Basic Photography Terms for Beginners

25 Basic Photography Terms for Beginners (Kids and Teens)

Teaching your kid to take photographs is not all fun and games. While pointing a camera and hitting the shutter button sounds easy on paper, there comes a time when they have to encounter the difficult aspects of photography, like how to compose an image, how to operate a professional camera, and all the new terms they’ll encounter along the way.

Some of those basic photography terms for beginners are quite technical in a way that they require a great deal of knowledge to understand. Here are some fundamental terms your child should know while building their photography skills.

Basic Photography Terms for Beginners

Aperture Blades
Aperture – source



An aperture is the opening of a lens through which light enters the camera. It’s expressed as an F-stop with a lower number of points, indicating a bigger opening. It’s analogous to how the pupil contracts or dilates to control the amount of light that passes into the eye. Larger apertures let more light in, which led to brighter pictures.

As opposed to that, smaller apertures limit the amount of incoming light, but they make up for it with increased sharpness. An aperture is comprised of a set of blades. They move in and out to regulate the flow of light. The number of blades comprising the lens varies between cameras, but a 6-blade configuration is a common one.

High end cameras and lenses may pack in more, like 9 or up. The average lens also has a minimum and a maximum aperture. This range can provide assistance with shooting in different conditions.

Aspect ratio

An aspect ratio is a proportional relationship between the width and height of an image. This attribute is typically written as X:Y, in which both values don’t represent the exact width and height. They just demonstrate the comparison of two quantities.

Let’s say an image has a 3:2 aspect ratio. It simply means for every 3 units of width, you’ll have 2 units of height. Two pictures can have an identical aspect ratio, but they’re not necessarily the same size. There are some common formats used for screens, images, and others.

Apart from the 3:2 aspect ratio, other formats people use extensively include 4:3, 1:1, and 16:9. The 4:3 format can be found in pocket cameras as well as smartphones. Meanwhile, the 1:1 format indicates that an image is square in shape because the width and height are of equal measure. The last one on this list, “16:9,” refers to a widescreen aspect ratio that is bigger than “4:3.”

Auto-focus and manual focus

Autofocus, also abbreviated as AF, is a camera feature that aids in focusing the selected subject in the frame. The process goes like this: the sensor detects the distance of a subject from the camera. This information is then transmitted to the lens, after which a change is made to its focal distance by means of a motor that operates electronically.

AF is included as a staple feature in the vast majority of point-and-shot cameras. In some models, it can be deactivated as well. Many DSLRs go the extra mile with autofocus by providing a selection of AF points. The flexibility of AF in a camera is proportionate to the type of AF points. More expensive cameras may have over 45 AF points, while others have fewer.

As for manual focus, it’s a type of focus you can achieve using the manual focus ring. There are circumstances where autofocus can fall short, such as low contrast and extreme backlight. To maintain good quality in these situations, you can count on MF to get everything in focus.



Of all the photography effects, bokeh is one of the few that has gained widespread recognition. In a nutshell, bokeh features a blurred background or is out of focus in some areas. It can be achieved in post-production or during the capturing process. A wide aperture is necessary to produce this effect while shooting.

Alternatively, a shallow depth of field can also isolate the subject from the background. Bokeh originates from a Japanese word which means blur or haze. This aesthetic quality is often used in macro photography and portraiture.

Bokeh is less suitable for landscape photography since all elements in a landscape hold equal importance. Aperture manipulation is one effective way to emphasize this effect. And the camera should be set up to shoot with the aperture wide open at f/1.8 to get beautiful bokeh.

Chromatic aberration
Chromatic aberration – source


Chromatic aberration

Chromatic aberration is an optical imperfection caused by the inability of a lens to refract all wavelengths of color at the same point. This can be partially corrected by putting together diverging and converging lenses. This issue plagues all types of lenses, although it’s more prevalent in cheap lenses.

In the right conditions, a lens should be capable of focusing all wavelengths into a single focal plane. But sometimes, what happens is that different colors hit the surface of the lens at varying speeds and times. All these promote various kinds of aberrations.

Chromatic aberration is easy to identify with the naked eye. It can appear in any effect, but in general it shows as noticeable color fringing around the edges. This optical problem comes in 2 types: transverse and axial aberrations. The difference between the two is that the color fringing in axial chromatic aberration occurs around the center, while transverse aberration increases gradually along the sides of the frame.


composition or image. Composition can be defined as the way objects and other elements are displayed in an image. It’s considered the heart of meaningful photography because a good composition helps create a captivating picture. What refers to visual elements includes lines, textures, hues, light, etc.

Composition becomes more critical when a photo has a whopping number of elements, like in a landscape photo. There must be some rules in place to bring those elements together in harmony. Those rules are what make up the composition. Speaking of elements, lines play a big role in landscape photography because our world is overflowing with lines, which exist wherever we look.

To incorporate lines in an exquisite way, you must lead them gracefully towards the subject. The same goes for shapes and textures. They have to be placed in areas that will complement the arrangement. Shapes, as opposed to lines, provide a natural perception of depth, so they must enter the composition in a way that does not disrupt balance.


Contrast has several meanings, but broadly-speaking, it’s the equivalent of difference. Contrast has become a mainstay in photography because it can dramatically enhance an image composition. This term suggests that there’s a degree of difference between the visual elements comprising a photograph.

Higher contrast is a favorable value, although low contrast also leaves a unique impression. Contrast is used to mark discernible dissimilarities that appear in an image. Textures, tones, colors, all can create striking contrast and add charm to a picture. At the same time, they can also deliver a subdued feel with a decrease in intensity.

There are several types of contrast. When it denotes a difference in brightness (dark vs. bright areas), it’s classified as tonal contrast. When it emphasizes how colors affect each other, it’s known as color contrast. Another popular term is “high contrast,” which implies that contrast has a broad range of tones. The blacks look deep, while the whites are blatantly strong. Low contrast is the opposite; it has the tendency to make an image look lifeless and dull.

Depth of field
Depth of field – source


Depth of field

The depth of field is the zone or depth that looks in focus in a photo. There are many factors that influence that, including aperture and the camera used while photographing the scene. The process of going from sharp to blurry typically follows a smooth transition, although it can be difficult to identify just by looking at the image.

In relation to DOF, there’s a popular term known as the “circle of confusion”, which refers to the level of softening a point has to achieve before it turns noticeably unsharp. You can obtain a shallow depth of field by selecting a larger aperture and a shorter focusing distance. A shallow DOF is a condition when the subject is sharp while the area behind it appears blurry. This special technique is beneficial for specific scenarios, like isolating the subject from the background, akin to that of the bokeh effect.


DSLR is an acronym for Digital Single-Lens Reflex. It’s a type of digital camera that comes with interchangeable lenses and more varied photo-shooting options than other digital cameras.

While using a DSLR, light passes through the lens towards a mirror, which then reaches the viewfinder after it’s been reflected off. DSLR cameras are superior on many fronts to other models. They offer instant image viewing, expandable memory, a long-lasting battery, and a powerful autofocus system.

The word “single lens” in its name suggests that this camera utilizes a single lens for focusing and framing. It’s a distinct breed that distinguishes itself from TLR cameras with two objective lenses.With a TLR, the operator can’t observe the current view and must resort to other alternatives to prepare for the shot.

Dynamic range

To put it simply, dynamic range is how the most well-lit spots in a picture can create a stark contrast against the darkest spots while still producing a good amount of detail. When applied to cameras, it can be described as the ratio between the most powerful and the weakest signal.

With this explanation, it becomes clear that when the dynamic range is high, the chance of capturing images with a sharp disparity between dark and light is much higher, too. To put it to the test, you can use the camera to photograph a sunset with a massive range of contrast between bright and dark areas.

A good camera should be able to boost the details in the sky and surroundings in this shooting scenario, not make the bright overshadow the dark or vice versa. Systems with greater dynamic range will give more flexibility when it comes to handling highlights and shadows, so none appear blown out or totally black.



Exposure is a staple in photography. It refers to the amount of light that strikes the sensor while snapping a picture. It plays a major role in an image’s overall brightness. For the record, a number of factors account for exposure, such as aperture and shutter speed. When plenty of light comes into contact with the sensor, it will result in a well-illuminated photo. Or if it goes too far, it can be overexposed.

But if, for some reason, there isn’t sufficient light passing through, the picture will look noticeably darker than normal. By the way, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture all cooperate to produce an appealing photo as far as exposure is concerned. The problem is that it’s not easy to keep these parameters in balance when their intersection contributes a lot to this aspect of photography. The close connection between them is what coined the term “Exposure Triangle.”

Focal length
Focal length – source


Focal length

Focal length measures how far the lens is from the imaging sensor. It’s typically displayed in millimeters or mm, where larger numbers signify longer focal lengths. To understand how it affects the production of a photo, a short focal length of 24mm, for instance, can help generate a picture with a wide angle of view. Meanwhile, a focal length of 300mm, which is way longer, tends to narrow down the angle of view.

To make the most of a subject, finding the right focal length is key. All you need is to know the verified formula and find out the precise length from the lens to the sensor as well as from the lens to the subject. The type of lens, be it convex or concave, should also be factored into the calculation due to their different natures in bending the rays of light.


This term pertains to aperture because F-stop is a measure of how big the opening of a lens is. F-stop is also widely known as F-number or f/. You can use either of these; it still has the same technical explanation. For instance, an aperture can be written as f/2.8 or f-2/8. The number in either unit denotes the same aperture’s opening.

A camera can also have multiple aperture settings, which are shortened as a range. The lower end of the spectrum (smallest f-stop number) represents the biggest opening out of the bunch, while the upper end (largest f-stop number) represents the smallest opening. They both cause different effects on photos.

Larger apertures let more light in, which increases brightness but decreases the scene in focus. Smaller apertures, on the other hand, produce dimmer images, but they excel at bringing all elements into focus. Due to the risk of overexposure or underexposure, a photographer must control the ISO and shutter speed, which are connected in a way that makes them work together.


Image stabilization

Image stabilization measures the stability of an optical system during the capturing of a picture. Without quality image stabilization, there’s a high chance that an image will end up looking blurry, especially when it involves a lot of hand shake. This is why tripods and gimbals become good companions for photographers because they help eliminate vibrations during filming.

But even when a camera isn’t mounted on any of these accessories, as long as the internal OIS is spot-on, it should have no problem counteracting the micro movement of your hand. This feature goes by various names. Besides OIS, it can also be called VR, VC, Optical Steadyshot, etc. This special technology can be built into the lens or the camera. In lens-based stabilization, a floating lens element is at work, while in the camera-based version, the sensor moves independently to reduce accidental movement. Lens-based delivers swift performance, although it’s out of the question for use with some lenses.


ISO is one integral component of the exposure triangle. This is a standard used in cameras to manage exposure. Adjusting ISO will affect how a photo appears in terms of brightness. When capturing an image in a low-light environment, turning up the ISO to a high level will help you pick up more details. That said, it’s not always ideal to overdo this setting because noise comes as a byproduct.

Increase ISO only when improving brightness using the aperture is not feasible or challenging. ISO helps up to a certain point. Beyond that, grain starts to become a problem. Hence, it’s always better to start with a lower ISO of between 100 and 400. This will give you a crisp image, provided that the lighting is up to par. But if the lighting is poor, pushing ISO to a higher value, like 3200 or higher, can add extra visibility.

Light meter
Light meter – source


Light meter

A light meter is a device for measuring light. They come in two varieties: reflective and incident. An incident light meter calculates all the light that hits a subject. This assists with camera focus irrespective of the brightness of the background. Meanwhile, a reflective light meter only calculates the light that’s reflected from an object.

A light meter is to a shutterbug what a palette is to a painter. It displays essential lighting information, which can be used to find the most appropriate exposure. This device can come to the rescue when the computerized technology in your digicam doesn’t get it right with the light metering.

It’s able to point out if any area in a photo is underexposed or overexposed. This unique ability makes them excellent for landscape photography and portraiture. Of the 2 options, you can use the incident type in the first scenario. There’s no need to get around a location to get accurate readings since one measurement is enough.


Mirrorless camera

A mirrorless camera is a type of digital camera that is devoid of a reflex mirror. It doesn’t have an optical viewfinder. Another distinction is that its sensor receives light all the time. Observing the scene in front of the lens is done through the electronic viewfinder. The EVF has the advantage of simplifying the guesswork out of using the optical counterpart. Mirrorless cameras offer many advantages.

Apart from the fact that they’re lightweight, they’re also quiet in operation. Besides, the absence of a mirror means it’s virtually free of hand shake. Mirrorless cameras have another moniker, MILC. These devices utilize a digital sensor in lieu of a pentaprism and an adjustable mirror. Mirrorless cameras manage to reduce their weight significantly when compared to the average DSLR by removing the two aforementioned components.Their sensor options are also diverse, ranging from APS-C to 1-inch.

Overexposure and
Overexposure and underexposure – source


Overexposure and underexposure

Overexposure is a phenomenon that occurs when there’s too much light coming into the sensor. This causes the sensor to not pick up enough details in the brightest parts of the scene. Underexposure is the opposite of that, which is marked by a lack of details in the darkest areas. A balanced exposure is the key to taking a brilliant photo. It’s the middle ground between both exposures where the scene doesn’t appear too bright or too dark.

While both issues can be fixed in post-processing, it’s always better to avoid them before you hit the shutter button. Even advanced photo-editing software can struggle to retrieve fine details when they’re never there to begin with. Underexposure, if not too bad, might just affect the color saturation, which, surprisingly, would add a nice aesthetic touch to an image. This problem can also be fixed easily by letting more light reach the film plane.



Point-and-shot is often used to describe portable cameras that are easy to operate and have an in-built lens. Qualiy-wise, they are an upgrade over smartphones but less sophisticated than DSLRs. One big point of differentiation is that point-and-shoot cameras don’t use interchangeable lenses, while DSLRs offer them as a fundamental feature.

Due to the compact design, they’ve become a popular choice for shooting on-the-go since they’re easy to tuck into backpacks and other small bags. Although the image quality is generally good, point-and-shoot cameras manage to keep the operation simple, which will relieve stress, especially for novices.

To use it, all you have to do is boot it up, orient it to an object, and then hit the shutter button. These cameras have the advantage of sporting a slim design, having a fixed lens, and having an expansive depth of field. Not only that, they’re also suitable for budget-conscious buyers who think that owning a high-end DSLR is impossible by any stretch of the imagination.

Prime lenses

A prime lens is a lens that comes with a fixed focal length, meaning that you have no option to get in closer to a subject through zooming. To get a better view, you must take a few steps forward or move further away from the object when it’s a bit too close. It may sound counterintuitive when ‘ease of use’ is taken into the equation, but these sorts of lenses make photographers more experimental with their shots.

Why? That’s because they don’t have to rely on automation to get a perfect picture. Other than that, prime lenses also allow more creative freedom with perspectives and angles. Prime lenses normally have a shallow depth of field, resulting in some areas being out of focus. But the ones that are in focus look incredibly sharp because these lenses aren’t susceptible to distortion. Then, prime lenses are great for getting the most out of your exposure, and they come in different sizes.

Shutter speed
Shutter speed – source


Shutter speed

The shutter speed measures the duration of a shutter staying open while capturing an image. It will determine how much light penetrates through the lens and how bright the image will be. The shutter speed is expressed in fractions of a second. If it reads 1/4, then it translates into a duration of a quarter second. Or if it displays 1/500 on the screen, then it means that the shutter opens for one-five-hundredth of a second.

If you choose a low shutter speed, the risk of blur will be high since you will be giving too much time for the light to accumulate. However, it can be put to good use when there isn’t enough ambient light in the environment. A tripod will help hold the camera steady so that the image retains its sharpness. Quite the contrary, a faster shutter speed is useful for freezing fast action in time, like sports photographs.


Telephoto lens

Telephoto lenses distinguish themselves from others with their longer focal lengths. This system allows a tele lens to capture a subject that’s far away from the lens. They are available in prime and zoom models. Another effect these lenses can produce is a narrow field of view.

Just as its name suggests, a telephoto lens can save the day when the subject is at a striking distance from where you’re focusing on the subject. These lenses can be divided into several categories, from medium to super telephoto. The focal length of a medium lens is between 70 and 200mm, while a super telephoto lens has a focal length of over 300mm.



A viewfinder is a small bump located on top of a camera. You put your eye on it to see what’s being photographed. Viewfinders come in two types: EVFs and OVFs. E stands for electronic, while o stands for optical. The purpose of a viewfinder is to provide you with a live view of the scene in front of the lens. It offers many advantages.

First, it discloses vital shooting information along with a live histogram, though it depends on the camera model. Second, any adjustments to the current settings will be displayed on the viewfinder. This system is not perfect, though. Electronic viewfinders drain the battery, not to mention that they can trigger a time delay due to the refresh rate.

In comparison, optical viewfinders, which consist of prisms and mirrors, provide greater clarity and dynamic range. But at the same time, they lag behind in accuracy, knowing that changes to the settings aren’t relayed to the viewfinder.

Wide angle lens
Wide-angle lens – source


Wide-angle lens

A wide-angle lens has a focal length that’s normally shorter than that of a regular variant. For the 35mm system, a wide-angle lens’s focal length would be around 15–35mm, while in a standard lens, the range would go from 40 to 60mm. One unique trait of wide-angle lenses is that they produce images with barrel distortion that appears as bending of straight lines.

On a positive note, these lenses handle landscape photography like nobody’s business, as evidenced by the amount of scenery they can fit in the frame. They’re truly outstanding for highlighting the depth of field when the scene is comprised of multiple elements at varying distances. Photographers like to use wide lenses for taking close-up photos of small spaces. Using this lens allows you to squeeze more subjects into the frame.


Zoom lens

A zoom lens is an interchangeable lens that can be paired with a number of cameras. Those combinations provide similar results for the most part. These lenses come in variable focal lengths, which explains the name. On the whole, these lenses will always have an edge in flexibility over those with fixed focal lengths.

If you don’t want to carry around multiple lenses to shoot under different circumstances, this lens will help. It can take the role of an ultra-telephoto lens, and it can achieve similar results as a wide-angle lens. Since it doesn’t require swapping out lenses to alter the angle of view, this lens feels more practical. It’s a good all-rounder if you don’t have the time to go from one lens to another.

Wrap up

After reading these 25 basic photography terms for beginners, we hope you can pass on the information to your child. Note that some of these terms are difficult to fully grasp without prior knowledge of the mechanics of a camera.

For this reason, you need to teach these terms with them observing the camera and trying out all the controls. It will give them a better understanding of what these terms actually mean and how they relate to camera operation.

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