AmSnaps - Digital Photography Basics For Amateur Snappers

Glossary Of Digital Photography Terms

When reading a magazine article or digital camera manual, some of the digital photography terms may be unfamiliar to you. With any new hobby, it takes a while to pick-up the jargon.

I have been there, trying to read my camera manual and remember thinking to myself...why so many terms? It took me a while to work my way through them, but now I just waffle along with the rest of the guys at my local camera club.

I have decided to put together a list, that you can refer to, of common digital photography terminology in order to help you become more familiar with words such as: Aperture, DOF, DPI, JPEG, Megapixel - to name but a few.

A - Digital Photography Terms


Imperfection in an image caused by deficiencies within a lens or optical system. These can affect colour, sharpness and shape.

Air Release

Also called a pneumatic release. A long thin tube is attached to your camera and when you squeeze an air-filled bulb on one end a plunger trips the shutter.

Ambient Light

The natural light in a particular scene, such as daylight or room lighting.

Angle Of View

Term used to describe how much a lens 'sees'. Measured in degrees.

Anti Red-eye Facility

Feature found in most cameras which reduces red-eye by firing a series of weak pre-flashes before the final flash exposure is made.


The variable opening inside the lens, which regulates the intensity of light striking the image sensor. Measured in f-stops, the lower the number the larger the aperture. A side-effect of altering the aperture is the change in depth of field, which declines as the aperture opens wider.


An acronym for American Standards Association. An old method for measuring film speed on a linear scale. Equivalent numbers are now used by some digital camera makers to describe the sensitivity of their products.

Aspect Ratio

The proportions or ration of a picture's width to it's height

B - Digital Photography Terms

Backing Up

Making copies of important computer files such as digital photographs in case the originals are damaged and cannot be accessed.


Term used to describe shooting towards the light, so your subject is lit from behind.

Backlight Compensation

A control on some digital cameras that adjusts the exposure for subjects that might otherwise be silhouetted against a bright light source.

Bounce Flash

Technique used to improve the quality of light from a portable flashgun. The light is bounced off a wall, ceiling or reflector so it is softened and spread before reaching the subject.

Brightness Range

The difference in brightness, often measured in stops, between the highlights and shadows in a scene.


A memory reservoir built into digital cameras that stores the photos before they are written to the memory card.

C - Digital Photography Terms

Cable Release

An accessory which allows you to trip your camera's shutter release without touching it. This helps to prevent camera shake and means you can take pictures with long exposures easier.

Camera Shake

Term used to describe pictures that come out blurred because the camera was moved during the exposure.

Candid Attachment

Lens accessory which allows you to take pictures at 90 degrees to the camera.


The effect of one colour dominating the look of an image. Often caused by exposure errors or incorrect settings of a digital camera's white balance for the ambient or artificial lighting.


Charge Coupled Device. One of the two main types of image sensors used in digital cameras. (See also CMOS)


Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor. One of the two main types of image sensors used in digital cameras. (See also CCD)

Compact Flash Card

A common type of digital camera memory card. There are two types of CF cards. Type 1 and type 11, that vary in their thickness. Type 1 is thinner.


Reducing the file size of digital data files by removing redundant or non-critical information within a digital image, helping to maximise storage space.


The difference between the darkest and lightest areas in a photograph.

Converging Verticals

Phenomenon common in architectural photos. It is caused when the camera back is tilted to include the top of a building, which makes the building look distorted.


Method of reducing the size of an image to improve the composition.

D - Digital Photography Terms


Term used to describe how a flashgun works in conjunction with a camera's metering system to deliver correct exposures automatically.

Depth Of Field

The distance between the nearest and farthest points that appear in acceptably sharp focus in a photograph. The DOF varies with the lens aperture, focal length and distance to subject.

Digital Camera

A device that captures a scene as a representation using a digital code in which numerical values encode the colour and brightness of elements of the scene.


Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. A camera that allows the scene to be viewed through the lens that will take the photo.

Digital Zoom

A zoom-like effect enlarging the central portion of a scene.

DPI - Dots Per Inch

Measurement of image resolution relating specifically to digital imaging.


The process of transferring files from a digital camera or other source to a computer.

E - Digital Photography Terms

Effective Pixels

Describes the number of pixels stored in the image files made by a digital camera regardless of the number of pixels in the image sensor. The number is always less than the pixels on the CCD as some pixels around the edge may not be used and are only produced to help improve the accuracy on effective pixels.


The total amount of light allowed to fall on a digital camera's sensor during the process of taking a photograph.

External Flash

An accessory flash unit that is triggered by the camera or the light from the camera's internal flash.

F - Digital Photography Terms

Fill Flash

A flash technique common to most digital cameras used to brighten deep shadow areas. Ideal for portraits.

Flash Memory

The technology used by memory cards. A kind of solid-state memory that is electrically changable and retains those changes even in the absence of electricity.

Focal Length

The distance betwwen the near nodal point of the lens and the film plane when the lens is focused on infinity.


The ratio of the lens focal length divided by the apparent aperture of the lens. The larger the aperture, the smaller the f-stop. An example being written as f/11.

G - Digital Photography Terms


The total range of colours reproduced by a device such as a digital camera, scanner or printer.


Graphical interchange format. A bitmap graphical format, ideal for logos or graphics.


An image made of varying tones of black and white.

H - Digital Photography Terms


A graphic representation of the range of tones from dark to light in a photo. Many digital cameras include a histogram feature to facilitate a precise check on the exposure of the photo.


Device found on the top of most cameras to accept a flashgun.

Hyperfocal distance

Point of focus at which you can obtain optimum depth of field for the aperture set on your lens.

I - Digital Photography Terms

Image Sensor

A semiconductor circuit inside the camera made of millions of light sensitive elements on which the camera lens forms its image. The image sensor converts the pattern of light into electrical signals that the camera converts into digital form and saves on the memory card.

Infrared Filter

Infrared is a wavelength that is longer than visible wavelengths which can be viewed by the human eye. Most digital cameras are sensitive to infrared and can make exposures at these longer wavelengths. To capture the infrared you need to block out visible light using an infrared filter attached to the lens.

Instant Return Mirror

Another name for the reflex mirror found in SLR's. It returns to its normal position as soon as a picture has been taken so that you can see through the viewfinder.

Integral Flash

A flashgun that is built into the camera body. Nearly all compacts have this type of flash as well as quite a few DSLR's.


The process of creating pixels that appear in between other pixels as an image is magnified. Mostly used when an image is made larger, but not sharper as interpolated pixels are added.


Another name for the lens aperture. Just like the Iris of your eye, the small blades inside a lens shift to alter the aperture of the lens.


An acronym for the International Standards Organisation. Used to designate speed ratings of film on a logarithmic scale. Digital cameras use the same rating system to denote the camera sensor's sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO number (100, 200, 400, etc.) the more sensitive to light the camera becomes. A downside to this is that as ISO speed climbs, image quality drops and noise forms.

J - Digital Photography Terms


An acronym fot the Joint Photographic Experts Group and is a standard for compressing image data. A JPEG is not a true file format, but is a compression method used within a file format. Sometimes referred to as a 'lossy' format because some image quality is lost in order to achieve compression.

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David Coote
Wedding Photographer
Northern Ireland