds’ to help you get a satisfying composition.

ViewPoint (DxO)

Software that corrects distortion using lens correction profiles, fixes volume deformation created by wideangle lenses and offers perspective correction tools for fixing converging verticals and more. Works as a standalone app or as a plug-in and also integrates with DxO Optics Pro. See also: DxO ViewPoint 3 review

Vignette

An effect where the edges of the picture are darker than the centre. It was common with old lenses and it’s become associated with a vintage look. It’s considered a lens aberration these days, though photographers often like to add a vignette effect deliberately. See also: Boost contrast with Silver Efex Pro’s Vignettes

Virtual horizon

A kind of on-screen spirit level that shows you when the camera is level. This can be useful in landscape photography, for example, when the horizon isn’t flat or visible. Some also have fore-and-aft levels to help avoid any tilt (and converging verticals) when shooting buildings.

Viveza (Google Nik Collection)

Viveza is a software plug in which offers localised adjustments for photos via ‘control’ points. It’s part of the Google Nik Collection. You can use it to apply dodging and burning effects to enhance colour images in just the same way you would in black and white. See also: Google Nik Collection review

VR (Vibration Reduction) (Nikon)

Nikon’s name for its image stabilisation technology, as built into its DSLR lenses. Tiny gyroscopic sensors detect any camera movement during the exposure and instantly shift a group of internal lens elements to compensate and keep the image steady on the sensor.

Photography jargon: W

Wideangle lens

A lens that takes in a wider than usual angle of view. Wideangle lenses have an effective focal length of 28mm or shorter. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle of view.

White balance

An adjustment made by the camera to neutralise colour shifts in the lighting. Digital cameras offer an auto white balance option where they choose the correction, or you can select manual white balance ‘presets’ when you want to control the camera’s colour rendition yourself.

Wind noise reduction/wind cut

A feature on some microphones that attempts to cut out loud roaring, whistling noise that you might not notice when shooting but which spoils the sound quality. It can be effective, but it’s even better to use a muffler on an external microphone.

Wi-Fi

An increasingly common feature on digital cameras at all levels. The camera sets up a Wi-Fi hotspot which you can then connect to with a smartphone or tablet. The camera maker supplies an app which you can use for transferring photos to the device and for controlling the camera remotely.

Photography jargon: X

XQD card

An extra-fast memory card format currently used only in the Nikon D4s pro DSLR. It’s about half the size of CompactFlash but has the potential for extremely high transfer speeds – though it’s yet to be seen whether any other camera maker will adopt it.

X-Trans sensor (Fuji)

A sensor layout unique to Fuji which replaces the usual bayer pattern of red, green and blue photosites with a more ‘random’ arrangement. Fuji says this eliminates the need for a low-pass filter to combat moiré (interference) effects, resulting in sharper fine detail.

Photography jargon: Z

Zebra pattern

A visual warning that image highlights are being overexposed and used especially during video recording. The overbright areas are marked by moving diagonal stripes (hence zebra) leaving you to decide whether to reduce the exposure or to leave it if the highlight areas are unimportant.

Zoom range

The difference in magnification offered by a zoom lens and its widest and longest settings. The average kit lens has a zoom range of 3x, so at full zoom objects appear 3x larger than they do when you’re zoomed right out. The Nikon P900 has a record-breaking 83x zoom.