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Talk Like a Photographer: 17 Terms You Should Know

by Jeff Bartlett Dec 3, 2012
Matador staff writer Jeff Bartlett helps build your photographer vocabulary.

As a freelance photographer and writer, I’m caught between two distinct groups. Whenever I meet up with fellow writers to talk about our craft, we speak in plain English. Our sentences are concise. Our ideas are conveyed without abbreviations or acronyms.

When I get together with other photographers, we speak another language. Perhaps it’s fitting, too, because photography is an artistic craft so reliant on technological advances that we often feel like equal parts artist and engineer. It seems natural that we’d use some specialized terms:

Bokeh – Technically, bokeh is “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light,” but photographers usually only use the term to describe the appealing polygonal or round out-of-focus light created by wide-open glass.

Bonocored – Matador staff writer Kate Siobhan Havercroft asked me to include this term, even though I’ve never heard it before. Bonocoreing seems to be a balance between an uncle bob (see below) and a photobomb. Essentially, it’s when you inadvertently walk into someone else’s shot. That’s the main meaning, but Kate uses if for any photographic screw-up, from leaving her lens cap on to having a dead battery. I can’t help but wonder what happened when she worked with Michael Bonocore.

Chimping – While there’s little harm in taking a test exposure and reviewing it on the camera’s LCD screen, be wary of photographers who check every single exposure. They’re chimping, and the habit will make them miss more than the occasional shot.

CTO – CTO is an abbreviation for “color temperature orange.” It’s the color of gel that comes with nearly all hot-shoe flashes, and its standard purpose is to color-correct the flash to match incandescent lighting.

Double truck – Magazines pay freelance photographers based on the printed size of an image. A double truck earns the most because it covers an entire two-page spread.

Dragging shutter – When a slow shutter speed is used along with a flash, it’s referred to as “dragging the shutter.” The benefit is that it creates a natural-looking image by allowing ambient light into the background, while the flash lights the subject.

Dust bunnies – DSLR sensors get dirty, especially when changing lenses outside in poor weather conditions. The resulting dust bunnies on the sensor turn into dark splotchy marks on every photo, which then must be digitally removed.

Fast glass – Photographers say “glass” instead of “lens.” Fast glass refers to any lenses with an f/2.8 or wider aperture. When these lenses are shot at their widest aperture, they’re “wide open.”

Gobo – The acronym for “goes between optics,” a gobo is any object used to control the shape of light from its source. In Hot Shoe Diaries, Joe McNally describes how to use a number of different gobos, including soft boxes, barn doors, umbrellas, and gaffer tape.

Grip and grin – The bane of event photographers, grip and grin photography is as uninspiring as it gets. It’s literally as simple as having your subjects squeeze close together and smile for the camera.

Noise – A term that’s held over from the film era, noise is the grain that appears in high-ISO photographs.

Pixel peeper – Often found in online photography forums discussing the benefits of a FX camera sensor, rather than behind the lens making images, a pixel peeper is the Photoshop geek who opens an image file and immediately zooms into 600% to determine the image quality.

Racked out – A zoom lens is racked out at its longest focal length.

Soft focus – This term is pure photographer BS. It’s usually used to describe an image that isn’t sharp but is submitted to a client out of necessity.

Spray and pray – With experience, photographers become adept at capturing the moment. Beginners, especially beginner sports photographers, will spray at 8fps and pray to catch the critical moment.

Uncle bob – Although it is rarely the bride’s actual uncle, there’s an Uncle Bob at every wedding, easily identified by two traits: they’re constantly between the photographer and his/her subject, and they’re wielding an outdated camera with a popup flash set on full power.

Zeroed – Zeroing a camera is as easy as returning it to its default settings — lowering its ISO, resetting the WB, and dialing in neutral exposure compensation. It’s a good habit to do at the end of every shoot, so that the camera is ready to go for the next session.

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