Photography is a technical skill and with it comes a bevy of terms that can be intimidating to beginners. Photography terms often encompass a set of words that are intuitive to anyone with a good eye or interest in photography. But what about white balance, for example? White balance is a technical term explaining that our eyes balance color appropriately depending on the space, but cameras do not. A photograph taken in certain light won’t adjust the way our eyes do, often resulting in tones that look too yellow or too blue. We explain white balance in a little more detail later, but we’ve also broken down other basic photography vocabulary in easy-to-understand terms so no one is left in the dark.
You’ll hear this term a lot and in the most general sense aperture is the size of the opening lens. Aperture is analogous to a window: a large window, or large aperture, lets in a lot of light, and a small aperture lets in a little. Aperture helps determines how light or dark an image is, as well as how in or out of focus the subject is. Narrow apertures create sharp, detailed backgrounds, whereas wide apertures generate a more fluid or sometimes blurry background.
Another technical term that is important to know because you’ll see an “F” on almost every camera, which indicates the f-stop, and is a measure of aperture (see above). Common f numbers are: f/1.8, f/3.5, f/8, f/16, and so on. Think of the f-stop as a fraction. Therefore f/1.8 is much bigger than f/16. If someone tells you they want a large aperture (to let in a lot of light) your f-stop will be numbers like f/1.8. If they want a small aperture, your f-stop will be f/8 or f/10, for example. The “F” stands for focal length.
Keeping it technical. ISO is an indicator of how sensitive your camera is to light. A camera with an ISO of 3200 is very sensitive to light and allows you to get shots in lower light, for example. The trade off with high ISO’s, however, are shots that can appear grainy.
Depth of Field
Most pictures have a foreground and background. Depth of field refers to how much of your photo is in focus. Landscapes, for example, need to reflect a lot of detail and have a large depth of field, meaning a lot of the photo is in focus. Portraits on the other hand are notorious for shallow depth of fields, meaning the person’s face is in focus, but the background is likely creamy or blurry and intentionally out of focus.
Exposure is a qualifying term meant to describe how light or dark a photo is. Dark photos are considered underexposed, and light, or washed out photos, are considered overexposed. It can be subjective to the photographer how much exposure a photograph needs, and is often a qualifier that is applied during post-production of a photo, though exposure is also controlled by aperture during the shoot as well.
You know long exposure shots. They’re the ones of the night sky where stars create streaks overhead or the beams of cars seem to track through the photo. A long exposure means the shutter speed was slow and generally taken in lowlight. The photograph was exposed over a long period of time.
When a photographer chooses manual mode, she is selecting values of the photograph like aperture and shutter speed herself, rather than letting the camera do it automatically. This is usually done when the camera’s automatic choices are too rigid for the purposes of the session or the photographer wants to experiment with an out-of-the-box, or atypical exposure.
The noise in a photo tends to refer to the grain or pixilation that a camera catches in the details of the photograph. Images taken at high ISOs tend to have more noise.
White balance refers to how accurately a photo is reflecting color. Our eyes do this automatically, but a picture with poor white balance can sometimes look too blue or too yellow. There is a setting to readjust white balance on a camera, but it doesn’t always work. There are a number of ways to adjust this, but if you’re asking how strong your white balance is in a photo, a good test is to hold up the picture to a white piece of paper to see the “temperature” of the photo. Is it cool or warm? If so, you need to adjust. Here is an awesome (and short) tutorial about white balance.