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Vocabulary Terms for the Frustrated Photographer

New photographers, and many experienced ones, occasionally struggle with terminology. Here are some of the more common terms defined. Well, sort of.

Circle of confusion — the inevitable quandy as to why your images don't come out the way you want. Surely, it's not your fault, so it must be your camera, or your lens. When you ask other photographers in your circle, they're as confused as you are, having similar problems themselves. It would seem everyone is in the same boat.

Tripod — An immense weight intended as punishment for photographers who are forced to carry their tripod up a hill, only to have to carry it back down once they reach the top. No one knows why.

Bokeh — A typographical error in an early book about soft focus backgrounds in photography that no one was ever willing to admit was a mistake, so they made up a cover story to pretend the use of the term was intentional. Don't be silly even asking. Everyone knows what bokeh means. Just look at that bokeh.

Depth of Field — The amount of vegetation in a field. Some fields are just too deep to walk through no matter what the shot. Do yourself a favor and walk around the field. Those who insist on wading their way into the middle of the field are said to be "hyperfocal."

Exposure Compensation — A slang term for sunscreen lotion. Remember kids, it can get awful hot out there. Don't get over-exposed and end up with sunburn. Use something to compensate for the hot sun.

Prime Lens — A lens you got free shipping on from Amazon. Although they do make you buy an annual Prime membership. And they are killing local retail camera stores, but I digress. By the way, if you get to Amazon to buy your next lens by clicking on one of their logos scattered throughout the site, you can help support Earthbound Light through their affiliate program. Gotta love that Amazon.

Chromatic Aberration — A slight mental quirkiness that comes from being a photographer. Try your hand at it long enough, and you will probably end up as a somewhat colorful character. Euphemistically, such photographers are said to be suffering from a "chromatic aberration."

Neutral Density — Having no opinion one way or the other on the use of filters that seem to do nothing other than darken the frame.

Hot Shoe — What each of your feet feel like they're wearing at the end of a long day's hike loaded up with camera gear. I mean, what we won't do for our love of photography, right?

Light Meter — What you use to measure exposure. Virtually all cameras come with a built-in light meter, freeing photographers from having to carry around a heavy meter. Personally, I much prefer a light meter to a heavy one.

Resolution — A firm commitment, often made at the start of a new year, to buy a new camera with a better sensor. It is to be understood that making such a resolution doesn't mean you will necessarily follow through with it and actually buy a new camera. Just keep telling yourself that it's the photographer who takes the pictures, not the camera. Yea, that always works.

Noise — The sound made by your family or other traveling companions as they grow increasingly annoyed at how long it takes you to shoot the picture. If they really love you, they'll accept you as you are. Hopefully.

Crop Factor — A measure of how many stalks of wheat (or other crops) you can see for a given focal length. The result depends on the physical size of the camera sensor since smaller sensors need fewer calories to operate and thus require less wheat.

View Finder — One of a widely deployed system of roadside markers or signs in National Parks and other photogenic locations indicating the presence of a scenic vista. Such signs serve as view finders, notices inviting you to pull over and get out your camera. Employing the point of view of one standing next to one of these signs is termed "looking through" the view finder.

ISO — an international standard acronym for "In Search Of,' referring to the never-ending search for the perfect film speed. Shoot at an ISO speed that is too slow and you might not have enough light to render a good image before a slight breeze causes motion blur to spoil things. Crank up the ISO too high and shutter speed will no longer be a problem, but now noise will be. Think of this as somewhat like Goldilocks. Papa ISO was too slow, and Baby ISO was too fast. You want the ISO that is "just right." Unfortunately, such things only exist in fairy tales. In real life photography, everything is a compromise.

Bracketing — A term referring to a suspension of judgement, whose origin stems from a philosophy known as Phenomenology. Today, the term refers to digital photographers who suspend judgement and insist on shooting as if they were working with film. Such photographers tend to shoot exposures on both sides of their initial attempt, to "bracket" the original. This, even though any modern digital camera would show them the histogram for that first shot, so they could see for themselves whether they need to adjust the exposure any, and if so, in which direction. Back in the film era, we had to shoot on both sides to cover our bases as there was no way of knowing for sure until the developed film came back from the lab, and by then it was too late.

White Balance — The state of Zen achieved by having just the right ratio of shooters with white Canon lenses to those toting black Nikon lenses at a photography gathering. If the ratio is off this fine balance, one side or the other will feel slighted and complain the whole time. Sony Alpha shooters are likely to complain either way. Everyone's always picking on Sony users. See.

Focus — Come on, snap out of it. Get a grip, man. Focus. This is important. Stop laughing (you are laughing, aren't you?). OK, now go out and shoot some pictures.

Date posted: July 29, 2018 (updated December 30, 2018)


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