Photography Terms You Need to Know

It was the chilly winter of 1984 when Steve McCurry found his way into the colony of refugee tents on the Afghan-Pakistan border. He was on an assignment to cover the Soviet occupation of the region. One specific tent caught his attention.

It was the cacophony of children reciting the local language in unison, which fascinatingly he couldn’t resist.

Taking grant from the local teacher, he entered the tent to make use of his photography skills. Children being children fiddled around with each other to get their photographs done, except for one shy, timid girl.

Her blue-green-grey eyes, gazing at the stranger, were oozing out with myriad emotions of wonder and fear. She piercingly gazed at the strange hand-held device, while Steve took 4-5 photographs of her.

flex of steve mccurry's the afghan girl outside a building
Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl”

Sharbat Gula, you might not be familiar with the name but I’m sure that you must have heard of the “Afghan Girl”, who appeared on the June 1985 edition of the national geographic magazine. This unembellished portrait took the world by storm. It was flabbergasting to watch such a simple camera snap express such multifarious emotions.

But wait. What the heck is going on? What does it have to do with camera terms and photography?

Did I land on the wrong page?

No, you surely didn’t.

As simple as a camera snap may look, clicking it is altogether a different ballgame. The grind is for real. Steve shot the portrait on a Kodachrome 64 with a Nikon FM2 and NIKKOR 105mm f/2.5. Isn’t it too much of camera gear to click four to five portrait photographs?

photography equipment on a table

Whether it’s the wide-angle shot of Mount Rushmore you took on your DSLR or the selfie you took yesterday with your smartphone, whether it’s an image captured by the Curiosity Mars rover or the camera shots from the GoPro mounted on your bike, photography boils down to some basic camera elements which you need to know.

You’ll notice that these elements are proximately linked with each other as you read and move down the page.


shadow portrait of a person

Take out the first three letters from “picture” and first two letters from “element”. What you get is a pixel. Pixel, in my opinion is the most over-hyped and over-marketed photography element.

Your smartphone camera is not a good camera just because it has a high megapixel count. There are some other elements which have a decisive play and you will get to know about them as you read further.

Coming back to pixels, a pixel is a teeny-tiny element which stores binary image data captured by your camera. It also reproduces the captured image. The resolution of your photograph is proportionally linked with the number of pixels.

If you escalate your photograph too much, a point arises beyond which the pixels no more blend with each other to form a continuous and creamy curve. So what you get is a pixelized photograph.


lens of a photography camera

For your camera to capture a photograph, your camera lens needs to capture light. The area of your camera lens which gets exposed to external light while you click a picture is called the aperture. Your camera’s aperture is measured in f-stops. Technically, f/1.8 is a wide aperture and f/2.2 is a narrower one.

It determines the sharpness of a photograph as well as how dark or bright it will be. Unlike a narrow aperture a wider aperture enables your camera to capture more light and as a result your camera produces bright, turbid and unfocussed photographs.

The concomitant effects of aperture can be balanced by adjusting shutter speed, exposure and ISO, about which I have written about in the coming sections.

Shutter Speed

man holding a dslr

When you click a photograph, the shutter of your camera gets triggered and exposes the lens to external light. Shutter speed is nothing but the time duration for which the shutter is open. It is measured in either second (a single quote “represents an entire second) or frames per second (fps).

Having a low shutter speed enables more external light to enter while less light enters your camera if you have set it at higher shutter speed. Shutter speed, if used with precision can help you to click adequately exposed and creative photographs.


a camera kept on a surface

As I have already written before, an image is created when your camera’s sensor is exposed to external light. Exposure is simply the measure of how dark or light your photograph is. A highly bright and light photograph is said to be an over-exposed one, while a photograph which is too dull, dark and gloomy is under-exposed.

Your aim is to click a photograph with a balanced exposure. Exposure is a state which you can control by adjusting the aperture and the shutter speed of your camera.

ISO: International Standards Organization

a camera's screen displaying iso

The ISO standards determine your camera’s sensitivity towards a light. An ISO of 1350 is relatively lower than an ISO of 3200. You can increase the sensitivity of your camera to click photographs in low-lightening conditions, to get a much well-lit photograph.

But the photographs captured with high ISO are less detailed and grainy. To counter the trade-offs of ISO, you can correspondingly tune your camera’s aperture and shutter speed for an improved exposure.

Long Exposure

long exposure photography

Long exposure is nothing but a state in which when your camera’s lens is exposed to external light for longer durations.

You can achieve this by decreasing the shutter speed of your camera and as a result, any moving object which passes by would appear elongated and blurred.

Long exposure is considered to be an artistic element of photography which can help you to be more creative with your photographs.

Depth of Field

photography using depth of fie;d

The next time you click a photograph, do notice one thing: It is not only the main photography object which is in focus. The sharpness of your photograph spans a bit in the background as well as in the foreground. The measure of this range, in photography, is called depth of field.

A balanced depth of field brings in more details to your photograph. If you click a portrait, your camera’s focus stays mainly on the object and the depth of field is “shallow”, unlike landscapes which have focus spanning for a big range.


paper pamphlets kept in an organized manner

JPEG and PNG are broadly used image file formats. Your photograph undergoes a significant amount of digital processing when saved with a “.jpeg” or “.png” extension.

Unlike these formats, RAW is a file format which retains the quality of your photograph, which makes it better for editing. RAW files being “raw” cannot be produced or printed out directly, hence the name.

Optical and Digital Zoom

man holding a dslr

Optical zoom allows you to manually tinker with your camera’s hardware and set the zoom you desire which as a result retains the quality of the photograph. Digital zoom on the other hand can be achieved by software and It often leads to deprecated photograph quality and pixelization.

So these are some of the photography terms which I feel are essential for any person who has just started as a photographer. If you want me to add any other element about which you would like to know about, feel free to comment down below.

Thank you for reading. Follow my blog for more fun, crisp and informative content.

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7 thoughts on “Photography Terms You Need to Know

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