Photography is an exciting craft to pick up, but the number of terms that beginners have to learn can be frustrating for many. Searching through the different terms out there and learning which ones are important to know from the beginning and when to apply them is a difficult task. Narrowing down the jargon is a great first step.
Some specific terms, like foreground, background, and depth of field, deal with different parts of taking a photograph. Terms like crop and retouch are part of photo-editing. Different file formats, such as PNG, JPEG, PSD, and TIFF, concern how the photograph is saved digitally.
Covering more information on each of these terms is sure to help any beginner learn all the essential words for building their photography skills. For a deeper dive, keeping reading below.
The foreground of a photograph is the area in the front half of the image, or the space closest to the camera. The foreground can consist of empty space, include certain objects that help frame the rest of the image, or be the focal point of the image itself.
Depending on the type of photograph that you are taking, the importance of the foreground will change. For specific image types, such as portraits, the person being photographed is the point of the photo, and as such, should be the focus.
Other times, you may be taking a landscape and instead use the foreground to include leading lines or framing for the larger shot.
The background of a photograph is the area of the frame farthest from the camera. It can be thought of as the direct opposite of the foreground; together, they make up the entire photograph.
Like the foreground, the background will change depending on what type of photography you are doing. Certain types like product photography want a plain background that allows the object in the foreground to shine. In contrast, others like street photography want to integrate it into the entire photo.
A background will generally be less important than the foreground. This is because it is often not the main subject.
Depth of Field
Depth of field can be challenging to understand for beginners. Depth of field is the distance between near and far objects in frame and the sharpness between them. Photographs with a significant amount of blur between objects are considered to have a narrow depth of field, while flatter images have a considerable depth of field.
Depth of field is easiest to notice when it is narrow; this means that only a small part of the photo, usually an object or person, is in focus. Everything else becomes gradually blurrier the farther they are from that object.
Regardless of what camera or lens you use, some depth of field will be present. However, this is a big style choice that can define your photography. Certain types of photography benefit from a narrow depth of field, while others require a larger one to be legible.
Calculating depth of field also involves using the camera’s focal length, as this will determine what part of the image is being focused on. Information on the factors that determine the depth of field can be found here.
Cropping a photograph means making a photograph smaller by removing unwanted parts. A part of the original photography is selected in an image manipulation software and becomes the new, entire image.
Cropping is the simplest form of image manipulation and essential for reframing or editing photographs. Whether used to remove a part of an image that is unsightly or introduce a new style to the image, it is the most essential part of learning photo manipulation.
This technique can be done using even the most basic image software. Different applications can also apply borders to the photograph to achieve different looks and aspect ratios for the image.
Retouched is a term used to describe photographs that have undergone photo editing or manipulation. This can include simple terms such as cropping or color correction but is most commonly applied to more severe retouching.
Retouching is often done to small parts of an image to make it look better or tell a better story. Small adjustments like smoothing skin or whitening teeth, for example, are standard in portrait photography.
Image manipulation and retouching have become extremely common, so most photographs found in magazines or online have been retouched in some capacity. Outside of photojournalism, it is often considered a fundamental part of the photography pipeline now. Some examples of photo retouching can be found here.
JPEG File Format
A JPEG is one of the most basic photo files out there and is how most photographs get saved digitally. It is a compression format, meaning that it reduces the size of image files. This format is common because it:
- Produces small files
- Retains decent quality
It is the most common image file format online and across most mobile apps and phone cameras. Most photographs that will not be printed out can be saved as a JPEG to save on space and retain most of their quality.
JPEGs can also be specially saved in a lossless compression that dramatically increases file size but does not reduce the image’s quality at all.
PNG File Format
PNG is another file format for saving images. Generally, they are higher quality and larger files than JPEG but maintain a manageable size. PNGs are important because they can be saved with transparent backgrounds.
Transparent backgrounds are commonly used for product photography or additional photo manipulation, such as adding a snow effect to another photograph. In this case, the snow would be saved with a transparent background, making it easy to overlay onto the other.
PNG images are uncompressed, meaning they save at full size. This can quickly make space an issue but is the best option for saving high-quality images used for prints.
PSD File Format
PSD files are not final images but actually a collection of image layers created in Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is the most popular and powerful image manipulation software currently available.
Photoshop employs a layering system, allowing photographers to stack images and effects on top of one another without erasing what is beneath it. Photographs can easily be retouched, cropped, or further edited without any fear of losing the initial capture.
A PSD file is shared to retain the work done so far or showcase the process taken to arrive at a final image. Saving in this format is essential for those who work on an image over multiple sessions.
TIFF File Format
TIFF files are another graphic image file format that stores images in high-quality and large file sizes. It is considered a RAW format and is commonly found directly from a camera with no additional manipulation.
This file type is excellent for photographers looking to do specific color correction work, as it retains all colors at their base level. Unlike other image formats, which may lock in certain aspects of a photo, TIFF files leave everything in their pure form.
As such, TIFF files are commonly quite large but can be saved later with compression to reduce the file size. In the early days of the internet, TIFF files were widespread. It was later replaced by JPEG but can still occasionally be found.
There are plenty of important terms for beginning photographers to learn, but these select few are some of the most important. The terms foreground, background, and depth of field all cover the composition and basic layout of a photograph. Crop and retouching relate to the next part of the process, where images are edited and hopefully made better.
Finally, the file formats including JPEG, PNG, PSD, and TIFF are commonly found online and most likely how your digital photographs will be saved. They each have some specific pros and cons, and a mix of them is likely to be used.
Here is a great list of Basic Photography Terms that make a good beginner reference.
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