I know exactly how you feel. You just started looking for a photographer to take your family portraits or looking to hire one for your wedding.
The good news is that there is no shortage of photographers nowadays unless you live in Antarctica or on a remote island surrounded my thousands of miles of water and no other humans around.
The chances are that there are so many photographers in your area and it could be overwhelming to chose the right one. Photographers come in “all shapes and sizes”:
– Portrait photographers: who take family, baby, newborn, high school seniors, headshots photos
– Event photographers: who capture birthdays, anniversaries, parties, graduations, or any gathering where people are having fun
– Wedding photographers: who you hire to take your engagement and later wedding day photos
The bad news is that once you visited different photographers websites, started doing research online and eventually meet face to face some of these photographers, you will start hearing terms you never heard before. And frankly speaking, some might not even make much sense to you. It might feel like a secret language spoken by just few in order to keep in secrecy the photography craft or make the clients so intimidated by the jargon that they will be willing pay whatever it takes to get over the photo session as soon as possible. No questions asked. Just send us the bill.
If you fell the same or similar way and continue to read this page, I will try to explain some of the photography jargon in simple, plain English words so that you are educated and don’t feel intimidated. Like a photographer myself, working with clients in San Francisco Bay Area, I came up with the list after interacting with clients and having to explain some of the terms I thought they already knew.
So here is the current index of the terms I will be going over. You can click on each word and jump to the explanation or can scroll down and read all of them one by one.
– Golden Hour
– Proof Images
– Photo Retouching
– Photo Enhancing
– Flash Guns
– Lightroom and Photoshop
– Soft Light and Harsh Light
– Sun Flares
– Primary and Second Shooter
– MUA / HMUA
– Color Balance
– Digital Images
– Model Release
– Copyright Release
– RAW Files
– Low Resolution (low-res) Files
– High Resolution (high-res) Files
– First Look
– L Lenses
– Pro Body
Refers to the time of the day when the sun light is so pleasant to capture and the photos look very beautiful to look later, that one should pay in gold to have this time 24 hours per day. It’s the best time of the day to have photos taken and is usually one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. So don’t be surprise that a photographer would do their best to convince you to schedule your session during this time of the day. Trust them. This is true and not a myth.
What you should think when hearing this acronym, is raw diamonds just discovered by the miners. In this case, these are images the photographer captured without any enhancements or adjustments. Like a raw diamond needs to be polished and shaped to shine to its best, so the photographers process all SOOC digital images before you get to see them. If you photographer insist to give you SOOC and not processed images, ask him why.
Another term related to the digital images a photographer takes. The proof images are already enhanced version of the photos the photographer took and are usually presented as small format prints (4×6″ or less). This way the client can see how they would look like before he or she decides to order large format prints or canvases. Digital proofs are obviously, the digital version of the final images a client can see before making a selection or ordering prints.
Retouching has to do with making your skin look smoother, removing any pimples, scars, blemishes, removing litter on the ground or electric poles from your images. Anything which the photographer considers distraction or not pretty enough to be in your images. Think of it like twisting reality. I am sure you all have seen the video of over sized and not that pretty girl, looking like a top beauty model after digital retouching. If not, hit Youtube. There are tons of videos available.
Unlike the photo retouching which is altering the reality, photo enhancing simply is about making the images look prettier. Not all about shaving few pounds with Photoshop, or patching the bare grass spot in the photo.Enhancing has more to do with making the colors more vibrant, the whole image brighter and sharper. This of it like the way how you adjust the picture of your TV for brightness, sharpness and vivid colors. The picture and the subjects are not changed, but more the way how they look. To read more on what is the difference between photo retouching and enhancing, make sure to check this guide: Wedding Photography FAQs
If you think these are DJ strobe lights pulsating in high frequency, hold your breath. These are professional grade lights powered by AC or batteries. Photographers use them to illuminate large venues, in their studios or anywhere where additional light is required. These are mounted on light stands and are like mini Suns helping the photographer to get well lid and dramatic portraits of you.
Don’t think of photographers as a violent bunch. This has nothing to do with firearms and guns. It is a jargon for small portable lights, photographers use to illuminate you and your surroundings when there is no natural light available. Like at night, in a dark church, before sunrise or after sunset. These are battery operated and provide enough light so you can recognize yourself in the final images.
When you photographer talks about “bokeh” what he is really trying to tell you that the background of your pictures would be blurry, while you being in front of the background would be sharp in focus. It’s the effect that brings more attention to the subject and less to the distracting background. Now that you know what it is, surprise your photographer and ask him to create images of you with beautiful bokeh. 🙂
These are just the names of the most popular digital editing software applications. Now that you know what is a RAW file and JPEG, what is retouching and enhancing, we can all put it together. Lightroom allows the RAW or JPEG (TIFF) files to be enhanced and exported as JPEG so you can see and print, while Photoshop allows to edit RAW files, retouch them and export as JPEG (or TIFF, or PNG). And this is what you might need to know about these two.
It’s light what makes photographs after all. With no light there will be no shadows (dark areas) and highlights (bright areas) in the photos. When photographers talk about soft light, what they mean is that there are less shadows and less highlights and the image looks less contrasty. The contrast is when you have dark shadow area next to bright highlight area. Soft light is available when there are clouds in the sky which filter the harsh sun like the transparent curtains in your room, during the time close to sunrise and sunset when the Sun is low and not straight above you.
Harsh light is when the Sun is overhead and falls straight down on anyone being photographed. This is usually the case in a bright sunny day and in the open space with no trees or buildings to cast shadows. The harsh light creates strong shadows which are not very pleasant for portraits usually and leave you with dark circles under the eyes (Sun falls down on your face and causes the shadows from your eye bras).
These are rainbow looking circles which are created when camera and lens are pointed towards the direction of the Sun. As the light enters the lens, some light is refracted and captured as flares. Most photographers are aware of the flare and can use them for additional artistic effects. The images taken with camera towards the direction of the Sun also have haze which gives the images haze and dreamy look.
As you might have already guest this one: it has to do with placing you between the Sun and photographer’s camera in a such way that the Sun is at your back. Doesn’t sounds like we were told: The Sun should be at your face when taking pictures. What? Having the clients blinded and squinting their eyes with Sun in their face? No. This is not what photographers do. Having the Sun at your back, gives you a light rim around your hair and face (if in profile) and makes everything looking fuzzy and dreamy.
Unlike in the military, there are no ranks and hierarchy between photographers. You might hear this from wedding photographers most likely and what they are actually trying to tell you that a Primary photographer is the “Boss” and the Secondary photographer is the “Helper”. The primary is the one who you will hire and would be responsible for your images. The Second photographer would be there to capture the same scene from a different angle or position. And again, photographers have nothing to do with shooting firearms. They just like to refer to taking pictures as “shooting” and call other photographers: “shooters”. Go figure.
These are two acronyms which stand for Make Up Artist (MUA) and Hair and Make Up Artist (H/MUA). Nothing fancy. These are the people who would make you look pretty for your photo session so that the photographers can capture the images. Important if you like to look beautiful and pretty as a cover girl or simply to enhance your natural beauty. These skilled professionals know how to make a woman looks at her best.
If your photographer mentions color balancing of your images, you should short list him immediately. This is not what the armature photographers usually do, because requires skills and time. Color balancing is making sure your skin tones would look natural without hint of orange, red, green or blue cast. When taking pictures indoors in restaurants, homes with incandescent or fluorescent lights overhead, these lights can color your skin in orange or green. It’s the photographer’s job to correct this and not make you look like a Halloween pumpkin or Walking Dead zombie.
This is what nowadays all digital cameras we have shows us on the LCD screens. This is what we see on our smartphone screens after taking a selfie. Digital files which contain the moments of our lives. This is what most photographers would give you after the end of the session. Unless, you want to buy paper prints of course. More on prints below.
These are the physical paper prints you get from a photo printing lab when you give them your digital images. Prints are what we frame and put in albums. Prints come in different sizes (4×6″, 5×7″, 8×10″ , etc) and are printed on different material (photo paper, fabric canvases, metal plates, etc).
This acronym stands for: Time For Prints (or Photos). Many upcoming models looking to create their own portfolios, so they can get hired by modeling agencies would partner with known photographer and barter their time and beauty in exchange for high-resolution images. The photographer can add these images to his or her own portfolios to display the work he or she can do. So it is a win-win situation for both. As a everyday client, unless you have astounding beauty and look, it might be hard to get TFP. But it is worth the try.
This one is again for models, but in case you found a photographer who can do TFP session with you, he or she most likely would ask you to sign a model release form. The purpose of this form is you as a model or a client, to state that you will not have any monetary or rights claim on the final images. It’s required for a photographer to have a model release form it he or she are trying to submit these images for publications or to sell them as stock images. As no one would buy re rent a house without a clearly defined owner or multiple owners, so the companies or publishing houses would not accept images where the ownership is not clear.
In most countries around the work, the photographer owns the copyrights of the images taken. This means that you like a client even if you purchase the digital images from your wedding, are still obligated to let the photographer know before you try to get them published, printed in magazines, etc. However, if the photographer agrees to transfer the copyrights to the images to you, you no longer have to do that. The only thing you need to do, is have the images with copyright release transferred, become a movie star and sell the images from your wedding to the highest bidder. It not, don’t bother with it.
This has nothing to do with raw fish and sushi, but is a term photographers use to describe the digital files they download from the camera into their computers before they start to digital enhance the images. These files cannot be easily open with most image viewers and have to be converted to readable file formats as JPEG, TIFF, PNG, etc. As RAW files are simply the non enhanced images, asking the photographer to give you the RAW files means you will not benefit from any enhancement he or she would to on these images. It is similar to asking a jeweler to give you the raw diamond instead of ready to wear ring he made just for you. RAW files are for photographers who know how to use and enhance them. Settle down for JPEG files instead.
JPEG is a file format, way to compress and make the RAW digital files readable for everyone. It a universal format and has been around for ages. You can open and view on any device with a screen, you can print them in any print lab, you can keep them and be sure they can be opened even years later.
High resolution digital files are referred to files which contain most of the digital pixels making your images. The size of these high-res files is close to what the digital camera is capable of capturing. Large prints can be printed from these files (example: 16×20″) if required. Most high-res files are up to 25MB of size for a single file. If you are not planning to print in large format, them most likely you don’t need them.
Low resolution digital files are trimmed version of the high resolution files. The size is reduced by compressing the pixels and also discarding pixels so the image size is reduced. These are still high quality images but in a smaller size. If you plan to print pictures no larger than 5×7″ you can ask for low-res images and save money on the high-res additional cost. Displaying online and sharing on Facebook doesn’t require high-res images either. Most online photo sharing sites, compress the high-resolution images anyway, so you paying for high-res images only to have them “truncated” when posted online might not be a savvy use of your hard earned money. Low resolution images are created to save space and time, when sharing online, uploading or downloading. It has nothing to do with the image quality as many people think.
This is simply a collection of photographer’s best images, curated carefully for the purpose to wow the clients and demonstrate the photographer’s skills and style. In the past portfolios were composed of actual paper prints and carried around or available at photographer’s studio for the clients to touch, feel and see. As all the film cameras are thing from the past and clients rarely have to visit a studio anymore to have their portraits taken, almost every photographer has their portfolios online. Available 24×7 to everyone from everywhere. If you cannot find photographer’s portfolio on his website, you might be dealing with a Photography Scam artist. Don’t fall pray, be educated: How To Avoid Photography Scams
This term is used for weddings and means the groom would have the opportunity to see the bride in her wedding dress before the actual ceremony. The first look is usually planned to happen for about 30-45 minutes and in a location where the couple won’t be distracted or interrupted. As the groom reacts to his bride beauty and she is excited to see him dazzled, so the photographer has great opportunity to capture the feelings and passion both have for each other. For more on first look and the wedding day, check this guide: How To Prepare For Your Wedding Day
If your photographer uses Canon cameras and lenses, you might hear him brag or mention that he uses L lenses. Well, these are not L-shaped lenses but a model of Canon lenses with professional quality. These lenses usually have a red ring, have the top quality glass and glass coating. In everyday terms: L lenses are better quality and suppose to take better images. If you photographer knows how to use them. It’s about the chef and not the stove or knifes he is using.
Well this one should be easy but I will explain it anyway. Not all digital cameras are created equal. Some are more affordable and designed for everyday consumer in mind. These are called consumer (amateur) bodies. Some are more advanced but still not considered full professional (pro) bodies. These are prosumer (mix of pro & consumer). And finally, there are professional (pro) camera bodies which are used by professional photographers. These are top of the line and have many advanced features as: durability, ability to super fast focus, waterproof sealing, dual memory cards, etc.
I hope that you found this article educational and useful. I also hope that you learned some of photographer’s jargon and would feel more comfortable when discussing your portrait session or wedding with your photographer. If you think some of your friends would benefit from it, please share this article with them. Better educated consumers are better for the photography as a whole. If you have any comments, feedback or would to suggest a new term, please add them into the comments below. I would consider adding it to the list.
About the Author:
Trifon Anguelov is the owner of Trifon Anguelov Photography, a Premiere Bay Area Wedding and Portrait Photographer in Mountain View, CA. He offers full range of portrait, events, engagements and wedding photography services. To learn more about him and his work, visit his website.