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Common Photography Terms and What They Mean


When you hear photographers talking together you’ll hear a lot of terms like ISO, depth of field, aperture, and shutter speed. What do these terms mean? And how can they make your photos look better? Well have no fear, these terms are not hard to understand at all! They are just surrounded with a lot of tech jargon which makes them much more difficult to grasp easily; it’ll be easy to clear all those terms up!


ISO is an easy one to understand! ISO simply refers to how sensitive your camera is to light. Back in the day, this referred to the type of film that was used. Now it’s just a series of digital settings. 100 ISO is the default setting; 100 is a lower ISO setting.

3200 ISO would be used for much darker shots, especially ones taken at dusk. When you raise the ISO you let in more light, but the picture will look a little fuzzier because of all the light that is coming in. You have to experiment with those settings a lot to get them just right.


Aperture is exactly what it sounds like: how wide the camera hole is. It is measure in f-stops; for example f/5.6, f/2, and f/1.4. Large f-stop numbers have smaller apertures; for example f/5.6 is MUCH smaller than f/1.4. Why would you want to do this? I’m so glad you asked! I could list tons of reasons, but there really is one main one: your depth of focus.

When you have a very small aperture, you will have a very narrow depth of focus, but whatever is in the MIDDLE of your shot and far away will be in focus. Wider apertures means that you can get a very wide shot, but only what is close up and in the middle will be in focus. Wide aperture is how people get shots where something very close up is in focus but the background is blurred.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how long your shutter is open, measure in fractions of a second. Standard is 1/60 seconds, but you can go for faster (1/1000) or slower (1 second). The problem you’ll run into here is that on slower speeds you can get a lot of blur as your hands move slightly; therefore you’ll need a tripod! You’ll use this setting in two types of situations.

Use a really fast speed when capturing a still action shot, such as hummingbird wings or someone surfing. This “freezes” the drops of water or the wings of the bird. Use slow speeds during low-movement, low-light settings. This is how people getting stunning pictures of the Milky Way Galaxy or “car trails” at night.

All of these take some practice! And each affects the other. For example, you can tune your photo using a combination of ISO and aperture, and leaving the shutter speed the same. It’s just like learning a new instrument from Wind Plays: it takes practice!

Updated: January 6, 2017 — 1:39 pm
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