Photography Dictionary

The Cynic’s Photography Dictionary
Aberration – According to the photographer, something wrong with the lens. A classic case of pot calling kettle.

Aberration – Something that is wrong with the lens by design, as opposed to something wrong with the lens by accident of assembly or use.

Aperture – The opening of a lens, identified by a number that gets larger as it gets smaller.

Artist, (Real) – Someone whose images are sold for horrendous amounts of money, usually after his/her decease

Artist (Successful)  – A person who creates something from nothing, marks it up 1000%, charges usage rights and repeatedly sells it to clients.

Autofocus – An automated generated focus error.


Barrel Distortion – A defect that used to be absent from good wide angle lenses but has now reappeared, thanks to the availability of computers.

Bokeh – the look of the picture in the parts where you can’t tell what you’re looking at.

Build Quality – How heavy the metal barrel, on the outside of all the important parts of the lens, is. For example, any lens weighing more than 2 pounds has great build quality.

Burst Mode – Paparazzi in a button

Camera – The part built into a cellphone that takes pictures.

Camera (Good) – Seldom seem currently, a pocket-sized device that takes pictures, yet cannot make calls or surf the Internet.

Camera (Great – DSLR) – Preferably with grip and large lens. ‘That’s a big camera – bet it takes great pictures!’ See also, Greatness Quotient.

Camera Bag – A term found in the lexicon, but never in actual use, as nobody has only one.

Circle of Confusion
1. The area defined as any where within a a ten foot radius of the photographer.
2. An area defined as within arms reach of my desk.

Clients – Your greatest desire and your worst nightmare

Corner – The edges of an image, generally known for lower image quality.  They begin at the 4 points furthest from the center of the image and, depending upon the equipment and photographer, comprises between 20% and 100% of the image.

Cost Factor – A multiplier, usually between 1.1 and 2.0, that is applied to the cost of a new camera to determine the true cost, once you factor in the offsetting gift to the wife necessary to gain acceptance after having purchased said new camera. When applying a cost factor before purchasing a new camera, the value can range from 1.0 to Infinity, depending on whether or not the wife will recognize a new camera in use within the first few months after purchase.

Creative Cloud – A method by which Adobe can continue to take your money forever after they have run out of ideas for new features that you need.

Creative effect – A substitute for creative effort


Decentered – An image showing very poor quality. This is usually assumed to be caused by the equipment mounted to the front of the camera, but is often actually caused by what is behind the camera. See also, Sample Variation

Depth of field (abbr. DoF) –
1) something you absolutely must have in landscape, aerial, street, or macro photography;
2) something to avoid at all cost in any other photograph, especially when you only want one of the eyelashes of a person in sharp focus, or if you want to “isolate” your subject and thus, remove any hint of where the image was taken. Is *not* directly related to sensor size, as common belief would have it. See also: circle of confusion, manliness.

Depth of Field – The part of an image that is in best focus, traditionally placed just in front of, or just behind, the subject. See also, Autofocus.

Diffraction – Physical phenomena used to excuse any soft landscape image.

Digital Rebel – Minimum required equipment to be a professional portrait or wedding photographer (See SMWC – Soccer Mom with a Camera).

Equivalence – Mathematical formula that allows the photographer to theoretically understand the relationships between the camera’s sensor size, lens’ focal length and aperture, and photographer’s manhood. The equivalence definition is needed after the comment “My sensor is bigger than yours”.

Exposure – When clients offer you to kiss their ass as compensation.


Fanboy – What the owners of one brand call the owners of another when a new camera comes out.
Film – Magical plastic strip capable of producing images when voodoo is performed upon it in a dark room.

Film Camera – A tool used by professionals to capture candid moments so as to be dismissed as an amatuer by the general public.

Fisheye lens – Specialty lens that seemed like a good idea just long enough for you to buy one.

Flash – Device that enables photographers to remove any atmosphere from the lighting in a photograph.


Genre – Broad categories of photography such as landscape, action, glamour, wildlife, and portrait, all of which taken together are less common than the most popular genre, the ‘selfie’.

Golden hour – The two times of the day when landscape photographer have a good excuse to ditch the family and get some alone time with a good beer while on vacation.

Greatness Quotient – Factor to apply based on the weight of the camera gear used to take a picture. The bigger the gear, the better the picture that will automatically come out of it.


High Dynamic Range (abbrev. “HDR”) – A way to produce images that make you think you’ve taken LSD, thereby eliminating the risk of actually ingesting it.

Hipster – A person with some one else’s money and even less sense.

Histogram – A graphic representation of the camera’s or photographer’s ability to set the exposure

Hyperfocal  – Complex calculations to make sure the background is as blurry as the foreground.

Hyperfocal Distance — Neither here nor there.

Hyperfocal Distance – Your focal length is too long like when you want to get a wide angle shot and you have your telephoto lens on.

Hyperfocal distance – The distance to focus on to get everything important in your image soft.


Image Stabilization – a technologic triumph consisting of lenses, magnets, position sensors, springs, and electric motors that is nearly as effective as 3 sticks of wood attached to a base plate. See also, Tripod.

In Spec – Slang term meaning both ‘we can’t make it any better before we go on break’ and ‘you probably can’t tell the difference anyway’.

Instagram – A set of filters or actions regarded with complete disdain by the photographic community because they are not available as Photoshop plug-ins.
ISO –A rating of sensitivity. For example, some people judge cameras by how well they take pictures without light. Such people are very sensitive about how they will take pictures in the dark. Naturally, they do not say what they are taking pictures of.


Leica glow
1) circular red device used to invisibly enhance pictures.
2) nostalgia syndrome observed in users of technically perfect lens. See : spherical aberration

Lens Cap – The part of a lens that immediately gets lost.

Lens cap – A plastic disc used to cover & protect the external glass element of a lens. Only ever in place to protect the lens while inside of a lined, padded, protective case; never in place during actual use when the lens is being swung about, bashed, dropped, etc. Only problem is, if it were in place whilst the lens is in use then you would only ever be taking one picture over and over and it would be solid black…this however would greatly lessen the need to learn anything at all about aperature, shutter speed, and ISO.

Lens Coating — What happens when a lens gets too close to a happy Labrador.

Lens Coating —  thin layers of of substances applied to clear glass that makes it clearer. In the 1600s people were burned at the stake for claiming things like this

Lens Hood – The part of a lens that so inconveniently blocks the zoom function when kept in the most convenient (reversed) position.

Lomo – The photographic contents of the Recycle Bin.


Magic Lantern – Incredible software that causes extreme panic anytime your camera does something you don’t expect it to – usually user error like locking the remote trigger shutter release in the ‘on’ position.

Manliness – To own the biggest possible camera with the longest affordable lenses, carried by at least one mule and two assistants who also hold light stands and reflectors. See also: shooting

Minimum Focal Distance – How close an object may be to the front of the lens, yet still be in focus. Historically of importance for macro photography, but today used to make certain arm’s-length ‘Selfies’ are in focus.


Natural light – Term used when taking indoor photos by people who don’t know how to use flash.

ND filter – After spending an extra $2000 for the lens that lets in more light, add this filter to drastically reduce the amount of light that gets in.

Phase Detection Autofocus – a method to approximately put the plane of focus somewhere near an object approximately selected by a point in the viewfinder that approximates the location of a dedicated sensor in the camera which is approximately calibrated to the camera’s image sensor. See also, Depth of Field.

Photographer (Aspiring Professional) – One who trades their work product for exposure/recognition. (See Tear Sheet.)

Photographer  (Artist, self-imposed) – someone whose images are too bad to being sold

Photographer  (Knipser (German))
1) everyone else who doesn’t fit into any of the previous categories;
2) owners of Instamatic cameras;
3) newbies, hobbyists, amateurs;
4) you & me

Photographer  (Professional/commercial) – Someone who is actually paid to take a photo

Photographer  (Professional) – Person that takes photos for financial gain as opposed to trading photos for exposure/recognition (See Tear Sheet).

Photographer  (SMWC: Soccer Mom with a Camera)
(See professional children’s portrait photographer).

Photographer  (Starving Artist) – A person with a creative disposition with no business skills

Photography (Action) – The use of very large, expensive lenses to make rapidly moving objects appear immobile.

Photographer  (Ambient Light ) – Photographer without a clue as to how to use flash or off-camera lighting (See SMWC – Soccer Mom with a Camera).

Photographer  (Nature) – Found mostly in parks or zoos, also frequently seen parked along “Wildlife Drive” in many Wildlife reserves taking photos out their 4×4 SUV’s window. (See Cades Cove Loop road).

Photography (Architectural) – The art of pointing a camera in front of you when a building is present

Photography (Glamour) – A type of photography practiced by many and mastered by few, with the purpose of creating images of creatures not found in nature.

Photography (Landscape) – The art of pointing a camera in front of you when a building is not present

Photography (Portrait) – The art of pointing a camera in front of you when a person is present

Photography (Wedding) – A complex form of photography that consists of first of making hysterical people appear calm and joyous, and later making sloppy-drunk people appear pleasantly tipsy. The purpose is to create a beautiful album of images that statistically has a 54% chance of being ripped into little pieces within 5 years.

Photography Workshop – A presentation where one photographer with minimal skills and abilities reiterates basic and commonly known photographic information to other minimally skilled photographers for a fee. (See redistribution of wealth.)

Photoshop – Suite of digital photographic tools used to make a poorly made photograph appear to be a well made photograph. (See turd polishing).

Pinterest, Flickr, Facebook, et al – Online locations where photographers upload and display their photos for others to steal and claim them as their own.

Pixel Envy – The desire for more pixels by photographers lacking resolution.

Pop-up Flash – a device added to smaller cameras to make them bigger, camera manufactures go to a lot of effort to make sure that the pop-up flash is close enough to the lens axis to allow photographers to achieve a technique called Redeye. Also see Flash.


Render – Just a general term to confuse people but make you look smart

Render – Cute little animals that pull Santa’s sleigh.

Render – from the German ‘Render’. Something an expensive lens is said to do, especially when it doesn’t do anything else exceptionally well.

Resolution – Learning to live with the pixels you have once you have realized that there will always be a newer camera that has more pixels than the one you currently own. (See Pixel envy)

Rule of Thirds – A painters’ conspiracy to prevent photographers from learning composition.

Rules of composition – A set of reasons to easily describe, in a polite way, why someone’s photograph sucks.


Sample Variation – The difference between this photographer and that photographer. Is often incorrectly applied to equipment.

Sample Variation – The difference between this lens and that lens, even though both of them are the same lens.

Sensor – The device that actually takes an image. Its most important attribute is the number of megapixels unless yours has fewer, in which case dynamic range, high ISO performance, microlens effectiveness, color accuracy, and other characteristics are more notable.

Sharpness – The amount of fine detail visible in an image before it is compressed to 1/10th its original size to post online.

Shutter – The last line of defense against your next photographic failure.

Silence – The response of many wives and at least one camera company when an obvious problem arises.

(1) versatile photograhpical unit that measures time, aperture or sensor (film) sensitivity, separately or sometimes combined. See Equivalence.
(2) The last word the photographer might hear from his wife before buying new equipment. It is usually followed by Silence.

Stop Down – To move the f-number up.


Tear sheet – Fictional item of value used to barter for free use of photos in a publication, advertisement or on a website. The target photos are usually taken by the unsuspecting or naive photographer.

Technique – The methods that let someone else make pictures I couldn’t afford to buy, using equipment that I would throw away, and vice versa.

Theft Deterrent – The use of electrical tape to cover the manufacturer’s name on a DSLR to cause thieves to not recognize it as expensive and worth stealing.

Tripod — A stabilizing device with three legs that everyone agrees would improve the sharpness of images taken by others. See also, Image Stabilization.

Tone Mapping – Easy-bake method for getting a nifty “paint by numbers” look from one’s $1,500 full frame Nikon body.


Uncle Bob – A person with too much money and not enough sense.

UV Filter – A piece of glass over the front element to prevent it from getting sunbured. So far, 100% effective.

UV/protection filter – A triumph of marketing over common sense.


Velvia 50 – Alternative pronunciation of Garish.

Viewfinder – Unlike those silly mirrorless cameras, this allows you to see the image exactly how the sensor will see it. Well, 95% of it at least. And with the wrong aperture.

Vignette — A technique used by lens designers to make the image very dark in the places where the lens is very bad, based on the principle that if things are dark enough you won’t notice how bad they are.


Weather resistant – A term that consumers falsely define as ‘weather proof’ and camera companies accurately define as ‘the warranty doesn’t cover water damage’.

Wide angle prime DX lens – An elusive dream. See unicorns and Santa Claus.



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