Terms of photography

As with any profession, we photographers have more than our share of slang terms.Some are great and some… probably a little confusing if you haven’t heard them before. I’ve put together a list for the uninitiated, so the next time you hear photography jargon, you’ll know what you’re hearing.As a design photographer, I’ve got a passion for the sense of personal vision that drives many of my fellow photography professionals, right down to the words they use to describe our day-to-day.Some of the terms are funny, and some downright technical­– read on to be suitably enthralled!

June 7, 2022


Photography education

Terms of photography

Bokeh is a word that many people haven’t actually heard before being introduced to photography– it refers to the out-of-focus, blurry background elements of a photo taken with shallow focus. Pronounced ‘bok-ay’, it originated from the Japanese word ‘boke’, which means ‘to blur’.

Cookie– well, we all know what a cookie is, but not in this context! ‘Cookie’ in photography refers to a cucoloris, a patterned card that allows light to pass through and cast patterned shadows on a surface. The cucoloris has a variety of different spellings– kookaloris, cookaloris or cucalorus, and even in its short form it’s sometimes also known as a ‘kook’ or a coo-koo.

Hot- ‘Hot’ is not just a word for heat, in photography it refers to a ‘hot spot’ or an area of a photograph that is much brighter than the rest of the picture, or appears to have too much light.

Hot Pixel- hot pixels are pixels in a picture that appear overly white, red or green– really they’re most noticeable for just being totally out of place.

‘Nifty Fifty’- While those outside the industry may not have heard of the Nifty Fifty, the term is certainly popular with those involved in photography, both amateur and professional. This refers to the 50 mm prime lens, with a reputation for being affordable, easy-to-use and producing gorgeous images- it’s a common tool of the trade, beloved by photographers around the globe.

Noise in photography doesn’t mean something you can hear– rather, it refers to the grainy quality of pictures that are taken at a high ISO.

Warm and Cool- as with noise, these terms are not what you’d expect– in photography, warm and cool are used to describe the color temperature. Low temperature tends to be warmer, with more red or yellow light, while high temperatures tend to be cooler, with more blue. But while you may not feel warm and cool in the same way in photography as you would kinesthetically, you definitely get a feeling from the way warm or cool temperature affects an image!


Alvin’s Underpants– this is a weird one! In photography, ‘Alvin’s Underpants’ actually refers to any silky cloth or materials used to create background in an image.

Breathing Room– when most people think of breathing room, they don’t usually tend to think photography, but it’s a term many of us use to describe leaving space in an image. Makes sense if you think about it!

Bob in Shipping– everyone has an ‘Uncle Bob’– he’s that guy at every wedding shooting pictures over the photographer’s shoulder. You probably know Bob- he also works in shipping, he’s got a super professional camera, and you can bet he’d be willing to shoot any project for free!

Chimping– ‘chimping’ refers to the habit of checking your camera after every picture to see how the image looks. Chimping is a bit of a nasty habit, for several reasons. Chimping can make it tough to really get into a natural flow, which puts you at risk for missing out on the best moments. It can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on you to capture just the right image, and it’ll also drain your battery. If you’re guilty of chimping do yourself a favor, and break the habit!

Flare-a-noid– being flare-a-noid means having a fear of lens flare, or stray light getting into the front of your lens- while many professional photographers have a multitude of tips and tricks for avoiding it, even the best of us still have our flare-a-noid moments.

Grip and Grin– this one’s easy! A grip and grin photo involves two people posing in a handshake while smiling into the camera. These pics are most often seen at grand openings, sweepstakes payouts, and the like– you know the ones!

Shielding from Crazy– this is a photography rescue technique that luckily doesn’t have to be used that often! Shielding from Crazy is when your assistant or art director gets between you and someone who just doesn’t want you taking that photograph– this could be the police or security. Sometimes even the client– you get the idea.

Spray and Pray– also known as machine gunning, this is where you put the camera to your eye, hold down the shutter release and hope for the best!

Twang– this is the sound a 7 inch reflector makes when hitting the ground. They are used to control the spill of light from a lighting unit. Doesn’t matter what brand of lights you use, when they hit the ground, well– they twang.

Whoosh-Whoosh– so here’s another sound related word. A whoosh-whoosh is a collapsible reflector that makes a ‘whoosh-whoosh’ sound when you open it. It even comes in a mini version that just goes ‘whoosh’.

There’s lots to love about this great profession, and the terms are definitely one of my favorite things. Hope you found it useful and photographer friends please let me know which ones I’ve left off!

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