How to Talk Camera in 5 Minutes or Less

photography tips

Going to a photo gallery opening? Want to impress your new art major girlfriend? Or just want to sound cool when conversing with friends? Check out my quick guide for camera terms!

Lens: This one is easy. It’s that piece of glass that is attached to your camera. A Zoom Lensis simply one that zooms in and out so you can crop how much of the scene that you want to be in the frame. A Prime Lens just means that it cannot zoom because the focal length is fixed and unmoving. How to use it in a sentence: “Wow, nice prime lens! I bet that shoots so sharp!” 

Exposure: This word means how much light is being exposed in a photograph. How do you know when a photo is overexposed (too much light is being let in the camera, so it’s too dark), underexposed (not enough light is being let in, so it’s too bright) or the correct exposure? Well, it’s a good exposure when you can still make out details in the shadow areas and in the highlight areas.

But please note that photographers use the word “exposure” interchangeably. Some variations: “I just took an exposure of that tree, and boy does it look great!” “Ugh, I’m so annoyed because my camera keeps overexposing the sky. I’ll have to bring up the shadows in Photoshop.”

Focus: What can be clearly and sharply seen in the photo. The out of focus area is affectionately called bokeh and can deliver some beautiful results (see my other post about bokeh here). How to use it in a sentence: “Just got some great bokeh from shooting really shallow!”

Shutter Speed: To take a photograph, the camera opens its shutter and then closes it again. The term shutter speed refers to how quickly or slowly the camera does that (and modern cameras can do it really fast—up to 4,000th of a second!) Common shutter speeds could be anywhere from 1/250th of a second or all the way up to 15 seconds for a photo taken at night!

Aperture: It can also be called an F-stop. The aperture works together with the shutter speed to create a photo. How big or small of aperture you use to execute a photograph will determine two things: 1) how much light is let into the photo and 2) how much is in focus.

An aperture such as f/16 or f/22 is a very small opening, so not much light would be let in (called underexposing). You would need to leave the shutter open for a lot longer so enough light would enter into the camera. The reverse (having an aperture of, say, f/2.8) would be a big opening and much more light would be let in, so the shutter would be faster because the camera would not need to be open nearly as long to let in enough light. Use it in a sentence: “Looks like I need to adjust my shutter speed to a bit slower so I can capture the detail in those shadow areas.”

Making sense yet? There’s just a few more to go, and you’ll be a camera expert!

Depth of Field: It sounds crazy, but actually how open your aperture is will determine how much depth is in focus. If you want everything in focus, use an aperture of f/16 or f/22. If you want just a little bit in focus (creating bokeh!) use, say, f/2.8 or f/1.4.

ISO: It determines how sensitive your camera is to light. How to use it in a sentence: “I better turn my ISO down before my shot gets too grainy!”

White balance: It determines how warm or cold your photo is. Now, I know what you’re thinking: How can a photo have a temperature?! But it does! Warm means it is a bit too yellow, and cold is too blue. This can be easily adjusted in Photoshop. Use it in a sentence: “Wow, the sun is so bright today that all of my shots are turning out really warm!”

I hope that helped you with some camera terminology! If all else fails, just say, “Are you Nikon or Cannon?” and the photographer will talk for at least fifteen minutes about their preference, so just nod along and you’ll be in the clear.