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Glossary of Photography and Imaging Terms

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The lens opening which permits light to expose the camera’s imaging sensor or film. The aperture may be either fixed or adjustable and is calibrated in “f-stops” (the higher the number, the smaller the opening). In SLR cameras the aperture can be manually set.
(AE) Auto Exposure
A system for automatically setting the proper exposure according to the existing light conditions. The most common types of AE systems:
  1. Program: The camera chooses the shutter speed and aperture automatically
  2. Aperture Priority: The photographer chooses an aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed based on lighting conditions
  3. Shutter Priority: The photographer chooses a shutter speed and the camera chooses an aperture based on lighting conditions
Angle of View
The area of a scene that a lens is able to view. Angle of view is determined by the focal length of the lens. A wide-angle lens (short-focal-length) includes more of the scene and a wider angle of view-than a “normal” or “telephoto” lens.
Artifacts or Artifacting
Information on a compressed image can be interpreted poorly, thus producing imperfections in a digital image.
Aspect Ratio
The ratio of horizontal to vertical dimensions of an image. The most common aspect ratio in point and shoot digital cameras is 4:3 so that images “fit” properly on computer screens (800×600, 1024×768, 1280×1024) and standard TV screens. Most digital SLR cameras shoot a 3:2 aspect ratio, so that you can print 4×6-inch prints with no cropping.
Aspherical Lens
A lens with edges that do not follow the rest of the lens’s curve so that it is no longer perfect sphere, thus correcting certain types of distortion.
(AWB) Automatic White Balance
A system for automatically setting the camera’s white balance. Most digital cameras feature automatic white balance. The camera will calculate the best-fit white balance for a particular scene, based on a white point within the scene. Auto White Balance can be inaccurate, especially if the scene is dominated by one color or if there is no natural white present in the scene.
Back Lit
If a subject is heavily lit from behind, it will generally cause the subject to be underexposed unless you use critical spot metering or a fill flash.
Barrel Distortion
A common lens distortion causing an image to be “rounded” along the outer edges.
In computer terms, a “bit” (binary digit) is the smallest piece of information and has a value of either “0″ or “1″ which actually corresponds to one of the millions of switches inside the computer being ON or OFF.
Bitmap or BMP
The method of storing information that maps an image pixel, bit by bit. There are many bitmapped file formats including BMP, PCX, PICT, PICT-2, TIFF, GIF. Most image files are bitmapped. When examined closely you can see the line of pixels that creates edges.
Blue Tooth
A wireless standard for connecting cameras, laptops, cellphones and other electronic devices using very high frequency radio waves.
A temporary storage area for data that allows a computer or digital camera’s processor to manipulate data before transferring it to a device, such as a camera’s memory card.
An exposure setting that allows the shutter to stay open for as long as you keep the shutter release button held down. This is useful for very long exposures.
Burst Mode
This feature allows a photographer to capture multiple images in quick succession with one touch of the exposure button. This is a useful feature when shooting subjects in motion.
A collection of 8-bits of memory in a computer. There are 8 bits in a Byte, 1000 bytes is a Kilobyte (KB) or 8000 bytes, 1000Kb is a Megabyte (MB).
Card Reader
A device that allows you to transfer images and other data from memory cards into your computer.
A term used to describe an auto exposure system that uses the center portion of the image to adjust the overall exposure value.
Chromatic Aberration
Also known as the “purple fringing.” This often occurs when a dark area is surrounded by a highlight. It can often be seen along sharp edges between dark and light objects in an image.
This stands for Charge-coupled Device. A CCD is a solid-state image sensor that converts light into an electrical charge, used as the image sensor in digital cameras and camcorders. It is the chip within a digital camera or digital camcorder that converts the brightness and color information from the lens into digital data.
This stands for Complementary Metal-oxide Semiconductor. Like the CCD described above, this is another type of imaging sensor used by digital cameras.
Color Balance
A term used to describe the accuracy of colors captured in an image compared to the original scene.
Color Depth
Digital images can approximate color realism, but how they do so is referred to as color depth, pixel-depth, or bit depth. Modern computer displays use 24-bit True Color. It’s called this because it displays 16 million colors, about the same number as the human eye can discern.
Color Space
Digital cameras use known color profiles to generate their images. The most common is sRGB. This information, along with the camera and exposure data, is stored in the Exif data of a JPEG file. This color space information ensures that graphic programs and printers have a reference to the color profile the camera used at the time of exposure. See ICC Profile for more information.
A flash memory card used in small portable devices such as digital cameras, MP3 players and PDAs, and available in a variety of memory capacities.
Digital cameras don’t have the massive amounts of storage a computer does, yet they create files that can be quite large. Because of this, a camera can compress the data to make the optimum use of the limited space available. The less compression used, the better the image. The more compression used the more images you can store.
To make image files smaller almost every digital camera uses some form of compression. Image files can be compressed in two ways: lossless and lossy.
Lossless compression keeps all the original information; nothing is lost in the process. Extra processing time is required to compress and decompress the file. The file sizes do remain fairly large compared to lossy files. TIFF is an image format that can be compressed in a lossless way.
Lossy compression reduces the image size by mathematically discarding certain digital information while maintaining the integrity of the image. This can be compared to summarizing a document. For example, you can summarize a 10 page document into a 9 page document, or even 1 page document if you choose. The more information that is kept, the more detail you will have in the end. JPEG is an image format that is based on lossy compression.
A measure of the rate of change in brightness in an image.
(CD) Compact Disc
Read only storage media capable of holding 650MB of digital data.

  • (CDR) Compact Disc Recordable – a CD that you can write to once that can not be erased but can be read many times, holds 650~700MB of digital data.
  • (CDRW) Compact Disc Re Writeable – Can be erased and re-used many times, holds about 450MB of data.
The area where all the elements in an image are in focus. Depth of field is controlled by the focal length and aperture opening of the lens. A large aperture yields shallow DOF. Smaller apertures yield deeper DOF.
Digital Zoom
A digital magnification of the center of an image. Digital zooms basically use a smaller portion of the imaging sensor; therefore they will lose image quality compared to using a zoom lens.
The process of converting analog information into a digital format for use by a computer.
Diopter Adjustment
Adjusts the optical viewfinder’s magnification factor to suit the eyesight of the user. Look for a knob or dial next to or beneath the viewfinder’s eyepiece. Not all cameras have this feature.
(DPOF) Digital Print Order Format
This allows the photographer to embed printing information on your memory card. Select the pictures to be printed and how many prints to make. Some photo printers with card slots will use this information to automatically print images you have selected.
(DSLR) Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera
Interchangeable lens digital camera.
(DPI) Dots per Inch
This indicates the resolution of a device, such as a printer, as a measurement of the number of horizontal or vertical dots it’s able to resolve.
Dynamic Range
The ability of the camera’s sensor to capture the full range of shadows and highlights. This can also refer to the measurement of the accuracy of an image in color or gray level. The more bits of dynamic range will result in finer gradations being preserved.
This stands for Exchangeable Image File format and refers to the embedded camera and exposure information that a digital camera puts in the header of the JPG file it creates. Many image graphic programs such as Photoshop can read and display this information.
The amount of light that reaches the image sensor or film. This is controlled by a combination of the lens aperture and shutter speed.
Exposure Bracketing
Taking a series of 3 or 5 pictures and slightly varying the exposure for each frame. This insures that at least one of the pictures will be as close to perfectly exposed as possible. Many cameras offer this feature, or it can be done manually.
Exposure Compensation
Lightening or darkening an image by overriding a camera’s exposure system.
A numerical designation that indicates the size of a lens’s aperture. The number designated to an f-stop is inversely proportional; a smaller number such as F2.8 is a large opening and a large number such as F16 is a relatively small opening. A correct exposure is determined using a combination of shutter speed and f-stop.
File format
The way a digital image is saved. Several file formats are available for use and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Popular file formats include JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, BMP, PICT, EPS, and PCX.
Fill Flash
Using a camera’s flash to lighten shadow areas or provide more overall illumination in situations where you normally wouldn’t use a flash.
A colored or specially coated piece of glass or other transparent material used over the lens to emphasize or modify the color or density of a scene or certain areas within a scene.
A very small program or instruction set stored within a computer chip. Firmware is found in all computer based products including digital cameras.
Fixed Aperture
This refers to a zoom lens with an aperture that remains constant, regardless of the focal length.
Fixed Focal Length
A term that describes a non-zoom lens; it is fixed at a given focal length and is not variable.
Fixed Focus
A lens that is preset to a given focus distance, it has no focus mechanism and is usually set to give the camera the maximum depth of field.
A flash supplies additional light to supplement available lighting, often resulting in better color, better exposure, and improved picture sharpness.
Flash Memory
This refers to a type of permanent RAM storage that is unaffected by power loss; usually used in digital data storage such as Compact Flash cards and SD Cards. Flash memory is used in many electronic devices including digital cameras, portable MP3 players and handheld PCs.
Flash Range
The maximum distance from which a flash can effectively illuminate a subject. Most built-in camera flashes are effective to about 8-10 feet. This varies by brand, so check your camera’s specifications.
Flash Sync
This generally refers the fastest shutter speed you can use with a flash; often 1/250th of a second. The shutter opens and closes at a specified time that is synchronized with the burst of light from your camera’s flash.
Focal Length
This refers to the distance from the center of the lens in a camera to the focal point. Focal length is measured in millimeters, and it’s usually expressed as a 35mm film equivalent. A lens that matches human vision with no telephoto or wide-angle capabilities applied to the lens is about 50mm. Wide-angle capabilities, usually considered anything less than 35mm, provides a larger field of view (FOV). A telephoto lens is usually considered anything greater than 70mm, provides a smaller FOV.
Focus Assist
Some cameras employ a visible or invisible (infrared) lamp to illuminate the subject so the autofocus can work in low light situations.
Focus Lock
Pre-focusing the camera and then moving it to re-compose the image before capturing it. This is usually accomplished by half-pressing the shutter release button and keeping it held at that position while moving the camera to another point before pressing it all the way to capture the image.
Focus Range
The range within which a camera is able to focus; e.g., 4′-infinity.
A measure of the amount of contrast found in an image according to the properties of a gradation curve. High contrast has high gamma and low contrast low gamma.
The range of colors available in an image or output process. It is generally used in describing the capabilities of a printer to reproduce colors faithfully and vibrantly – i.e. “The xxxxx printer has a wide color gamut.”
GIF (graphic interface)
A graphic file format used mainly for Web graphic or small animated files.
Gigabyte (GB)
A measure of computer memory or disk space consisting of about one thousand million bytes (a thousand megabytes). The actual value is 1,073,741,824 bytes (1024 megabytes).
The histogram is a graphic representation of the tonal range in a photograph. An image’s tonal range provides a precise check on exposure. The histogram depicts the range of tones in an image from the darkest on the left of the graph (0 in digital terms) to the lightest on the right side (255 in digital terms). A light meter reads the scene before you take the photo; the histogram analyzes the photo you’ve just taken.
Hot Shoe
A flash connector generally found on the top of the camera that lets you attach a flash unit and trigger it in sync with the shutter.
A term used to describe the entire range of colors of the spectrum; hue is the component that determines just what color you are using.
ICC Profile
The International Color Consortium (ICC), is a group that sets standard guidelines for color management in the imaging world. Most printers, monitors and scanners as well as digital cameras, usually come with a driver disc for Windows and Mac systems that includes ICC profiles for the particular device. Color profiles simply let one piece of hardware or software “know” how another device or image created its colors and how they should be interpreted or reproduced.
Image Stabilization (IS)
An optical system for removing or reducing camera movement in zoom lenses. Using gyroscopes an internal lens is moved around to counteract the movement of the camera. This usually allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds than a camera without IS under the same conditions.
Image Sensor
The device used in digital cameras and camcorders to capture an image. The 2 most common types are known as CCD (charge-coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor).
ISO is the abbreviation for International Standards Organization. The speed or specific light-sensitivity of a camera is rated by ISO numbers such as 100, 400, etc. The higher the number, the more sensitive it is to light. As with film, the higher speeds usually induce more electronic noise so the image gets grainier.
This stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, an internationally recognized organization responsible for compression standards for digitized still images. The JPEG format defined by this organization is among the most common formats for compressed digital still images used on the Web (the other being GIF). It incorporates a variable compression scheme that allows users to select varying degrees of image integrity vs. file size.
1024 bytes (usually rounded to 1000 bytes), written KB. Used to refer to the size of files, relates to the amount of information in a file.
Landscape Mode
Holding the camera in its normal horizontal orientation to capture the image.
This stands for Liquid Crystal Display. A type of display used by digital cameras so users can view images before they take a picture as opposed to the small viewfinder of a camera. They also use the LCD to review the pictures taken. Digital cameras use them to make camera operations easier with menu driven commands, multiple image viewing, and improved help functions.
This stands for Light Emitting Diode. LEDs consume very little power and are used as indicator lights used on cameras, power supplies and most electronic devices.
Low Pass Filter
Most digital SLR cameras employ a Low Pass Filter (LPF) or Anti-Aliasing (AA) filter in front of the image sensor to help eliminate color aliasing (moirè) problems.
The ability of a lens to focus very close (less than 8″) for taking pictures of small objects at a 1:1 ratio.
Matrix Metering
This refers to a metering option which uses 256 areas of the frame to calculate the best overall exposure value.
MB or Megabyte
1024 kilobytes (usually rounded to 1000 kilobytes). This unit of measure is used to refer to the size of files or media, such as removable memory cards.
The resolution of one million pixels. Digital cameras are commonly rated by Megapixels. By multiplying the horizontal resolution by the vertical resolution to get the total pixel count:
1280 x 960 pixels = 1 Megapixel
1600 x 1200 pixels = 2 Megapixels
2048 x 1536 pixels = 3 Megapixels
2272 x 1704 pixels = 4 Megapixels
2560 x 1920 pixels = 5 Megapixels … etc.
Memory Stick
A flash memory format shaped like a stick of gum. Developed by Sony for use in digital cameras, camcorders and other small devices.
A visible pattern that occurs when one or more halftone screens are miss-registered in a color image. Often produces a colored checkerboard or rainbow pattern.
This stands for Motion Picture Experts Group, an organization that establishes standards in computerized digital video compression and reproduction. MPEG schemes reduce the data stream by storing only the changes from one frame to another, instead of each entire frame. MPEG compression also removes some image data, but the reduction of data is generally imperceptible to the human eye.
Raw image data file format used by the Nikon digital cameras. NEF stands for Nikon Electronic Format.
Unwanted electrical signals that produce spots on the image. Pixels in a digital camera’s sensor can misinterpret information under certain conditions. Noise usually occurs when shooting a long exposure (beyond 1/2-second) or when using high ISO values. It appears as random groups of red, green or blue pixels.
Noise Reduction
Some cameras that offer long shutter speeds (exceeding 1 second) usually have a noise reduction (NR) feature that is either automatic or can be enabled in the menu. This is to help eliminate random “hot” pixels and other image noise.
Optical Viewfinder
An eye level viewfinder that is used to compose a photograph. Most digital point and shoot cameras use an LCD screen instead of an optical viewfinder.
Optical Zoom
This refers to a lens on a point and shoot camera that has a real multi-focal length lens. This is not the same as a “Digital Zoom” which magnifies the center portion of an image.
Olympus RAW format. Raw image data file format used by the Olympus digital cameras.
Orientation Sensor
A special sensor in some cameras that senses when the camera is turned vertically to take a vertical shot and “tells” the camera to display it that way later when viewed during playback.
An image that appears too light. All the highlights and colors are lost and usually unrecoverable even with photo editing software.
A graphics file format used primarily on Macintosh computers. PICT files can contain both object-oriented and bit-mapped graphics. There are two types: PICT I and PICT II. PICT II is the current standard and supports color up to 24-bit.
This refers to a standard for direct USB printing from digital cameras to inkjet and dye sub photo printers without the use of a computer.
A geometric lens distortion causing an acquired image to pucker toward the center, usually found at telephoto focal lengths.
This stands for Picture Element. A pixel is a single point in a digitized or digital image. Pixels are made up of elements to produce a specific color. In a digital image file, a pixel is made up of numeric values representing shades of three colors red, green, and blue (RGB). In a 24-bit image file each RGB color has a total of 256 shades possible, combining the 256 shades for each of the 3 colors with the possibility of up to 16,777,216 possible colors for each pixel.
The stair-stepped appearance of a curved or angled line in a digital image. The smaller the pixels and the greater their number, the less apparent the “pixelization” of the image.
An image file format. PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics. PNG was designed to be a more versatile format than GIF for use on the Web. It is a compressed file format similar to JPG, however, it uses lossless compression. PNG supports 24-bit color, unlike GIF, which only allows 256 colors.
This stands for pixels per inch. The amount of pixels per inch at which an image is displayed or printed affects its output quality. The higher the number the more detailed the print will be. For example, if an image is to be displayed only on a computer monitor, 72ppi to 100ppi is generally sufficient. If an image is to be printed, it should have at least between 200ppi to 300ppi to reduce the effects of pixelization.
Programmed AE
A camera exposure setting that allows the camera to choose the best shutter speed and aperture automatically; also called “Automatic” or “Point-n-Shoot” mode.
This stands for Random Access Memory. RAM is where the CPU stores software, programs, and data currently being used. RAM is usually volatile memory, meaning that when the computer is turned off or otherwise loses power, the contents of the memory are lost. A large amount of RAM usually offers faster processing.
A term used to describe an unprocessed image file. RAW image files must be processed with special software before they can be viewed or printed. The advantage of a RAW image file is that you have the ability to alter the white balance, exposure value, color values, contrast and brightness as you see fit before you convert this data into another file format, such as JPEG or TIFF. Professional photographers often use RAW files and edit them in photo imaging software such as Photoshop.
An effect caused by an electronic flash reflecting off of the back of the human eye, making the pupils look red. Most compact cameras have a built-in flash located very close to the lens, which makes red-eye a common occurrence. Camera manufacturers compensate for this by adding a “red-eye reduction” feature; usually a pre-flash of some sort to reduce the size of the pupils before the exposure is made.
Red-Eye Reduction Mode
A special flash mode whereby a pre-flash or a series of low-powered flashes are emitted before the main flash goes off to expose the picture. This causes the pupil in the human eye to constrict and helps reduce red-eye.
The number of pixels used to create an image. The quality of any digital image, whether printed or displayed on a screen, depends in part on its resolution. More and smaller pixels add detail and sharpen edges.
This stands for Red, Green and Blue; the primary colors from which all other colors are derived. The image reproduction process mixes various amounts of red, green and blue to produce other colors.
The degree to which a color is undiluted by white light. If a color is 100 percent saturated, it contains no white light. If a color has no saturation, it is a shade of gray.
Scene Modes
Many digital cameras have a number of different exposure modes where the user selects the best pre-programmed scene to suit the current shooting conditions; such as Night Mode, Sports Mode, Portrait Mode and Landscape Mode, to name a few. The camera will automatically change its settings to capture the best possible image based on the scene mode chosen.
This stands for Secure Digital. This is a type of flash memory card commonly used in digital cameras.
This stands for Secure Digital High Capacity. SDHC cards allow capacities in excess of 2GB (4GB to 32GB). SDHC uses the same form factor as SD, but is not compatible with older non-SDHC devices.
A mechanical or electronic device that opens and closes to allow light passing through a camera lens to make contact with film or an image sensor.
Shutter Lag
The time that passes between pressing a camera shutter button and actually capturing the image. This is due to the camera having to calculate the exposure, set the white balance and focus the lens. Because of their difference in design, point and shoot cameras will have a longer shutter lag than SLR cameras.
Shutter Priority AE
A camera exposure setting that allows the user to choose a shutter speed and the aperture is automatically determined by the camera.
Shutter Speed
A camera’s shutter opens and closes when an exposure is made, allowing light to contact the film or image sensor. Shutter speed refers to the amount of time the shutter stays open and is measured in fractions of a second. A very fast shutter speed can capture clear images of fast action, while slow shutter speeds will capture the blur of a moving object.
Skylight Filter
This refers to a piece of glass that acts as an ultraviolet absorbing filter to help overcome the abundance of blue in outdoor photographs. Due to its light pink color, the Skylight reduces the bluish cast
of daylight and produces a pleasing, warmer picture tone. A Skylight filter is often used to protect the camera’s lens from scratches, fingerprints or dirt.

Slow Sync
A flash mode that is available in some cameras that opens the shutter for a longer than normal period and fires the flash just before it closes. This can be useful in illuminating a foreground subject yet allowing a darker background to become more visible.
This stands for Single Lens Reflex. This refers to a class of cameras that use a viewfinder to see through the lens (TTL) by way of an angled mirror that flips up when the shutter is released, allowing the light to strike the film or image sensor.
Spot Metering
This refers to an exposure mode in a camera. The camera’s exposure system is activated on a very small area in the center of the viewfinder to set the overall exposure value on that specific area alone.
Raw image data file format used by the Sony digital cameras. SRF stands for Sony RAW Format.
A small, low-resolution version of a larger image file that is used for quick identification of an image.
This stands for Tagged Image File Format. TIFF images can be opened and resaved without creating artifacts because the image file is usually an uncompressed file. Even when the file is compressed, TIFF files use a lossless compression method.
This stands for Through the Lens. This refers to an autofocus or auto exposure system that works through the camera’s lens.
This stands for Technology without an Industry Name. This refers to the protocol for exchanging information between applications and devices such as scanners and digital cameras.
This refers to an image that appears too dark because insufficient light was delivered to the film or image sensor.
This stands for Universal Serial Bus and refers to a hardware standard for connecting electronic devices to computers.
USB 2.0
A newer USB standard, this refers to a higher-speed version of USB.
UV Filter
This refers to a piece of glass that acts as an ultraviolet absorbing filter to help overcome the abundance of blue in outdoor photographs. A UV filter is often used to protect the camera’s lens from scratches, fingerprints or dirt.
A term used to describe the darkening of the outer edges of an image area due to the use of a filter or add-on lens. Zoom lenses can sometimes create vignetting. The barrel or sides of the lens become visible, resulting in dark corners in an image.
White Balance
This refers to a digital camera’s ability to compensate for different colors of various light sources. Normally our eyes compensate for lighting conditions. A digital camera needs to find a reference point which represents white. It will then calculate all the other colors based on this white point. For instance, if a lamp in a room illuminates a white wall, the wall may have a yellow cast, while in fact the wall should be white. If the camera knows the wall is supposed to be white, it will then compensate all the other colors in the scene accordingly. Digital cameras feature automatic white balance whereby the camera looks at the overall color of the image and calculates the best-fit white balance. Most digital cameras also allow you to choose a white balance manually, typically sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent etc. Most DSLR and some point and shoot digital cameras allow you to define your own “custom” white balance reference. Refer to your camera’s user manual for specific instructions on setting a custom white balance.
This stands for Zoom Lens Reflex, a term used to describe a fixed mount lens SLR type cameras. An SLR camera has interchangeable lenses; a ZLR has a non-removable zoom lens.
Zoom Lens
An adjustable lens that makes an object appear closer or further away, for a variety of framing options.