Portrait Photography

Photography Glossary

You can download and print the photography glossary here


This refers to photography (usually close-up) that renders the subject larger than it was in real life. In the old days of film it meant the image on the negative would be the actual size or larger than the subject. Most modern digital compacts have a macro setting on them, which allows you to focus on an object that is closer to you than arms-length. For SLR cameras you can buy macro lenses or extension tubes.


Optical zoom is created by a lens that can be adjusted from one focal length to another, for example from wide angle to tele photo.
Digital zoom is a function of a digital camera that enlarges the image to make it seem closer. This type of zoom will result in a loss of quality and image resolution.


Is an adjustable three-legged stand to attach your camera to for holding it steady during long exposures or to maintain a constant background.

Focus lock/ exposure lock

If your subject is positioned to the edges of your frame you may have trouble getting your camera to focus on it/him/her unless you have manual focus, which most digital compacts do not. What most digital cameras do have is a two-stage shutter button. When you press it down halfway, it sets focus and exposure (it may beep or illuminate a lamp to indicate this) then you press it all the way down to take the picture. If you don't release the shutter button after achieving focus lock you can then point the camera anywhere else and the settings remain unchanged. This lets you set the focus on a specific part of the setup while still being able to frame your shot the way you want.


ISO indicates how sensitive a sensor (or originally film) is to light, and stands for International Standards Organisation. The higher the ISO number the greater the sensitivity of your sensor or film.


This is the amount of light energy that reaches the sensor or film during the taking of a photograph. If a shot is over exposed it appears too bright and if under exposed it will appear too dark. As with most things in photography, the ‘correct’ exposure is the one that gives the photographer the effect he or she wants.


A reflector is a reflective surface that is used to redirect light towards your subject. You can buy specialist reflectors or make your own from any reflective material such as a piece of white card (note that colour will also be reflected if you use a piece of coloured card!)

White balance

This is a way of controlling the colour of lightin order to make white objects appear white in photos. White balance does this by adding a compensating filter which will vary depending on the colour of the light source. Most digital cameras will have a function that allows you to set the white balance to a variety of settings such as tungsten, daylight, fluorescent, etc.

Elements of composition

This refers to the different compositional elements that can be used in a photograph such as pattern, texture, line, shape, balance, perspective, scale, viewpoint, etc. They are like different ingredients and generally not all used at once.

Stops / F-stops

A means of measuring how much light passes through the lens opening or aperture. Each f-stop represents either half or double the amount of light from the number after or before.
Smaller numbers in an f-stop correspond to wider lens openings and therefore more light.
Larger numbers correspond to a smaller opening and therefore less light.

Hard or directional lighting

This is light coming from a source that's small compared to the subject, it casts hard shadows and has high contrast. Outdoors you see this light on a bright sunny day.

Soft or non-directional lighting

This can also be called diffused lighting. The light source is large compared to the subject and therefore light falls from many directions. Soft light is defined by the gradual transition from light to shade and soft edged shadows.

Exposure compensation

This is a way of adjusting the automatic exposure by telling the camera to allow more or less light in than it has set automatically. Most cameras have a control to over (+) or under (-) expose by 2 stops which is usually enough to compensate for most situations when the camera’s system would be unsatisfactory.

Colour of light (colour temperature)

Colour temperature describes how cool or warm the light source appears. It is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). The colour of your light source can affect the appearance of your images and can be controlled by making adjustments to the white balance.

Permission forms

Also known as a model release form or a photography consent form, these are generally only needed if you are going to sell work commercially and if a person is your main subject in the photograph. These forms will usually lay out the terms under which the image can be used which your model/subject will sign agreement to.

Photography permits

Some public places such as galleries, museums, buildings of historical interest, etc., will require you to sign a form saying that you will not use your photographs commercially. Other places will not allow photography at all. Telephone ahead if possible to find out what to expect.