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An essential term guide blog graphic by fitb studio



The following attempts to identify and remedy pain caused by misunderstanding with a term guide that bridges the technical gap between photographers and non-photographers. I think we have all been here before, and cheers if you have not! A client says one thing, but means another. This can end up disastrously, with a dissatisfied photographer and unhappy clients. Often times photography is difficult to talk about.

As photographers our artistry lies mostly in the emotional and physical aspects of the image. While the rest of the importance goes to craft, technical photography knowledge, and how thats applied to meeting a certain goal. After all, from the technical stems from the aesthetic. Meaning that when the project is pre-produced and imagined, the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of the image, or aesthetics, are chosen. And from this ‘look’ and ‘feel’ will come technical details like what lens to use, what aperture to shoot at, and whether or not the scene or subject needs to be lit.

During this initial pre-producing its vital for the translation between client and photographer to remain healthy and accurate. If not there may be a misunderstanding that makes everyone ultimately unhappy. An image creator thinks in terms of focus, focal length, F-stops, fractions of seconds, and bursts of light. We know what a certain format and lens combo will roughly produce and can measure light roughly with just our eyes. My point is that sometimes photographers and non-photographers clash when it comes to linguistic meaning. Which usually ends in strife for the creative team.

This issue a double edged issue too common in our industry. Hopefully this term guide can act as a sort of mediatory document that can bridge the gap between creatives and clients alike that deal with photography on a daily basis, but maybe aren’t so photo-linguistically practiced as a seasoned photographer with a refined eye.

Please feel free to share this post with those who you feel like will benefit from it, or even suggest any terms so important that just can’t be left off the list. I hope it helps you and your crew members as well as clients in some way!

Power Technical Terms:

Adobe RGB 1998 – A common color space from which to develop the highest quality JPEGS, files will go from Adobe RGB1998 to sRGB if they are going to the web since the web only displays the color gamut of sRGB

Aesthetics – a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty in art. Or how things look, what they mean, and how subject interacts with the medium in use

Atmosphere – The airiness or lack thereof in a photograph. Think fog vs. a clear summer day

Catchlight – The reflection in a subject’s eyes from the light source illuminating the scene

Clipping – When a highlight is so bright taht detail cannot be recrded, or when a shadow is so dark that detail cannot be recorded by the sensor or film stock

Color Temperature – Measured in points Kelvin. White balance and color of light are key factors to consider when trying to make a neutral or colorful image color temperature wise

Color vs Toning – The color present in the scene photographed versus the tones added into the photograph’s highlights, midtowns, and shadows in post-processing

Composition – How the scene or subject presents itself in the frame in relation to the frame edges, other subjects, and other elements also in front of the camera

Contrast – The difference between highlight and shadow tones, known in drawing and painting as “chiaroscuro”, or the gradation between the lightest and darkest tones in the image

Cyclorama – Also called a cyc wall or infinity wall, this refers to a white wall that has a sweep instead of a butt joint, connecting the white floor and white wall seamlessly through a graduated curve. Desirable for shooting subjects in a completely white and ‘seamless’ environment

Depth of field – the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects in a scene that are in focus. . A low aperture (i.e. f/1.4 offers a very thin focus plane whereas an aperture number of f/64 would offer an extremely large DOF where nearly everything from foreground to background is in focus)

Documentary photography – A genre that has come to be associated with photojournalism and fine art photography in which the photographer acts as a spectator or ‘fly on the wall’. Trying to be invisible rather than driving the subject or scene to react

Dynamic Range – The amount of highlight, midtone, and shadow detail present in a film stock or digital camera sensor, that is present before clipping occurs

Editorial photography – A photo genre that stems from on location or in studio photography published in some way, usually accompanied by text or narrative. A style of photography that is associated with the look of narrative magazine work

Exposure – How long the film or camera sensor is exposed to light passing through aperture

Falloff – When light is ‘feathered’ so that the light indirectly or nearly indirectly hits the subject. Stems from the theory that the center of the projected light source is the brightest, and as the edges of the projected light are reached the light starts to ‘fall off’ or become less intense

Feathering – Turning a light source of modifier away from the subject in hopes of producing an indirect light that utilizes the light and modifiers falloff

Fill light – A light or reflector placed strategically and aimed into the shadows produced by the key light. It does not overpower the key light and ‘fills’ the shadows with a touch of light in order to recover detail there and make the light on the subject less contrasty

Flare – When light directly enters the lens, it causes a halo like ‘flare’ in the image. Lens hoods or flagging the light helps to avoid this sometimes unwanted artifact

High key – High key imagery has predominantly lighter or whiter tones with very little dark or black areas of contrast in the image. Opposite of low key imagery

Histogram – A histogram is a chart representation of the dark/light and RGB color values in a photograph

Hot shoe – The port on top of cameras dedicated to camera or flash accessories. Called a hot shoe because the electric shutter signal is sent through the hot shoe to the accessory or flash.

Juxtaposition – The placement of two things next to each other and their relationship in terms of size, shape, meaning, and detail

Low key – The opposite of high key imagery, low key imagery or lighting is mostly dark with a small percentage of the frame being illuminated heavily or at the correct exposure

Metadata – The information stored inside of, or alongside a photograph that tells the camera settings, location, author of creation, website, and more about the image and its context for existence

Moire – A photographic anomaly of rainbow color and halos that occurs when two fine patterns are superimposed on one another. Such as

Mood – The overlying attitude of a photograph and its content

Noise – An artifact that occurs when higher ISO numbers are used

RAW / DNG / TIFF / JPEG – Typical raw, working, and deliverable file formats that happen as a result of the digital development process

Retouching – After a file is processed and developed into what it will finally look like, the retouching process begins. This process includes making small local adjustments, cleaning up the image, fixing any out of place elements, selectively correcting color, and smoothing any unwanted skin/clothing/backdrop texture or color

Saturation – The intensity of color in an image

Seamless paper – Paper in varying widths that can act as a portable wall of solid color or even a portable cyclorama. The paper is unrolled carefully and a curved sweep is created to produce the classic cyc look of an infinity wall. The roll is secured at the cardboard tube with an A-clamp when raised into the air on two light stands with a backdrop pole, or two c-stands with gobo arms.

Selective focus – Drawing attention to an element of a photograph through strategic focus placement

sRGB – The color space the web operates in, and certain devices such as scanners, office printers, and point and shoot cameras

Voice – What does the photograph say? What is the objective of the photograph? From who’s perspective is the photograph from if anyones?

Wide / Normal / Telephoto focal length lenses – These types of lenses determine the spacial relations and aesthetics of whats in from of the camera in terms of spacial distance, focus, and distortion or lack thereof


Well I hoped that you enjoyed our term guide! Thanks for joining us here on the Fill In The Blank blog. We are here for you, so please don’t hesitate to start a conversation with us or simply follow along on our blogging journey to success and better photographs.