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If you are new to photography, you may feel overwhelmed.

Gear, lenses, camera body, editing software etc. There is a lot to consider when you starting out on the gear side.

This is why it is important that you understand what it all means. A lot of these terms you will hear over and over again. They are all linked to editing your photos or how the basics of your camera work.

Once you are able to understand them fully you will be in good stead to progress further with your photography.

From Shadows to shutter speeds, here are 15 basic terms in photography you need to be aware of.

15 Basic Terms in Photography

Camera Body

The camera body is the camera itself. Think of it as the DSLR but with the lens taken off. This is referred to as the ‘camera body’.

You will hear this a lot in tutorials and in photography supplies shops. This is because not all cameras come with a lens pre-packaged. This is to cut costs or because the company have not produced a compatible Kit Lens to go with that camera.

If you are looking for a new camera I would suggest you get a budget DSLR with a Kit Lens. A Kit Lens has a wide range of focal lengths and it is great for getting started.

Camera Lens

person holding lens key photography terms

Moving on from the first terms, this is the piece of glass wrapped in the metal you attach to your camera body. On most DSLR’s you can take this lens off and swap it for a different one if you wish.

As mentioned before a Kit Lens is a lens you will most likely come into contact with.

Lenses are not cheap, either. They can range from £50 all the way up to £10,000+ for Hollywood-Grade Gear.

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When it comes to lenses, I suggest you start with your Kit Lens. This will help you to get started and find your feet with handling your camera. After a short while, I suggest you buy a 50mm lens next. This costs around £50-£75 and this is a huge step up from the kit lens.

Camera Tripod

This piece of equipment is not essential but it can come in very handy in certain situations. This three-legged device is designed in order to securely hold a camera still in place.

This is usually done in order to get a more stable shot or to remove shakiness from your shots. During the daytime, you usually do not need to use a camera. However, It is recommended you use a tripod at night if you want a stable shot without having to bump up your ISO.

You can also use a tripod for artistic effects such as a long-exposure also. These can be pretty cheap or expensive depending on the model and the company you buy from.

Digital VS Optical

These are important terms to understand when buying a new camera.

Digital means that a certain effect is achieved through the use of software instead of using physical parts of a camera.

Optical means the effect is achieved directly through the physical parts of the camera.

Optical is always better than digital. These terms are typically referred to when describing zoom on a camera or the camera’s stabilisation.


night streak camera exposure

This is another very important word to understand. Exposure means how bright or dark an image is.

An image is generated when a camera is exposed to light. This is where the term originates from.

A dark photo is considered to be ‘underexposed’ while a bright photo is considered to be ‘underexposed’.

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If you are shooting a bright scene I suggest slightly underexposing your photo a little to ensure that all of the details in the shot are kept and not blown out.

The exposure of a photo is controlled directly through ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.

File Format: JPEG and RAW

These file formats are what the vast majority of your photos taken will be stored in.

JPEG is a compressed format. This is the default shooting setting you will take your photos in. Most smartphones shoot in this file format as well.

JPEG’s save space by compressing the file and removing unnecessary data. This makes them more difficult to edit and this is not ideal if you want to colour grade your photos.

RAW photos are different. RAW is an uncompressed file format whereby all of the light data captured by the camera sensor is kept. Nothing is compressed. This allows you to edit your photos in post-production (Lightroom etc.).

Most cameras allow you to pick between either format and some even allow you to shoot in both JPEG and RAW at the same time.

Manual Mode

Manual mode allows the photographer to set the exposure manually instead of the camera doing it for them.

This mode effectively gives you complete control over your camera and the key settings that affect your photos. Once you enable manual mode you can set your ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture however you like.

How you set these values can affect the brightness and darkness of your photos and how good quality they are.

It is important to make sure you do not overexpose your photos otherwise you may not be able to get back details in the highlights of your picture.


viewfinder musician photographer

This is the hole you look through to see a preview of your photo. Some digital cameras lack this and instead you preview your picture by looking at a screen.

Some cover the entire frame while others cover 95% of the frame, for example.

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It is important to look clearly at your viewfinder. This will ensure you end up with the best photo possible.


Noise is the term for little dark spots on your images in certain conditions. It is also commonly referred to as ‘grain’.

Noise is created when your camera is too sensitive to light. Noise can seriously degrade the quality of your images and that’s why it is best to do what you can to keep noise to a minimum.

To reduce noise in your photos you must try and keep your ISO level as low as possible.

This can be difficult to do at night where you need to brighten up your images but I would suggest your bump up your aperture and shutter speed before you move on to the ISO.


The ISO level determines how sensitive your camera is to light.

An ISO of 100 means your camera isn’t that sensitive to light. These are ideal conditions for daylight shooting.

An ISO of 1600 means your camera is very sensitive to light. This is an ideal setting for low-light shots.

The caveat is that higher ISO levels are noisier and this can lead to poorer-quality photos that cannot be edited or published online or printed.

You should balance ISO with shutter speed and aperture to get an evenly exposed shot.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed determines how quickly your camera shutter opens and closes. Between the time the shutter is opening and closing the camera is letting in more light.

A longer shutter speed like 1/15 would be letting in more light as it would take 1/15 of a second to open and close the shutter. A longer shutter speed like this will also blur the motion in your hot so it would not be ideal for scenes where there is a lot of motion.

A shorter shutter speed such as 1/750 would let in far less light and it would take less time to open and close the shutter. A shorter shutter speed would also freeze the motion in a shot. However, there will be less light let in so this would be far from ideal in nighttime or low-light scenarios.


aperture lens close up colourful

Aperture defines the size of the opening in a camera lens. A larger aperture will let in more light while a smaller aperture will let in less light.

For example, an F/1.8 aperture is very wide and on a lot of lenses (including 50mm lens) it is the widest aperture you can open up to.

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Because it is so wide you will have a very shallow depth-of-field in your shot and this will also lead to a very bright image.

On the other hand an aprture of F/11 is much narrower. A narrower aperture such as this will have a deeper depth of field meaning more of your shot will be in focus.

This kind of aperture will also let in far less light so be careful when you shooting in nighttime conditions if you intend to shoot with a narrower aperture such as this one.

Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop

These are among the 2 most commonly-known and commonly-used pieces of photo-editing software out there.

Adobe Lightroom is used to organise your pictures and colour-grade them. This is the industry standard and it is used by a lot of professional photographers.

Adobe Photoshop on the other hand is used more for maniuplating pictures. This includes resizing, blending images and correcting blemishes and so forth.

Both can be bought via a sibscription and I highly recommend you buy them if you are going to be editing your photos.

Hot Shoe

A hot shoe is a term that define a slot on the top of the camera where there is a mount for you to be able to add accessories to your camera.

For example, you can add a hot shoe mic to the top of your camera. This allows you to add sound to your videos and in some cases you can even say commands to your camera to remotely control it.

Exposure Bracketing

Exposure bracketing is a process where you take multiple images of the same scene but you take each image at a different exposure level.

This gives you flexibility later on as you can then pick which image you want or you can merge them all together for a more evenly exposed shot.

BONUS WORD: Composition

Composition refers to the way key elements are arranged in a scene being captured by your camera.

For example, if you are shooting a scene where the subject was on the right side of the image, this would be a composition.

Compositions are great fun as they allow you to try out new things and techniques. I’d personally suggest you play around and see how it works out for you.

I hope this article helped you out with learning and understanding some key basic words in the world of photography. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and let me know if any of these surprised you.

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Joel Oughton is the Creator of Photoaspire. He likes to write about anything photography related and is more than happy to help out others with any photography-related issues

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