Photography Terms Beginners Should Know

Dec 26, 2013

If you are just getting into photography, you need a basis off which to increase your knowledge. That starts with knowing basic photography terms.

Think of photography as carpentry, and think of these photography terms as tools. To get the camera to do what you want it to do, you must learn what these terms are and what job they’re meant to accomplish.



Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio is the ratio between the width and the height of the image. If you’ve printed anything on a computer before, you know that the “aspect ratio” of a standard piece of paper is 81/2 x 11 – 81/2 inches wide by 11 inches tall.


Aperture is the size of the opening in the lens. Aperture is measured in f-stops. A larger aperture lets in more light and results in less depth of field. A smaller aperture lets in less light and yields greater depth of field.

Shutter Speed

The shutter is the part of the camera that when opened lets light in. The speed of the shutter is how fast it opens and closes. Shutter speeds are written in seconds and fractions of a second, i.e. 1/125.  When taking a photo with a longer shutter speed a tripod is recommended to avoid blurring of the image from camera movement. Faster shutter speeds are good for stopping movement while slower speeds can result in blurring or apparent movement that may or may not be desirable depending on the intended effect of the image.


Exposure refers to how light or how dark an image is. Exposure is less of a tool and more of a result of a combination of aperture and shutter speed.  Exposure can be increased or decreased using combinations of aperture and shutter speed. In another blog we explain how long exposure and panning can be used to demonstrate motion in photography.

Depth of Field

The depth of field refers to how much of the image stays in focus. Portraits tend to use a shallower depth of field where the subject is in focus and the background is out of focus, while landscape photography often uses a greater depth of field where the whole image is in focus.  Be guided by the rule that says that depth of field will extend twice as far behind the plane of focus as in front.  The smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field.


When you are choosing the right digital camera for you, one consideration should be the range of ISOs that the camera is capable of. ISO refers to how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light. A low ISO like 100 means the camera isn’t as sensitive to light and at that ISO would not be great at capturing subjects in low light. There is a tradeoff, however, cameras used at a high ISO (1000+) tend to produce grainy (digital noise) images. Today’s DSLR’s offer a wide range of availability of ISOs and if looking for a new camera, be sure to find one that offers a large range (say 100-2500) of ISO settings.

For more advanced photography terms, check back in our blog in the near future!

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