The Photographer’s Vocabulary

Herein you will find explanations of the technical terms I use.  I will add new words to it as I mention them in my posts.

Aperture: The size of the opening in the camera to let in light.  The larger the number on the aperture setting, the less light is let in, but the more will be in focus.

Depth of Field:  The amount that is in focus in a picture.  Shallow Depth of Field refers to a picture that has very little in front of or behind the subject, or on the subject, that is in focus.

Exposure: The amount of light let into the camera to take a picture.  This is determined by the speed at which the picture is taken and the aperture (see above).

ISO:  The level of sensitivity to light as determined by the International Organization on Standards.  With film cameras, the ISO rating is used for a particular film type to tell how sensitive it is.  Some are ISO 50. Some are ISO 800 or more.  Some digital cameras can be adjusted to mimic these film ratings.  The higher the ISO, the less light is needed to take a picture. 

Leading Lines:  Lines in a picture formed by elements of the picture which lead the vewier’s eyes through the image.

Megapixels (MP): One megapixel is equal to one million pixels. The term is generally used to define the the number of sensors in the camera that record the image.    A 10.1 MP camera may have an array of sensors 3888 wide by 2592 high. Each sensor records one pixel of information.  MP can also refer to the number of pixels (see below) that make up an individual picture when it is taken.

Pixels:  the blocks of color that make up a digital image. 


A heavily pixelated image

The same image with much less pixilation. Note the smoother transitions between shades and clearer detail.

Pixilation:  when the colors of a digital image appear as individual squares or jagged lines.

Click on these images to see the effect it has on an image:




Resolution:  A picture has a fixed amount of information when it is captured which varies with the size of the picture that was taken.  A 3 MP (see above) camera puts less information into each image it takes than, say, a 5 MP camera.  A 35mm film frame has less information than a larger negative.  The amount of information in the image partially determines how much detail there is in the picture and how sharp it will be when viewed at any particular size.

Shutter Speed:  The rate at which a camera takes a single picture.  This can range from Less than 1/1000 of a second to several minutes. 

Toy Camera: Any of a number of simple cameras that have fixed lenses (if they have lenses at all) and extremely limited or no control over the amount of light in the exposure.  They are usually, though not necessarliy, made of low-grade materials, such as all-plastic bodies and lenses.

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