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  • January 30, 2017
  • 12 min to read

A Quick Guide to the Most Important Terms in Photography

A Quick Guide to the Most Important Terms in Photography

Thanks to the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices, anyone can snap a photo. Becoming a really good photographer, however, used to take a lot of effort in post-processing. There’s a learning curve associated with even the most basic of photo-editing software on the market. To get started, you must understand certain photography terms and see how they are handled in each software package. From there, you need to learn about user settings and how different kinds of sliders work.

Photolemur takes the guesswork out of photo-editing. Our mission, which is based on years of photography experience, is to make the photo-editing process as simple as possible.

We encourage you to review this simple glossary of terms associated with photography. If you don’t want to, that’s okay too. Just use Photolemur instead.

Photography terms

Not surprisingly, Black is the darkest color available. By definition, black means there is an absence or a complete absorption of light.

In photography, you shouldn’t confuse blacks with Shadows. The former targets a wider range of the darker parts in a photo and adjusts the brightness of them. It does so without affecting the brighter parts of the picture.

By contrast, shadows refers to a wide range of light intensity conditions. An object creates a shadow by intercepting light from a light source.

Clarify makes your photos look more three-dimensional and crisp. Unlike sharpness, which is similar, clarity applies to a larger radius. Clarity tools in photography deal with an image’s mid-tone colors, making them more distinct. In doing so, the image details pop.

Color Temperature are measured in Kelvin and best defined as the intensity of the light source. The smaller the number, the warmer the color. Cool colors have color temperatures over 5,000 K, while lower color temperatures (2,700–3,000 K) are called warm colors.

Kelvin is a unit of measure for temperature that’s based on an absolute scare. Unlike the degree Fahrenheit and degree Celsius, the kelvin is not referred to as a degree. It’s the primary unit of measurement in the physical sciences. By definition, absolute zero (0 K) is equivalent to −273.15 °C (−459.67 °F).

The color theory explains that a Tint is the mixture of a color with white, which increases its lightness. A tint contrasts with a shade, which is a combination of a color with black, which decreases its brightness. Whether a tint or shade, mixing a color with any neutral color (including black, gray, and white), reduces the chroma, or colorfulness. There’s no change to the hue, however, which relates to an object's pure color. Not surprisingly, orange and red usually define a warm tint, just as a bluish tint represents something that is cool.

In general terms, major color corrections are typically done using a color temperature slider, while you use a tint slider for minor adjustments.

Contrast is the scale difference between black and white in your images. Without contrast, you wouldn't see anything other than black, white, or a single shade of gray.

High Contrast features dark shadows and bright highlights. Think bold colors and emphasized texture. A Low Contrast image, by comparison, looks flat or dull, with muted colors.

Landscape scenes are very popular in photography. Unfortunately, when the sun moves behind your subject, you need to be careful of hazing. A little bit of haze looks nice. Too much haze, however, makes for an unforgiving image that needs to be corrected.

Dehazing tools in photo-editing remove the dark look associated with some photos. In doing so, details once covered by the haze take on an added importance.

A Diffusing tool adds the look of soft, ambient lighting to your photo. It's an easy way to tone down vibrancy, thereby pushing it in different directions.

With Distortion, you can add some deformation to an image, either lightly or very noticeably. Optical distortion happens by the optical design of the lens. By contrast, perspective distortion is caused by the position of the camera and the subject or by the position of the subject within the image frame.

Exposure Compensation might sound like a clunky term, but it’s critical for amateur and professional photographers alike.

Though exposure compensation can address both the darkening and lighting of a photo, it’s typically used to make dark images brighter. As a photographer, exposure compensation gives you leverage to fine-tune your exposure to take images in low-light or high-contrast scenes.

Fringing is a simulation tool many photographers turn to give images a dizzying effect. In doing so, different color channels are used to make the picture look as though the camera was shaking.

Just as folks like to add Highlights to their hair, photographers like to do the same with images. Highlight adjustments change the maximum brightness of your photo. As a result, you can remove or lessen areas where your image is too bright, overexposure, or has a loss of details. Think of highlights as a dimmer switch you can turn up and down.

Whites Control is similar to highlights, except it deals with a wider range of the brighter parts of the photo. Here, you can adjust vast areas of bright scenery and objects without affecting the darker parts.

HSL stands for hue, saturation, and lightness. HSL tools allow you to isolate an individual color in an image and make it better. For example, thanks to HSL, you can make blues in a sky bluer, or reds a lot redder. Most HSL tools also give you the ability to change a color altogether into something else.

Hue relates to an object's pure color, while Saturation deals with the overall color scheme of your image. As you increase the saturation in a picture, you brighten and deepen the color in the photo. When decreasing the saturation, you remove the depth and deepness. Lightness is a combination of contrast and brightness

An Image Sharpening tool emphasizes texture and drawing viewer focus. It’s a mix of two factors: Resolution and Acutance. The former is just the size, in pixels, of the image file. The more pixels you have, the higher the resolution, and the sharper the image.

Acutance is a subjective measure of the contrast at an edge. You can’t measure acutance. Instead, you either think an edge has contrast, or it doesn’t.

Split-Toning adds two different colors to highlights and shadows of a photograph. Split-toning shouldn’t be confused with toning, which is the addition of just a single color to an image.

Vibrance is saturation light. Increasing a photo's vibrancy adds some pop to colors in areas that have weak saturation, while those in areas with high saturation levels remain unaffected.

Finally, in photography, vignetting is the reduction of an image’s brightness or saturation at the outer limits, as opposed to the center. Though camera settings sometimes cause this, it’s sometimes deliberate to draw attention to the center of the frame.

There are hundreds of different photo-editing tools available across multiple platforms and devices. Knowing important terms in photography will go a long way in making you a better photographer.


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