Common Camera Terms

by Natalie McConnell

Your camera can become your best friend - if you take it off auto and discover the amazing photos you can achieve with a little practice and some basic camera knowledge. Creating Keepsakes special issue, Better Digital Photos and Scrapbooking is a great resource as you learn to handle your camera like a pro. The more comfortable you are with common camera terms, the more natural using your camera to its fullest capabilities will be when photo opportunities arise.

Use these terms, guidelines, and photo examples to help you take great photos!

General Terms

  • Exposure - Your photo's end result, thanks to the amount of light let into the camera. A correctly exposed photo will closely reflect real life.
  • ISO - All you have to remember about ISO is light, and how much light your camera is registering. On auto, your camera usually thinks it's getting enough light to produce a good photo, but in dimly-lit areas your photos may not turn out so well. When you're taking pictures in low-light situations, change your ISO setting to high (between 800 and 3200) to tell your camera to pick up on the available light.
  • Aperture - This refers to the hole in your camera lens - or the camera's "eye." You can adjust the aperture to allow more or less light into your photo.
  • Shutter Speed - A slow shutter speed means the camera is able to recognize more light, which is great for night photos. A faster shutter speed lets in less light, but captures the picture quickly, which is great for action shots.

Modes to Remember

  • Portrait Mode - Choose portrait mode when you are focusing on people. As you can see from the following illustrations, portrait mode instructs your camera to focus on the foreground and adjust for skin tone.


Portrait mode examples

  • Sports Mode - Want that perfect action shot? Sports mode makes your shutter open and close fast, freezing the action.
  • Macro Mode - The camera focuses on details in the foreground. Macro mode is perfect for taking close-up shots of small items.
  • Night Mode - We've all been there - what might have been a perfect shot comes out less than ideal because of a dark sky and harsh flash. Night mode uses a very slow shutter speed to capture available light, making your photo look more natural. Steady your camera on a tripod or table for best results.

Night Mode examples

  • Landscape Mode - In Landscape mode, the camera will adjust to focus on both background and foreground; natural colors (like blues and greens) will also appear sharper.
  • Flash - Learning when and how to use your flash (the "lightening" icon on most cameras) is one of your biggest assets. Manually turn on your flash - even in the daytime - when there's a lot of light coming from behind your subject. The added flash will help reduce shadows.

Daytime Flash examples

  • Exposure Bracketing - This is the perfect mode for people who are still learning or want to explore their options. Choose this setting, and your camera will automatically take 3 versions of each photo - one at normal exposure, one a shade lighter, and one a shade darker.

(Feeling overloaded by all these terms? Download the Camera Modes and Settings Cheat Sheet, and refer to it whenever you like!)

Take some time to play around with your camera; get to know the different terms and icons, and practice taking pictures in the different modes, and you'll soon find yourself shooting photos like a pro!


For a complete guide to taking your camera off of auto and other amazing tips for taking great photos, check out Creating Keepsakes special issue, Better Digital Photos and Scrapbooking (available in both print and digital formats). It's full of ideas to help you make the most of digital technology for taking, editing, enhancing, sharing, and scrapbooking your photos.


Natalie McConnell, Editor


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Great Cheat Sheet
Thank you for this handy reference. I'm not a photographer so having this handy reference is very helpful as a quick refresher course.
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