Magic hour/Golden hour

A term tossed about by earnest landscape photographers that refers to the time after dawn and before dusk where the sun tends to be at its warmest and most interesting.

Nifty fifty

A 50mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 of faster is known as a ‘nifty fifty’. Lenses in this range are fast, lightweight and frequently optically superb. But the best bit is the price. The f/1.8 and f/1.4 50mm lenses are often the best value bits of glass you can buy.


Picture noise is the digital equivalent of film grain, although nowhere near as appealing. Pictures become speckled and gritty as you increase the ISO sensitivity on the camera (because you’re essentially ‘turning up the volume’ on the light that’s being captured).


The result of recording too much light when taking a picture, which results in a lighter image.

Low-Pass Filter

Used with digital imaging, low-pass filters are integrated into many digital sensors to suppress aliasing and moiré.

PNG (Portable Network Graphics)

Developed as a patent-free alternative to GIF, this format is used for lossless compression for purposes of displaying images on the World Wide Web.


A lens with a fixed focal length (such as 20mm, 50mm, 80mm). Zoom lenses cover a range of focal lengths (such as 80-200mm). For more on primes, check out our… primer: 9 things you should know about using prime lenses.

Raw Files

Many pro and semi-pro digital cameras include the option for capturing raw files, which—unlike JPEGs, TIFFs, and other file formats—contain all of the data captured during the exposure in an unedited format.


A reflex camera is one that utilizes a mirror system to reflect the light (or latent image) coming through the lens to a visible screen.

Remote Capture

The ability to trip the camera shutter from a distance using a cable release or wireless transmitter / transceiver.


Refers to the number of pixels, both horizontally and vertically, used to either capture or display an image. The higher the resolution, the finer the image detail will be.RGB Color (Red Green Blue)

RGB is an additive color model in which red, green and blue light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors for representation and display as images on computers and other digital devices.


Saturation is the depth of the colors within a photographic image.

SD Card (Secure Digital)

Far smaller than CompactFlash (CF) cards, Secure Digital memory cards have enabled camera manufacturers to further reduce the size of digital cameras.


A mechanism in the camera that controls the duration of light transmitted to the film or sensor. Leaf-shutter lenses, which include most view camera lenses and many medium-format lenses, contain their own proprietary shutters.

Shutter Priority

A metering mode in which the shutter speed is fixed and the exposure is controlled by opening or closing the lens aperture.

Shutter speed

The length of time the shutter remains open when the shutter release is activated, most commonly expressed in fractions or multiples of a second.

SLR (Single-Lens-Reflex)

The image the user sees in the viewfinder is identical to the image being recorded. The advantage of SLRs is that you get to view the exact scene the camera will be recording.

Spot Metering

Spot metering is the measurement of very small portions of the total image area. .


The standard color gamut for Windows operating systems. sRGB is also the “lowest common denominator” for color standards, because it can be reproduced on the least expensive computer screens. Adobe RGB is a wider-gamut color space, and is preferred for those seeking higher accuracy in color rendition.


An American term for a photographer who eats, drinks and sleeps photography. Shutterbugs carry a camera with them at all times and shoot absolutely everything without mercy.


A stop is a measure of exposure, usually referred to as ‘EV’ (Exposure Value) in cameras. The aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings on a camera can all be measured in stops, although the actual figures used are different across all three. Each stop represents a doubling or halving of exposure


Small, contact sheet-sized image files used to reference or edit digital images. The images that appear on a camera’s LCD are thumbnail images of the larger file.

Time Lapse

A series of photographs captured over a period of time. These images can be captured in variable or set time intervals over the course of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc.Although several more advanced cameras offer the option of custom function time-lapse imaging, most cameras require optional hard-wired or remotely operated triggering devices to capture time-lapse imagery.

Touching up/retouching

The process of enhancing a picture in image editing software. This term is often used to describe the process of whitening eyes and teeth, and improving skin tone on a portrait, although the idea of ‘touching up a model’ is a little unsavory…

TTL (Through the Lens)

TTL refers to a metering system that determines the proper exposure based on measuring the light that strikes the imaging sensor (or film plane) after passing through the camera’s lens.


The result of recording too little light when taking a picture, which results in a dark image.


System used for composing and focusing on the subject being photographed.


Darkening of the edges of a photographic image due to the inability of a lens to evenly distribute light to the corners of the frame. While correctable with filtration using on-camera, center-weighted neutral density filters, or electronically in Photoshop, vignetting is often valuable as a creative device to direct the eye back to the center of the frame.

Wide open

When a lens is set at its smallest f-number, such as f/2.8 or f/4, it’s being used ‘wide open’. At this point, the aperture (the hole in the lens) is at its maximum, letting in as much light as possible. Wide apertures mean shorter shutter speeds are required to take a picture, so lenses are often used wide open to take pictures of sport and action (to learn more about this, download our cheat sheet on when to use small or wide apertures).

White Balance

The camera’s ability to correct color cast or tint under different lighting conditions including daylight, indoor, fluorescent lighting, and electronic flash.

xD Cards

A small, narrow-profile memory card format designed for use with the smallest digital cameras, PDAs, and cell phones that accept additional memory.