A Beginner’s guide to photographic terms Part 1

In Master Photography Roundtable by Brent Bergherm2 Comments

Let’s get into today’s main topic. Defining photography jargon. I’ve written down some starting points here to get us started, but I really like having the three of us on to each provide our own perspective. Also, these are in no particular order.

  1. Stop, or Stops or f-stop
    1. Quite literally comes from the idea of the aperture ring on older cameras that would click into place. The shutter speed setting is the same idea.
    2. Each stop more allows for 2x the amount of light as the previous setting. Each stop less chops the quantity of light in half from the previous setting.
    3. Levi, give an example of a shutter speed setting and changing things in stops.
    4. Jenna, give an example of an aperture setting and changing things in stops.
    5. Brent, talk about ISO
    6. Stretching it a bit, due to the doubling of the light quantity with each step we’re dealing with a logarithmic scale. The settings don’t necessarily draw your attention to this, but when you stop to think that 3 stops more light is actually 8x in quantity, and 4 stops more is 16x the original quantity, that’s often mind boggling to the beginner.
  2. Exposure Triangle
    1. We just talked about it. Just another way to refer to the three main settings on a camera that controls exposure.
  3. Histogram, Levi, start us off
    1. A visual representation of luminance (brightness) value distribution. Or said another way, it’s a graph that shows the relative presence of tonal values from solid black to solid white.
  4. Expose to the Right (Jenna, Start us off)
    1. The practice of exposing the scene with highlights in mind, allowing the histogram to show more brighter values than might otherwise be done. In short, to over expose the scene slightly, or to compensate for bright objects in the scene and the histogram is spiking or showing a greater presence of brighter tonal values.
  5. Expose to the Left (Levi, Start us off)
    1. The practice of exposing the scene with shadows in mind, allowing the histogram to show more darker values than might otherwise be done. In short, to under-expose the scene slightly, or to compensate for dark objects in the scene and the histogram is spiking or showing a greater presence of darker tonal values.
  6. Lighting
    1. Clamshell (Levi)
      1. A lighting method for portraits where the light sources are positioned above and below the person’s face. Usually done with head shots. The camera is positioned between the light sources. This results in a fairly even lighting on the face. The bottom light is often set about a stop under the top light, but varying lighting ratios are done to accomplish whatever look you’re going for. The bottom light can also be a reflector instead of another light source.
    2. Rembrandt (Jenna)
      1. A lighting style for portraits popularized by Dutch artist Rembrandt. The scene is generally dark and moody and the light source is directional and coming from one side. Using a softer light source can help give shape and dimension to the face but it can’t be completely diffused since we need the moodiness created by the shadows.
  7. Back Button Focus (Brent)
    1. A camera setting which disables the Auto Focus from the shutter button and places it on a button that is near your thumb. By separating the AF function from the shutter button you are able to enhance your shooting experience since the camera won’t try to achieve focus every time you press the button. A great feature for landscape imagery, and sports photographers like it too for the ability to track a subject and not have to worry about being delicate on the shutter button.


Brent: X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Photo 2 ($119) For perfect color in camera.

Jenna: YONGNUO RF-602/C 2.4GHz Wireless Remote Control.

Levi: new lensbaby 



  1. Great show, great episode… I love the variety of topics that you cover on the podcast.

    Regarding back button focus, it’s not for everyone and every situation. Even so, here’s why I use it exclusively.

    I’m primarily a wildlife and sports and aircraft photographer: action shots are my usual goal. I always have my camera set up for continuous autofocus using the back button, even when I’m shooting other subjects that aren’t moving.

    For wildlife, when I spot an animal, usually a bird, I stand still and wait for it to move to a particular pose or to come out from behind a branch or tree or other obstruction. I focus, then wait for the shot. I don’t want my lens to try to reacquire focus when I press the shutter button because it could delay the shot or accidentally focus on something else in the scene. Sometimes there are branches between me and the subject. Then I manually focus on the subject, leaving my camera in autofocus mode. Again I don’t want the lens to refocus when I press the shutter button. For birds in flight, I follow the subject with the back button held down, then fire the shutter when I get the composition that I want. I use the same technique when shooting my son’s sporting events, or moving aircraft.

    Sometimes I shoot motorcycles by focusing on a spot in the road and waiting for the motorcycle to enter the scene. Again, no refocus wanted. Sometimes I use the focus/recompose technique. Easy to focus, let go of the all buttons, recompose, then fire the shutter.

    And because action is what I shoot most often, I just set my camera up for back button focus and leave it that way. I’m used to it now, and it works fine for other subjects too, which is good because I get really confused when I try to switch back to shutter button focus.

    Each individual photographer should do what works for that photographer; this is what works for me.

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