Photography Terms: A Glossary for Beginners

Photography terms for beginners  |  Hue & Tone Creative

With the evolution of iPhone photography, just about anyone can make a shot look artistic. But artistic isn't the same as high quality. While we can appreciate a nice shot on our Insta feed, there’s still a big lane for professional photography in advertising and marketing.

If just bought your first DSLR, or if you're looking to learn to go from a  beginner to a professional, there’s a few terms you should know. 



Aperture is the adjustable opening in the lens where light travels. This is one of the three elements that creates exposure. When it comes to shutter speed, fast speeds need large apertures for more light. Slow shutter speeds require smaller apertures with less light passing through.

Aperture sizes are marked by f-stop numbers:

f/1.4 (largest)





f/8 (smallest)



This allows your camera to focus on the subject automatically. There are two types of autofocus: single or continuous. Continuous focus is best for moving subjects, and single focus works best stationary subjects.  


An example of bokeh

An example of bokeh


Have you ever noticed the tiny balls of light in filtered pictures? When lights are out of focus and the picture is taken with a wide exposure, it creates an effect called “bokeh.”


Color Depth

Basically, color depth is the amount of color that can be captured by a camera. Color depth is measured in bits, and varies from camera to camera. Higher bits allow for higher quality images with more variations of color. Most DSLR cameras have a color depth of 24 bits of color variation (about 16.7 million colors). 



Exposure is the lightness or darkness of a photo.  Three factors determine the outcome of exposure: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. If you’ve heard that an image is “overexposed”, it means that it is too washed out or too light. “Underexposed” means that it’s too dark.



Most people probably equate flash with blinding bursts of light and embarrassing school pictures. Flash is usually used to help add light to dark scenery, but it can also be used to create artistic effects.



Focus involves the clarity of a picture. Typically the main subject in a picture is sharp, and the background behind them is blurred.  It’s all dependent on angles and perspective, but the important thing is keeping the subject of your photo in focus. 


White Balance

Learn more about each white balance setting on Nikon’s site. 

You think you can determine if an object is white by looking at it, but sometimes cameras have difficulty. Color can change because of different lighting conditions: too much sun, a cloudy day, or a dim room.

There’s a white balance setting on cameras that usually solves this problem, but sometimes it’s better to adjust it manually. To do this, you just choose the appropriate setting: PRE, Kelvin color temperature, flash, incandescent, fluorescent, sunny, open shade, or cloudy. 



ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization. ISO measures how sensitive your camera is to light. The measurements range from 200 to 1600. Typically, lower numbers require more light for a good exposure. 



RAW is essential to digital photography. This file format records every bit of image data without processing it. RAW files are the key to creating high quality images, because they can capture more information, levels of brightness, and detail than JPEGs.


An example of the rule of thirds.

An example of the rule of thirds.

Rule of Thirds

This is a basic rule of thumb for strong compositions. Basically, you want to imagine a three-part grid across your image to create a sense of balance.    


Shutter Speed

Every time you take a picture; the shutter of your camera opens and closes. Shutter speed measures how long the camera sensor is exposed to light in seconds or fractions of a second. Higher shutter speeds simply mean that the sensor was exposed for a shorter time.

Shutter speed is important to different areas of photography. For instance, if you’re tyrying to capture an action shot at a football game, a lower shutter speed will make your pictures come out blurry. Low shutter speeds work better for subjects with less movement, because you usually need use a tripod.

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Don't exactly have an artistic eye? Or, maybe you just need a second set of eyes? Hue & Tone can help you with all your photography, graphic design, and web needs.