Glossary of Terms
One great thing about the internet is that nowadays you can type any term into a search engine and come up with a definition. On the down side, sometimes search engines don’t give you what you’re looking for. They also don’t give you the option of just browsing the terms to see what you can learn. That’s something I did a long time ago with photography books and it paid off, so I thought I’d make it a project to build a photography glossary right here on my website.
Please bear in mind this is a work in progress and it will be slow to evolve because I can’t work on it full time. But I do hope that when it takes place it will be useful to learners who like to meander through definitions in the interest of gaining exposure to unfamiliar concepts. Forgive me for letting my sense of humor run free (a bit) on this page.
Feel free to contact me if you think I’m missing some terms. Last updated on Dec 5 2020.
Photography Terms from A to Z
Ambient light – The light available in any given place. The term specifically refers to light from sources not provided by the photographer. It may be sunlight, moonlight, fire light or light from human-made sources.
Aperture – The opening of a lens through which light must pass on its way to the sensor. The size of the aperture is determined by the position of the blades blades when the shutter is opened. The size of the aperture is calibrated in F-stops in order to provide consistency when taking photos.
Apple – Just kidding. You know what an apple is, don’t you?
Canon – The world’s largest manufacturer of professional cameras, lenses and other digital equipment. Also the manufacturer of choice for the author of this website (Canon, if you’re reading this you can send me a new full-frame mirrorless any time and I promise I’ll say good things about you if you let me keep it).
C – Just
Diffuser – A sheet made of fabric, plastic or some other materials placed in front of a light source for the purpose of diffusing the light, causing it to spread out and appear softer.
C – Just
Grid – A device placed in front of a light source with the intention of increasing the coherence of light and preventing the rays from spilling out in different directions. It is often used in combination with some kind of diffusion material, which is placed between the light source and the grid. In a sense, a grid is an anti-diffuser.
C – Just
Hard Light – Light which is highly coherent (i.e. the rays are all parallel). usually from from a small or distant light source which is not diffused.
High Speed Sync (HSS) – Technology enabling a camera and strobe to work together to time bursts of the flash to match the rapid movement of the shutter. Cameras/strobes not employing high speed sync are limited to shooting at shutter speeds less than 1/350 or even 1/200 of a second. Some modern HSS systems are capable of sync speeds of up to 1/8000sec.
HSS – See High Speed Sync.
Modifier – Any instrument placed in front of a light source with the intention of changing the intensity, direction or quality of the light. The word “modifier” generally refers to an assembly such as a soft box or an umbrella. Generally, diffusing fabrics or gels alone are not referred to as ‘modifiers.’
C – Just
Natural Light – The light produced by natural sources, namely the sun, the moon, or reflections thereof. Not to be confused with ambient light.
Natural Light Photographer – Generally a photographer who doesn’t know how to shoot with flash or other human-made light sources or modifiers. (Note: accomplished photographers may shoot with natural light when appropriate and desirable, but are capable of using other light sources when they enhance the image, but they are not “natural light photographers”).
C – Just
Sh*t!!! – The expletive screamed by the author of this website when his light stand got blown over and his speedlite went snorkeling.
Shutter – A mechanical covering over the sensor which is opened to allow light to pass through. The shutter generally moves from side to side and can range from speeds up to 1/8000 of a second to as long as the photographer wishes (sometimes up to several minutes).
Snoot – A long, thin, generally black tube placed in front of a light source for the purpose of narrowing the beam of light emitted. There is no lens in it. It is a hollow tube. Snoots are most commonly used on lights which are behind the subject in order to prevent the light from spilling into the lens.
Soft box – A type of diffuser which is essentially a box which fits around a light source. It is generally black on the outside and silver on the inside with one open side over which a white diffusion material can be placed. Soft boxes come in a great number of sizes and shapes, some shallow, some deep, some square, some round and some octagonal.
Soft light – Diffuse light, generally from a large source, which is not highly coherent (i.e. the rays are not parallel). This light makes the edges of shadows appear less defined, or softer.
Sony – A Japanese electronics and entertainment conglomerate which is also a manufacturer of premium camera bodies and lenses. (Sony, if you’re reading this, I’d be happy to write glowing reviews if you’ll send me an a7Riv, but you’ll have to send me lenses and batteries too because everything I own is Canon. Also, don’t tell Canon because I’m buttering them up too.)
Speedlite – A small, battery powered strobe designed to be mounted on a camera’s hot shoe. Many speedlites can be used as off camera flash units, triggered either by synch cord (older models), or wireless RF systems. Most can also be ‘slaved’ to other flashes in situations where not all flashes accept the same RF signal.
Strobe – A fancy word for “flash.” A strobe is just an intermittent short term light source, generally powered by a capacitive charge. The word can refer to a studio flash, a speedlite or any other light source which is not constant.
Strobist – A photographer who makes use of flash when shooting pictures. There is also a really cool website that goes by this name.
Studio Strobe – A high-powered flash unit designed to be used indoors with an AC power source. Since studio strobes generally do not incorporate battery systems and chargers, they are often considerably cheaper than strobes of similar power designed to be used in the field (or forest, or beach, etc).
Umbrella – A type of diffuser used in combination with a strobe resembling a rain umbrella, but which is generally white and translucent. Umbrellas can be used to reflect the light from a strobe, or positioned between the strobe and subject. Some umbrellas come with black coverings which help stop light from bouncing around in the room.
Undiffused light – The light from a light source used with out a diffuser. The source can be a strobe or constant light source. This light is generally considered a hard light.
V-flat – A large flat piece of cardboard, wood or other material designed to be used as a reflector of light. V-flats are usually (but not always) white and are most commonly used in studio settings rather than on location.