35 Common Photography Terms Beginners Need To Know

hot shoe is a photography terms for beginner photographer

35 Must-Know Photography Terms For Beginner Photographers

Let’s face it, there are a ton of common photography terms for beginners to try to remember. When you’re just starting out, all this photography jargon can make your head spin, and it almost feels like you’re learning a new language! That’s why in this article, I’ll break down 35 of the most common photography terms that every beginner should know, and what each of them actually is.


1. Aperture

An aperture inside of a lens, an essential camera setting for beginner photographers

The aperture is a small donut-shaped ring found inside of a camera lens. This ring opens and closes to allow more or less light into the camera. A wide aperture will make your photo brighter, but also leave you with a shallow depth of field(less in focus). A smaller aperture will make your photo darker but will leave you with a larger depth of field(more in focus). You can learn more about aperture here.

Your aperture size if displayed in F-Stops. F-Stops will look something like F/8, for example. A wide aperture size would be F2.8, a small aperture size would be F22. Below is a more visual example of apertures through their sizes.

different sizes of aperture for beginner photographers

2. Aspect Ratio

what are aspect ratios in photography

Aspect ratio is a vital photography term for beginners to remember since it references the dimensions of a photo. The most common aspect ratio in digital photography is 3:2, but you can change this ratio in your camera settings. Other aspect ratios in photography include 16:9, 4:3, and 1:1. Above is an example of how each aspect ratio would crop your image.

3. Bokeh


You’ve likely heard a lot of photographers use the term bokeh and how much they love it. Bokeh is the effect that occurs when a light source becomes out of focus and forms a soft orb shape in the background of a picture. Utilizing bokeh is an easy way to make your photos more exciting and works exceptionally well with portraits!

4. Bracketing

Bracketing is when you set your camera to take the same picture a series of times, at different exposures. The separate exposures you will capture by ‘bracketing’ the image can be used in post-processing to help balance out the overall exposure and recover more detail in the highlights and shadows. This is a more advanced photography technique but is still worth experimenting with as a beginner photographer!

5. Burst Mode

action sport photography, mountain biking action shot

Burst mode is a setting you can use to capture a quick series of photos by holding down the capture button. Different cameras are capable of varying burst amounts and can be adjusted in your drive settings. If you are unsure, consult your cameras user manual. This mode is great for taking action shots where you never want to miss a moment!

6. Camera modes


Camera modes are all of the different shooting options you have on your camera. The modes are most commonly found on the mode dial on the top of your camera. Various camera modes will have their pros and cons depending on the situation and Range from completely automatic, through to full-on manual mode. You can learn the best settings for beginner photographers here.

7. Chromatic Abberation

Credit: Wikipedia

With as little technical photography jargon as possible, Chromatic Abberation is when a lens fails to focus all colors to a single point. The result will be a noticeable color outlining a specific part of your photo, as shown above. If you want to get deep into the technicalities behind chromatic aberration and how it occurs, click here.

8. Composition


Composition is a photography term that refers to everything inside of your photo and how it sits in the frame. By improving the composition of your pictures with techniques such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, or frame within a frame, your photos will appear more appealing to the eye. You can learn more about compositional rules and what they are HERE.

9. Crop Factor

When you are shooting with a crop sensor camera, you will get what is known as crop factor. Since crop sensor cameras have a smaller sensor size than their full-frame counterparts, the photos will appear more cropped or zoomed in even at the same lens size. You can see the effects of crop factor in my Full Frame VS Crop Sensor Comparison Video.

10. Depth Of Field


Depth Of Field in photography means how much of your photo is in focus. Depending on the size of your aperture, you’ll be able to keep everything in focus at once(large depth of field), or you’ll only have a small area in focus while the rest remains blurry(shallow depth of field). I talk more in-depth about aperture and depth of field working together in my FREE Photography Essentials Ebook that you can get your hands on HERE. Go get it!

11. DSLR Camera

A DSLR Camera stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera. There are mirrors inside the camera body that reflect incoming light up to the viewfinder that you put your eye up to. This is most commonly done with a series of mirrors, but prisms are also used in higher-end DSLR cameras. The term ‘reflex’ refers to the mirror’s reflection in the camera body.

12. Exposure

Exposure describes how bright or dark your photo is. If you have an excellent exposure, all the areas in your picture won’t look too bright or dark. In more simple terms, exposure is how long your camera sensor is exposed to light. The longer the exposure, the brighter your image. This is a very common photography term for beginners to memorize!

13. Filter

freewell magnetic filter system review

A filter is a piece of glass that goes over the front of your lens to alter the amount or the way light is entering your camera. For example, a few common photography filter types are Neutral Density Filters, Polarizer Filters, or UV Filters.

Each filter will have its own specific uses from reducing glare, helping with long exposures, or just protecting the glass of your lens. Photography filters are a ton of fun and an excellent tool for a beginner photographer.

14. Focal Length

Focal length is a term used to describe the amount of ‘zoom’ a lens has. Focal lengths are denoted as MM for millimeters on your camera lenses, such as 50mm, 200mm, or 17mm. Utilizing different focal lengths in your photography will help you to capture a variety of unique looks.

Photo Challenge: Try taking a photo of a friend at a zoomed-in focal length, like 70mm, and then a wide focal length like 24mm and see the differences it makes!

15. Full Frame

A Full-Frame camera is a camera with a sensor size of 36x24mm, which is equivalent to the size of 35mm film. A full-frame camera does not have any crop factor and can capture more information compared to a crop sensor camera. You can see how a full-frame and crop sensor are different in this video.

16. HDR


HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Dynamic Range is a term that describes how many shades of grey a camera is capable of processing. The more shades of grey, the better the camera will perform in post-processing when you want to recover details in the shadows and highlights.

HDR photography is when you take the same photo at a series of different exposures and blend them together in post. The result is a perfectly exposed image where the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows all are nicely exposed. Using HDR will add a very distinct ‘HDR’ look to your pictures that is loved by some and hated by others. Above is an example of an HDR image.

17. Hot Shoe


The hot shoe is a funny piece of photography jargon that references the little silver square on the top of your camera. A hot-shoe can be used to mount accessories on your cameras such as flashes, microphones, or remote triggers.

18. Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is used to help counter the natural shake and movement that occurs during an exposure. When image stabilization is active, any small movements made while you are taking a picture will be smoothed out and still allow you to capture a sharp photo.

Different cameras and lenses will have a variety of stabilization capabilities, so if you’re unsure, it may be worthwhile to check up in your camera/lens user manual.

19. ISO

ISO stands for International Standards Organization and refers to the cameras sensor sensitivity to incoming light. The higher your ISO, the brighter your image will become, but the more noise and contrast will be present in the photo. Each camera has its own ISO range, but a typical range would be ISO100 through ISO6400.  It’s best practice to keep you iso at a lower setting whenever possible. I go way more in-depth with ISO in my FREE Photography Essentials Ebook you can get HERE.

20. JPEG

JPEG is a photo file format that is best used to share and publish your photos. This file format is more compressed than others and is not ideal to post-process. Whenever you are exporting an image, a JPEG file will be your best bet for general use and sharing purposes.

21. Lens Flare

sun flare photography

A lens flare is caused when a bright light source shines across or into the lens. They can create a variety of different effects from a soft glow in a photo, to a cool starburst effect. If you want to learn how to create starburst lens flares like in the picture above, click here.

22. Long Exposure


A long exposure is a fun technique(especially for beginner photographers) that is used to blur certain parts of your photo, such as water, clouds, or anything else that may be moving! A long exposure works by using slow shutter speed, allowing light to hit the camera sensor for an extended time, meaning anything that moves will become blurred. This is a great photography technique for landscape photography and essential to capturing pictures of the stars.

23. Manual Mode

Manual mode is a camera mode that puts you in complete control of every setting on the camera, there is nothing automatically done for you. This is an essential step to make for all beginner photographers since manual mode will open up way more creative opportunities than any other mode.

In manual mode, you are in complete control of your shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and more so it can feel a little daunting at first. Luckily my FREE Photography Essentials Ebook can decode some of the tricks behind shooting in manual mode. You can sign up and download my ebook for free by clicking here.

24. Metering

light meter in photography, beginner photography tips

Metering, also known as light metering, is a photography term used to describe your light meter working its magic. The light meter is a built-in feature in all cameras that can be found when looking through the viewfinder. This little feature constantly measures incoming light and lets you know how bright or dark your photo will appear based on your current camera settings. With the help of your light meter, you can make informed decisions on camera settings before you ever take a photo!

25. Mirrorless Camera

A mirrorless camera doesn’t have any internal mirrors or reflex systems like their DSLR counterparts. A mirrorless camera is completely digital and even uses a digital viewfinder. These cameras are typically much smaller and lighter than a DSLR camera, but with no downsides to the quality. That’s one of the many reasons mirrorless cameras have really gained traction over the last few years.

26. Noise

photography noise because of a high ISO camera setting

Noise or grain is a bit of a funny photography term since photos obviously don’t make any ‘noise.’ However, noise in photography relates to the amount of static looking particles appearing in a photo. Noise is caused by high ISO settings and can end up degrading the quality of your photos in some cases. Below is an example of how noise appears in a photo.

27. Prime Lens

prime lens in photography

A prime lens is a lens without any zoom capabilities. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length but typically will have a wider aperture, allowing for better depth of field and low light performance. Prime lenses are a big favorite amongst portrait photographers who really like having a shallow depth of field to make their subject pop. If you are someone who likes to hike with your camera, having a half dozen prime lenses probably won’t do you as well unless you want to get in excellent shape, of course.

28. RAW

RAW is an uncompressed file format that can be shot in most modern cameras. Shooting in RAW allows photographers to have better control when they go to edit their images, gaining better detail and exposure recovery. This file format is only useful if you are editing your photos. If you don’t want to edit your photos, I’d suggest sticking to JPEG. If you still aren’t sure what ones best for you to use, check out the differences between RAW and JPEG.

29. Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is used to describe how fast your camera shutter opens and closes. As your camera shutter opens, light can pass through and hit your sensor to create an exposure(aka picture). The faster your shutter speed, the darker your photo, the slower your shutter speed, the brighter your photo. You can learn more about shutter speed and the effects it has on your photography in my FREE Ebook.

30. Subject


The subject is what your photo is all about. A subject could be anything from a person, to a colorful flower, to a nice dock on the lake. ‘Subject’ is a piece of photography jargon you will hear constantly, and it’s meaning will change photo to photo. Just remember the subject of a photo doesn’t always have to be the same thing, it’s just whatever that particular photo is all about.

31. Timelapse

A timelapse is a series of photos taken (to be later made into a video) at set time intervals to capture changing conditions in a scene. This is usually done with the help of a remote trigger and a tripod. It’s an enjoyable and rewarding process, especially for beginner photographers, but just remember to bring something to occupy your time with. They take a long time to capture!

32. Telephoto Lens

telephoto lens in photography

A telephoto lens is a zoom lens that is typically smaller in size but still covers a wide range of focal lengths. These lenses are great for capturing pictures of sports, wildlife, or anything far away and is a true must-have for any beginner photographer.

33. Viewfinder

The viewfinder is the little window on the back of your camera that you look through when taking a photo. The viewfinder will display all the important information about your camera settings such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and even your light meter!

34. Vignette


Vignette is a lesser-known photography term among beginner photographers that describes the darkening around the edge of a photo. Depending on the lens or camera you are using, your images can have vignetting at wide focal lengths, or with certain filters. There is nothing wrong with vignette, but it is something to be conscious of and is equally loved and hated by many in the photo community.

35. White Balance

White balance is an essential camera setting that helps to make your colors look true to reality. If your white balance is set correctly, the color white will appear as pure white. You can alter the white balance to make your image appear warmer (yellow) or cooler (blue) to perfectly capture the colors in a scene. White balance is measured in Kelvins and is displayed as 5600K, for example.

As a beginner photographer, it’s worth remembering that 5600K is the same white balance as the light outside, 3200K is the same white balance as the common tungsten bulbs found in your house. If you are ever unsure at which white balance to use, auto white balance or the preset options still work sufficiently!

common photography terms for beginner photographers

So that was 35 beginner photography terms that you absolutely should know. With a little bit of memorization and practical application, you’re going to sound like a photo wiz with all this new photography lingo added to the vocabulary.

Happy Snapping!

-Brendan 🙂

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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