This is a list of definitions of photo editing terms, with links to articles that include them.
Aberrations (9)Optical flaws in camera lenses, such as distortion, chromatic aberration (color fringing), vignetting (corner shading) and edge softness. Lens makers go to great efforts to create optical formulations for reducing or removing aberrations, but these can be corrected digitally today too, either in-camera or in software.
ACROS (Fujifilm) (3)Black and white film simulation mode in Fujifilm cameras. It’s designed to give richer, more intense tonal rendition than the regular monochrome film simulation. It's effective enough, but most photographers would do this in software rather than in-camera.
Adjustment brush (5)A tool used to ‘paint’ adjustments on to an image manually, and one of the key adjustment tools in Lightroom, for example. It’s called an adjustment brush here, but it could just be called ‘brush’ in other programs, or ‘masking brush’. You can choose the adjustments you want to make, e.g. exposure, saturation, clarity and so on before you start painting, or make changes to these settings afterwards too.
Adjustment layer (7)A special type of layer in image-editing software which is designed to hold adjustments rather than other image layers. It's a way of 'stacking' a series of adjustments to an image without affecting the image layer itself.
Adobe (5)Giant software company that dominates the creative software industry. Adobe publishes not just Photoshop and Lightroom, but Premiere Pro and After Effects video editing software, InDesign page layout and Illustrator vector drawing software and a whole lot more as part of its Creative Cloud ecosystem.
Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) (2)Software that works alongside Adobe Photoshop to open and process RAW files before they open in Photoshop itself. Adobe Camera Raw’s tools are also built into Adobe Lightroom. Most people use Adobe Camera Raw to process their RAW files simply because they’re using Photoshop or Lightroom, but other RAW converters are available.
Adobe RGB (2)Professional color space offered by more advanced cameras and editing software. It captures a slightly wider range of colors than the usual sRGB color space used by most consumer devices. It can be useful if pictures are destined for commercial print production, but it does introduce complications with color profiles and monitor calibration.
Affinity Photo (3)For a long time Adobe Photoshop has been the only real professional level image-editing program, but software company Serif has launched a professional photo editing program which competes directly with Photoshop at a much lower price – and for a single payment rather than the software subscription system introduced by Adobe. Affinity Photo has been built from the ground up for speed and performance and compatibility with the Photoshop PSD file format.
AI (artificial intelligence) (14)Machine-based learning which interprets the contents of the image in a sophisticated way to produce better enhancements or better object and scene recognition. Skylum’s Accent – AI Filter in Luminar uses artificial intelligence to optimise photos automatically, while Google Photos uses artificial intelligence to identify and search through your pictures.
Album (5)A kind of ‘virtual’ container for photographs you want to keep together. When you use an album (or ‘collection’) in photo editing software, it keeps the images together without actually moving them on your hard disk.
Analog (12)A term now used to design old-fashioned chemical processes to capture images rather than digital – so you can get ‘analog’ cameras, ‘analog’ films and ‘analog’ image effects which replicate the look of these old processes.
Analog Efex Pro (Nik Collection) (12)Analog Efex Pro is part of the DxO Nik Collection. It recreates the look of old films, darkroom processes and vintage cameras by combining image adjustments and filter effects as presets which you can apply with a single click or customise yourself.
Aperture (Apple) (3)Now discontinued, Aperture was Apple's Mac-only professional photo organising, processing and non-destructive editing program. It was a direct rival to Lightroom, but while it had far more sophisticated and effective image organising tools, it fell behind for editing tools and was eventually abandoned.
Artefact/artifact (8)Any unwanted digital flaw in a photo, such as exaggerated sharpening and edge ‘halos’ around objects, banding or ‘posterisation’ due to excessive image manipulation.
Aspect ratio (3)This the picture’s proportions as width versus height. DSLR sensors have a 3:2 ratio, so that photographs are 3 units wide to 2 units high. Most compact camera sensors have a slightly squarer 4:3 aspect ratio. It doesn’t matter what the units are – the ratio stays the same, so a photo could measure 3 inches by 2 inches or 6 meters by 4 meters and still have the same 3:2 aspect ratio. You can shoot in different aspect ratios by cropping the sensor area. HD video is shot in a wider 16:9 ratio.
Asset management (6)The professional term for image cataloguing, and often used in photographic or design studios managing large numbers of images on a commercial basis. They may include not just photos but illustrations, logos and other graphics, hence ‘assets’ rather than photos.
Aurora HDR (Skylum) (7)HDR software developed in conjunction with HDR specialist Trey Ratcliff. Aurora HDR can work with single images or merge a series of bracketed exposures. You can apply one of many different preset effects or create your own with the manual controls.
Backups (2)It’s extremely important to keep backups of your images, the changes you've made to them and your image organization system. There are backup tools for backing up your entire computer system, selected folders and sub folders, and backup tools built into image cataloguing programs like Lightroom.
Barrel distortion (4)This is where straight lines near the edge of the picture appear to bow outwards, and you see this a lot with zoom lenses at their wideangle setting. It’s most noticeable if the horizon is near the top or bottom of the picture. Barrel distortion is very difficult to eradicate completely from the lens design, but it can be fixed using software, and some cameras now have distortion correction built in. It’s one of a number of common lens aberrations. Telephoto lenses often show the opposite effect, ‘pincushion distortion’.
Batch processing (4)
Applying the same image adjustments to a whole batch of photos. For example, you might choose a black and white conversion style and apply it to all the photos from a particular shooting session. Batch processing can save a lot of time, but only if all the images will benefit from the same settings.
Bayer sensor (5)Most camera sensors use a single layer of photosites (pixels). These are only sensitive to light, not color, so a mosaic of red, green and blue filters (the ‘bayer pattern’) is placed on top of the sensor’s photosites so that individually they capture red, green or blue light. When the camera processes the sensor data to produce an image, it ‘demosaics’ the red, green and blue data, using color information from surrounding photosites to ‘interpolate’ full color data for each pixel.
Bits and bit depth (6)‘Bits’ are the basic building block of digital data, and the more bits of information used in digital images, the subtler the colors and tonal transitions. Bits and pixels are related, in that the greater the ‘bit-depth’ used to create a pixel, the better the quality of the color/tone information in that pixel. Digital cameras typically capture 10, 12 or 14 bits of data for each pixel, and this is then processed down to produce regular JPEG photos (8 bits) or converted into high-quality 16-bit TIFF files.
Black and white (52)
The popularity of black and white photography is increasing. Black and white suits some subjects extremely well, drawing more attention to shapes, lighting and composition than is generally possible with colour photography.
Black and white filters (5)When you shoot in black and white, the camera or the film is converting different colours into shades of grey. When you use a coloured filter, you’re shifting and changing the brightness of the different colours in the scene, and this changes their shade of grey in the photograph. This is why they’re sometimes called ‘contrast’ filters too. For example, a red filter allows red light through but blocks light of other colours. Anything red in the scene becomes proportionally much brighter, anything opposite to red, like a blue sky, comes out a much darker shade of grey – nearly black, sometimes.
Blend modes (4)Blend modes are used to control the way different layers in an image interact, and they apply not just to other image layers but also non-destructive adjustment layers.
Bokeh (4)'Bokeh' is a Japanese word that describes the particular visual quality of out of focus areas on a picture. Bokeh fans will wax lyrical about the background rendering of certain lenses, while sceptics will wonder what all the fuss is about. It all depends on how sensitive you are to the nuances of images.
Borders and frames (11)Borders and frames are a great way to 'finish' off a picture for printing or display, and they've come a long way since the unconvincing fake 'wooden' frames (and others) that you get in entry-level programs like Photoshop Elements.
Bracketing (6)Taking the same shot at a series of different exposures with the intention of choosing the best one later or merging them together to create an HDR image. Most cameras offer an auto exposure bracketing option. You choose the bracketing interval (the difference between the exposures, typically 1EV) and the number of frames (usually 3, sometimes 5 or even 7). Some cameras offer other types of bracketing, e.g. white balance bracketing or even focus bracketing.
Bridge (Adobe) (6)The folder and file browser used across Adobe's Creative Cloud applications, not just Photoshop. For many photographers, its a simpler and more predictable image organising tool than Lightroom.
Browser (photos) (8)Software that can ‘browse’ through the folders on your hard disk and show you any photos inside them as thumbnail images. This is the simplest form of photo organisation tool and works perfectly well for many photographers, even though it lacks flexibility. Adobe Bridge is a file browser, for example, while Alien Skin Exposure and ON1 Photo RAW are examples of photo-editing programs that have browsers built in.
Brush (2)A simple manual tool for painting color on to an image, making a selection or a mask, or applying an adjustment. You can change the size of the brush, its ‘hardness’ and its flow rate or opacity, all of which can help you adjust the effect and the way it’s built up.
Burning in (3)An old black and white darkroom technique where areas of a print were given a longer exposure under the enlarger to make them come out darker. Usually you would do this by extending the print exposure while covering up those areas you wanted left alone, either with your hand, a piece of card or a specially shaped 'mask'.
Cache (0)This is temporary storage space used by software so that files you need often can be accessed more quickly. It’s typically used for image thumbnails and previews in programs like Adobe Bridge and Lightroom. Sometimes cache files cause problems and must be purged or deleted, sometimes the storage allocation for the cache needs to be made larger in the application preferences to improve performance. Caches and cache files are generally expendable, but they are there for a reason and to speed up performance.
Camera Bag (software) (0)Camera Bag and Camera Bag Pro are image effects programs designed to create a whole series of retro and contemporary photo looks using innovative tile-based cumulative edits and a catalog of one-click presets.
Capture One (13)Capture One is an all-in-one image capture (tethered shooting), cataloguing and editing software from Danish company Phase One. Born out of its medium format studio camera products, Capture One is now a professional RAW conversion tool for DSLR and mirrorless camera owners too. It’s a premium product and its closest rival is probably Adobe Lightroom.
Cataloguing software (19)Software designed to organise large collections of photos using an internal database that speeds up searches and lets you create ‘virtual’ albums and smart albums without actually having to move images on your hard disk. Adobe Lightroom is a good example, using a database ‘catalog’ to organise search and display images. Cataloguing software is more complex and powerful than image ‘browsers’ like Adobe Bridge, which simply show you the contents of folders on your computer.
Channel (1)The data used to create digital photos is split up into three color ‘channels’ – red, green and blue, or ‘RGB’. These are then mixed to produce the millions of different colors required for lifelike pictures. In commercial printing, this red, green and blue (RGB) color model is swapped for cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK), which are the four colors used by commercial printing presses.
Channel mixer (1)A Photoshop tool for varying the mix of the red, green and blue color channels in a photo. It can be used for color adjustments but is more often used when converting images to black and white to control the tonal rendition. Most software now offers more subtle and sophisticated black and white 'mixing' sliders.
Chromatic aberration (2)This is a lens aberration that produces color fringing around the outlines of objects near the edges of the picture. It’s very hard to eradicate completely from lens designs without making them extremely complex or expensive, but it is possible to correct chromatic aberration using software and many cameras will now correct JPEGs in camera.
'Clarity' is a localised contrast adjustment much coarser than regular sharpening, which throws larger objects into sharp relief and can add some much needed definition and 'bite' to low-contrast scenes.
Clipping (0)For photographers, ‘clipping’ is where the image histogram is cut off abruptly at one or both edges. It means that some image detail is completely lost in solid black shadows (shadow clipping) or completely white highlights (highlight clipping).
Cloning (1)Using a special clone stamp tool to copy pixels from a nearby area of an image to cover up an unwanted object or blemish. Cloning is something of an art, and some programs now offer simpler ‘content aware’ object removal.
Cloud storage (10)Where you store or share images online as well as or instead of storing them on your computer. Cloud storage offers the advantage that your images are accessible everywhere as long as you have an Internet connection, though displaying and downloading images is of course slower than opening them on a hard drive, and uploading images in the first place is slower still. Examples include Apple iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive.
CMYK (1)This is a color model used in printing processes, where colors are defined in terms of cyan, magenta, yellow and black color channels (black is represented by the letter ‘K’). Desktop printers use CMYK inks but carry out the conversion from regular RGB photos automatically. In commercial printing, a designer will convert a regular RGB photo to CMYK to check the color rendition and prepare it for printing.
Collection (2)Lightroom‘s name for Albums, its ‘virtual’ image containers. Some programs call them ‘albums’, but the terms ‘album’ and ‘collection’ are generally interchangeable. You use Collections to bring together related images with actually changing their location on your hard disk.
Color adjustment (8)A good term to describe the HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) adjustments provided in many image-editors. You can use these to change the appearance of specific colors in an image while leaving the rest unaltered.
Color burn mode (0)A layer blend mode found in most programs that support image layers. Using this mode produces an ultra-high contrast composite image based on the layer it’s applied to and the layer(s) underneath.
Color Efex Pro (Nik Collection) (4)A software plug in that’s part of the DxO Nik collection. Color Efex Pro offers a huge variety of preset image effects you can browse through and apply to your photos with a single click, but you can also adjust the filters manually and even stack them to create custom ‘recipes’. Color Efex Pro also offers localised adjustments via ‘control points’.
Color fringing (0)Another word for chromatic aberration, the colored outlines you get around objects near the edge of the frame, and caused by lens aberrations. You can also get 'longitudinal' chromatic aberration, or 'bokeh fringing', where out of focus objects take on a defocused color fringe.
Color management (2)For designers and professional photographers it’s often important to maintain consistent color rendition from the camera, through the computer display used for browsing and editing and right to the final output device, generally a printer. Colour management tools use software ‘profiles’ and hardware monitor calibration and printer calibration devices to try to ensure this consistency of color. It’s a complex process, and when images are going to be displayed on a screen rather than being printed, you have no control over the color rendition of the output device. Many photographers don’t use color management.
Color model (1)This is the system used by computers and other digital devices for defining colors. In photography, the RGB system is almost universal – colors are defined using red, green and blue color ‘channels’. In printing, it’s CMYK, or cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Some image-editing processes use Lab mode, which consists of a ‘lightness’ channel and two (‘a’, ‘b’) color channels.
Color noise (0)One of the two types of digital image noise and caused by random variations in the color of neighbouring pixels. Colour noise is relatively easy for software to remove without any significant impact on the image quality. Luminance (contrast) noise is the other type, and much more difficult to remove effectively.
Color profile (0)A software file used in color management processes that describes the properties of a specific device so that your computer can correct or ‘normalise’ the way it displays or prints colors. If you don’t use color management in your workflow, you don’t need to worry about this.
Color sensitivity (0)This is a property sometimes used in black and white conversions from a color image. You’ll find it in programs like Silver Efex Pro, Capture One and others, and it changes the way different colors are converted into shades of grey. For example, you can use it to mimic the effect of a red filter in black and white photography, by reducing the strength (sensitivity) of the blue/cyan colors in the image and increasing the strength of the red/orange tones. In the old days, you’d use the Channel Mixer in Photoshop to achieve the same thing in a cruder fashion; these days, black and white conversion tools offer a wider range of colors.
Color space (1)Different devices can’t always display the same range of colors, so your camera may be able to record a wider range of colors than your computer monitor or tablet can display, for example – in other words, the monitor offers a smaller ‘color space’. To get round this, there are two main RGB color spaces you can work on. The sRGB color space is a smaller, universal color space that practically any device can match. Adobe RGB is a larger color space that your camera and printing systems can capture but your monitor probably can’t, which means some complex workarounds and pitfalls and really needs a switch to a more complex color managed workflow. sRGB is the simplest solution, and (though some will debate this) you’re unlikely to see any real advantage to Adobe RGB in everyday photography.
Color temperature (0)A traditional technical measurement for the white balance setting that uses temperature values in degrees Kelvin rather than named presets like ‘Direct Sunlight’, ‘Cloudy’ and so on. Colour temperature is used for choosing and controlling the color of photographic lighting equipment and you can use it an alternative to white balance presets on more advanced cameras.
Composition (3)This is the art, or skill, of arranging the objects, perspective and framing of a photograph to achieve the desired visual effect. There are a number of 'rules' of composition, including the rule of thirds, the Golden Mean and various other photographic truisms that may or may not prove useful.
Compression (2)A software process that reduces the storage space taken up by photo or video image files. It comes in two type: ‘lossless’ and ‘lossy’ compression. Lossless compression is used by TIFF files, for example and retains all the image data but does not produce the biggest savings. Lossy compression is used for the JPEG format and produces much smaller files, but some data is lost in the process – though this may not be visible in real-world viewing conditions.
Content aware (0)Adobe image repair tools that can ‘intelligently’ paint over unwanted objects and blemishes using surrounding image data matched to the area being covered up. Photoshop has content-aware repair tools, Affinity Photo offers an Inpainting brush.
Contrast (8)Contrast, in its simplest sense, is the different in brightness between two tone. In photography it's usually taken to mean the brightness range of a picture – the difference in brightness between the brightest and darkest parts of a picture.
Contrast filter (0)A color filter used in black and white photography to change the shade of grey that colors are reproduced as. They’re called ‘contrast’ filters because they can change the contrast (in shades of grey) between different colors.
Control point (6)A special selection and adjustment tool used by the Nik Collection plug-ins and DxO PhotoLab, control points operate over an adjustable circular radius and select only tones similar to the area under the central target. You can use them to adjust Brightness, Contrast, Structure, Saturation and more.
Converging verticals (0)A type of perspective distortion caused by tilting the camera upwards to photograph tall buildings. It’s worse with wideangle lenses because they let you stand closer, so you tilt the camera even more. The only solution is to compose the shot with the camera completely level.
Copyright (2)You own the copyright in any photo you take, though if you photograph a model or an important building, you may not have the right to use your photos commercially without their permission (or ‘release’). Some cameras can embed copyright information.
Corner shading (7)'Corner shading' is another term for vignetting, where the image created by the camera lens is darker in the corners because of light fall-off. It's often corrected in-camera, but can also be fixed in software which applies digital lens corrections tailored to each lens.
Creative Cloud (Adobe) (5)Adobe’s online image sharing, storage, synchronisation and collaboration service. Many of Adobe’s workflow tools now rely on its Creative Cloud services.
Cropping (7)There are two main reasons for cropping photos, one creative, one practical. You may want to crop out unwanted objects near the edges of the picture, or you may need to crop it to fit different print sizes and aspect ratios.
Cross processing (0)When shooting film, this means deliberating processing a film in the wrong type of chemicals to get pronounced color shifts. This easy to simulate digitally in photo-editing software.
Culling (8)Culling is the process of deleting unwanted images from a shooting session, either because they have technical problems, they are duplicates or near-duplicates, or because they're simply not good enough to keep.
Curves (11)Curves are one of the most fundamental image adjustment tools in photo editing software. They're used to shift different parts of the picture's tonal range to make them darker or lighter, though they can also be used for color adjustments.
Cutout (0)Where an object in a photo is cut out from its surroundings using a selection or a mask so that it can be added to another image or placed against a plain (usually white) background.
DAM (Digital Asset Management) (6)'DAM' is short for 'digital asset management' and it's often used as another term for photo cataloguing software, though it's a slightly different thing. Digital asset management is often related to stock image libraries and design assets too, so it's no a purely photographic thing.
Darkroom (0)A darkened room used for analog film development and print processing, sometimes with a red 'safelight' for illumination with a spectrum that did not affect black and white printing papers. Photo editing software is the new 'digital' darkroom.
Deep learning (0)A tool used by AI-powered software applications to analyse thousands or millions of images to learn how to identify subjects, for example, or create masks automatically.
Dehaze (6)This is a relatively new tool in Lightroom and other programs. What the Dehaze effect does is to split the image up into different tonal areas – such as the sky and the foreground in a landscape photo – and then maximise the contrast within these areas. The effect is strongest in areas which are quite pale and washed out, such as weak skies or distant hazy horizons.
Demosaicing (2)Cameras use 'color filter arrays', or tiny color filters, over each photo site so that it can capture red, green or blue color information. Demosaicing is the rocess where the camera (or RAW conversion software) takes the ‘mosaic’ of red, green and blue pixel data from the sensor and converts it into full-color information for each pixel.
Depth of field (0)Depth of field is the distance in front of and behind your main subject that still looks sharp. With shallow depth of field it's only your subject that's sharp. Increased depth of field means a wider zone of sharpness in front of and behind your subject.
Develop (RAW files) (2)A term used by some software companies, for example Serif in its Affinity Photo software, to describe the RAW conversion process, where a RAW file is processed into an editable image.
Dfine (Nik Collection) (3)Software plug in for reducing noise in images and part of the Nik Collection. Like many other noise reduction programs, Dfine analyses the image and calculates a noise reduction profile. It’s also possible to define the areas used for analysis manually.
Distortion (4)Many lenses create distortion, where straight lines take on a slightly bowed appearance near the edges of the frame. Lens designers try to minimise distortion, but it's still common in zoom lenses. Distortion falls into two main types: barrel distortion, which is common with wide-angle lenses, and pincushion distortion, sometimes displayed by telephoto lenses.
Distortion correction (3)Many lenses create distortion, where straight lines take on a slightly bowed appearance near the edges of the frame. Lens designers try to minimise distortion, but it's still common in zoom lenses. Many cameras and software applications now have distortion correction features, however, were the distortion is corrected digitally rather than optically.
DNG (3)'DNG' stands for 'Digital NeGative' and it's an open file format developed by Adobe with the intention that it would become a 'universal' file format for digital camera RAW files. To this day, only handful of cameras use it, and it is not supported consistently by editing software – though it's still useful within the Adobe ecosystem.
DNG Converter (Adobe) (0)This is a handy free tool you can download from the Adobe website for converting digital camera RAW files into Adobe’s generic DNG format. It’s useful if you have a new camera but an older version of Photoshop, Elements or Lightroom that won’t open its RAW files.
Dodging and burning (11)Dodging and burning is an old black and white technique for darkening or lightening different areas of a print while it's being developed. Dodging and burning is a creative process that's just as relevant with digital images. It's done to enhance the tones, the composition and the balance of a picture to create a visually satisfying image.
DxO (5)Paris-based software company famous for its optical research, testing systems and software. It publishes DxO PhotoLab (previously known as DxO Optics Pro), FilmPack and ViewPoint, the Nik Collection and the PureRAW RAW pre-processing tool.
Dynamic range (7)This is the brightness range the camera can capture before starting to lose detail in bright areas (like the sky) and dense, dark shadows. Generally, the larger the camera’s sensor, the better its dynamic range. RAW files capture a slightly wider dynamic range than JPEGs.
Edge softness (0)Edge softness is a very common characteristic of lenses. In fact, even the best lenses resolve less detail at the edges of the frame than the center – though it's only when edge softness becomes visible to the naked eye that it becomes an issue. It usually goes uncorrected, even in software, except for DxO's lens correction profiles, which makes DxO's lens corrections more advanced than others.
Effect (1)Any image adjustment that produces a ‘look’ characteristic of specific photographic or darkroom techniques. It can include infra-red effects, as created by infra-red film, a ‘polarising’ effect to simulate the results from using a polarising filter on the lens, a ‘tilt-shift’ effect to replicate the shallow depth of field of an extreme close-up and so on. Effects can sometimes be applied in-camera but are more likely to be added in software.
Elements (Adobe) (1)Cut-down version of Adobe Photoshop designed for novices and enthusiasts. It comes with a handy Organizer app for managing your photos, but a lower-powered version of Adobe Camera Raw. You pay outright rather than via subscription.
EXIF data (2)Date, time and shooting information embedded invisibly in digital photos by the camera. It includes the shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO setting and more. EXIF data is useful later on if you want to see how certain pictures were shot or search for photos based on their settings.
Export (1)More and more photo editing applications now work non-destructively, so that the editing changes you make are stored alongside the image in a metadata file or within the software’s image browser, and are not applied directly to the image. To produce a photo with your changes ‘baked in’, you have to export a finished version of the image.
Exposure (slider) (1)A simple adjustment in most photo editing programs for adjusting the brightness of the photo. In some software it will shift the tones up and down equally, but it's usually more subtle and designed to work more on the middle tones and not clip highlight or shadow details excessively.
Exposure Value (EV) (0)A numerical value given to the amount of light in a scene. For example, bright sunlight might produce an EV of 17. In practice, cameras deal only in shutter speeds and lens apertures and you’re only likely to see EV values on handheld light meters.
Exposure X (software) (1)Exposure X is an all-in-one photo browsing, organising and editing tool that concentrates on replicating classic film and darkroom effects but is also a very effective everyday image-editor, with fully non-destructive editing tools and support for virtual copies.
Extension (software) (0)Where regular image-editing tools use ‘plug ins’ for additional effects and options, the Apple Photos app uses ‘extensions’. Skylum Luminar now uses an increasing number of paid-for Extensions to increase its capabilities.
External editor (2)Image-editing software can’t always do everything you need to an image, so most have the ability to use ‘external editors’ – they send the file to another program, where you make the changes you want to make, and then the edited version is sent back to your original software for any further work. This is how plug-ins work too, but the difference is that external editors are full-blown standalone programs. Only a few programs, such as Lightroom and Capture One Pro, support external editors.
Eyedropper (0)A tool used in photo-editing software either to sample a color value or a color range for editing that color or making a mask, or for automatically setting the white balance, by clicking on a neutral gray area in the scene.
Feathering (2)Creating a smooth transition between one photo and another in a montage, or between areas where different adjustments have applied. A sharp division gives the photo an unnatural look, but blending in an adjustment smoothly looks more natural. One technique is to ‘feather’ a selection before making adjustments. Blending is often used with graduated or radial filter tools.
Film (0)‘Analog’ film comes in three main types: color transparency (slide) film, color negative and black and white negative. It also comes in many sizes, from 35mm through medium format roll film to large format sheet film. Smaller formats than 35mm are still available, such as 110 and 126, but are less popular now.
FilmPack (DxO) (2)A software plug-in/add-on published by DxO software. It aims to replicate the appearance of classic films and darkroom processes using film simulations, grain simulation, light leaks, borders and more.
Film simulation (14)Software that replicates film ‘looks’ is increasingly popular perhaps because it sparks memories and associations that add another layer of complexity to an image.
Filters (0)This can mean the filters you attach to the front of the lens to change the appearance of the picture, or software filters that do the same thing on your computer.
Focus stacking (2)A hardware and software technique for getting more depth of field in close-up and macro shots. You take a series of images at slightly different focus settings, then use focus stacking software to blend together the sharpest areas of each into a single image.
Frames (2)Another word for borders applied digitally to a photo, either as a compositional aid to enclose the picture, for example a black keyline, to simulate the look of negatives or prints, or (in the worst case) to produce a pretend wood or metal frame.
Gamut (1)A technical term for describing the range of colors a device can display, such as a computer monitor. It also describes the theoretical 'color spaces' used in color management. For example, the sRGB color space used universally by digital devices for capture and display has a somewhat narrower color gamut than the Adobe RGB color space used in publishing. These are technical distinctions that are important to technicians and when choosing monitors but often not visible in casual viewing.
Ghosting (HDR) (0)When you merge a series of different exposures to create a single HDR image, you sometimes get movement between the frames from leaves blowing in the breeze, waves, pedestrians and moving vehicles, and these can cause ‘ghosting’ in the merged image. Most HDR software has a ‘ghost removal’ option which slows down the merging process but can reduce or remove this ghosting.
Golden hour (0)In photography, this is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset, where the sun is low in the sky and casts an attractive, warm light that makes landscapes look more appealing. Sometimes it’s possible to replicate this effect in software – Skylum Luminar has a ‘Golden Hour’ filter.
Gradient map (0)A type of adjustment layer that translates the different brightness levels in a photo on to points on a gradient. It’s an effect you wouldn’t necessarily use that often, though you can effectively convert a color image to black and white using a black-white gradient map, for example.
Gradient mask (2)An image mask that transitions from clear to opaque gradually using a soft gradient. It could be used to darken a bright sky in a landscape shot, for example, without producing a hard edge where the adjustment takes effect.
Grading (0)The video equivalent of the image-enhancement stills photographers carry out on their images. Videographers ‘grade’ video to match the colors and exposures between clips, to create a certain ‘look’ or to edit video shot in a ‘log’ mode for extra dynamic range.
Graduated filters (21)Graduated filters are used most for outdoor shots where there's a bright sky and a much darker landscape beneath it. Adding a graduated filter digitally gives you a lot more control, and with a 'digital' grad you can mask out tall objects so that they aren't darkened along with the sky.
Film grain is caused by the random clumping of silver halide grains (black and white) or dye clouds (colour film) – the individual grains or colour spots are too small to see. Grain is one a film characteristic that was largely unpopular at the time, but is now considered an intrinsic part of that film 'look'.
Grayscale (0)A color model used for digital images that consists only of shades of gray, not RGB color channels. It was used in the early days of digital black and white, but these days photographers work on black and white images in regular RGB.
HDR (26)HDR stands for 'high dynamic range', a technique that's used to capture scenes with a very high brightness range and employs shooting techniques and software tools to bring the brightest and darkest parts close enough together that they can both be seen in a single viewable image.
HDR Efex Pro (Nik Collection) (3)HDR Efex Pro is a software plug-in for creating HDR (high dynamic range) effects from single images or bracketing sets of exposures. It's part of the DxO Nik Collection. You can apply preset HDR styles with a single click or adjust and make your own effects using extensive manual controls.
Healing brush (1)A process or set of tools for removing an object from a picture or repairing a blemish simply by painting over it. It’s like cloning, except that you don’t have to define a nearby clone ‘source’ to use for the repair – the healing tool chooses and matches pixels automatically.
HEIF format (2)The HEIF format (High Efficiency Image Format) is an alternative to the JPEG image format being pushed strongly by Apple in iPhones but starting to be adopted by camera makers like Canon and others. Its advantages are smaller file sizes and the ability to store 10-bit images, not just 8-bit.
High key (1)A photo where the tones are predominantly bright or white. It’s partly the subject that makes a photograph high key – a white cat on a white cushion, for example, and partly the exposure technique – slight overexposure will give a high key look.
Highlight recovery (7)Highlight recovery is a common requirement in digital images. Typically a RAW file will hold on to around another stop (1EV) of highlight detail than an in-camera JPEG, and any decent RAW converter will have highlight recovery tools to bring that detail back.
Highlights (0)The lightest tones in a picture. It’s a pretty vague definition, but most photographers take it to mean tones which are at or near a full, featureless white. Retaining or recovering highlight detail – in bright skies, for example – is a big priority for keen photographers.
Histogram (4)The histogram is a graphical display of the brightness values in the picture. The darkest tones are at the left and the brightest on the right, and the vertical bars show the number of pixels for each brightness value. Histograms are an invaluable exposure aid when taking pictures, and when editing them later.
History (1)Many programs can store a ‘history’ of all the editing changes you’ve made since you opened an image. Using this you can check what you’ve done and even backtrack to an earlier image state if you realise you’ve made a mistake. Some programs can store the history as part of the saved image file, while non-destructive editors like Lightroom will store it indefinitely as part of the image’s adjustment metadata.
HSL adjustments (8)HSL stands for 'hue', 'saturation', 'lightness', and it's a way of displaying different color ranges in photographs. HSL adjustments let you change the brightness, saturation and hue of individual colors or color ranges.
Hue (1)A way of describing a particular color, mostly when working with hue, saturation and lightness (HSL) adjustments in a photo editor. Every color has a specific hue value which identifies it on the spectrum, while the lightness and saturation values control how light or dark it appears and how strong it is.
Image editor (0)Any program which can edit, enhance or manipulate digital images is technically an image editor, though usually this term is reserved for more advanced programs like Photoshop rather than simpler everyday tools like Apple Photos or Google Photos.
Import (1)With some programs you can’t just open an image straight away, you have to import it into the software’s catalog first. This is how database-driven cataloguing programs like Lightroom, Capture One and Aperture work.
Infra red (1)A branch of photography that uses parts of the light spectrum not normally visible to the naked eye but which can still be captured on film or digitally using black and white or color film made sensitive to infra red or a digital camera modified to remove the infra red filter that normally covers the sensor.
Interpolation (0)Using mathematical analysis to fill in the gaps in data. The photosites on sensors only capture red, green or blue light, so interpolation is used to examine surrounding pixels and calculate full color values from those. When you increase the size (in pixels) of a photo, the software interpolates new pixels from the existing ones.
ISO (2)This setting increases the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Each ISO step doubles the sensitivity, so it’s easy to use ISO as another exposure control alongside shutter speed and lens aperture. Increasing the ISO increase noise, however.
JPEG (1)Standardised, universal file format for digital photos that can be displayed by practically any device without any kind of conversion. It uses powerful compression to reduce the file size of digital photos so that you can get more on to a memory card or a hard disk, and they’re quicker to transfer.
JPEG vs RAW (9)Most digital photos are shot as JPEG images. This is a universal image file format that uses sophisticated compression to keep the files small and manageable. JPEGs are created by processing the RAW data captured by the camera. Some cameras let you save these RAW files instead. The files are larger and you need to process them later on a computer, but they offer the potential for better quality.
Keystoning (0)Where the tops of tall buildings appear to converge. This happens when you’re so close you have to tilt the camera upwards to get everything in. You can correct it by choosing a more distant viewpoint and keeping the camera level, or by using keystone correction tools in software.
Lasso tool (1)A simple freehand tool for selecting parts of a photo. You drag the lasso pointer around the object or area you want to select and it's enclosed by a 'marching ants' outline. Freehand selections are quick but inaccurate – it depends on how good your mouse control is!
Layers (6)Layers come in a couple of different types. There are the image layers used for image montages, but there are also adjustment and/or effects layers used to change the appearance of a photo rather than combining it with another one.
Lens corrections (10)No lens is perfect. All lenses display aberrations to some degree, including distortion, chromatic aberration (colour fringing) and vignetting (corner shading). An increasing number of programs now offer automatic lens corrections which can identify the lens used to take a shot and apply a specially-calibrated correction profile from that lens.
Levels (7)Levels adjustments are one of the most basic yet most important things you can do when enhancing photos. It's a quick and simply way to maximise contrast and tonal without clipping (cutting off) any details in the extreme shadows and highlights.
Light leak (4)Old and cheap film cameras have poor seals and badly-fitting backs that may let light through on to the film inside. This produces pale streaks across the image or at the edges and has become associated with an ‘old camera’ look. Some programs now replicate light leaks digitally in a variety of colours, patterns and orientations.
Lightness (1)One of the three adjustments you get in HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) mode and a different way of making colour adjustments that's often more effective, especially for adjusting specific colors or color ranges anyway. The Lightness value simply changes the brightness of the selected color or the whole image.
Lightroom (Adobe) (20)The 'web first' version of Lightroom. It's a streamlined version of the original Lightroom Classic software and stores your images online in 'the cloud' so that they are available to all your devices everywhere. The extra storage needed does bring extra subscription costs.
Lightroom Classic (Adobe) (19)Lightroom is an all-in-one photo cataloguing, organising and editing tool that also synchronised with a mobile app so that you can browse and share your images while you’re on the move. It uses the same RAW conversion engine and tools as Adobe Camera Raw, which comes with Photoshop, but comes in two versions: Lightroom Classic CC uses the same desktop-based storage system and tools as the 'old' Lightroom, while Lightroom CC is a new stripped-down version with a simpler interface which uses paid-for cloud storage.
Lightroom mobile (1)An app for iOS or Android devices which works alongside the desktop Lightroom app to display images you’ve synchronised via Creative Cloud. When you sync a Collection in the desktop app, that Collection and its images will appear in Lightroom Mobile. You can view and even edit images in Lightroom Mobile and your changes will be synchronised with the desktop version.
Linear mask (1)Sometimes used as just another term for 'linear mask', it offers a straight-line transition from an adjusted area to unadjusted. It’s usually a soft transition not a hard one, and you can vary the width of the transition zone. Linear masks are used most often for darkening skies in landscape shots, where they are like the digital equivalent of a graduated filter. A linear gradient can also be a painting tool for applying gradients (not adjustments) to images.
Liquify (0)A tool in Affinity Photo and Photoshop for bending, pinching and distorting areas of an image to create a special effect or ‘improve’ the body shape of a subject. Other applications may offer similar tools.
Local adjustments (5)Adjustments made only to specific areas in a photo, not the whole picture. You pick out the areas you want to adjust with selections, masks or brush tools.
Local contrast (0)A relatively new type of image adjustment that splits a photo up into different areas, depending on its properties, and applies an optimum contrast adjustment to each. It’s used for a variety of ‘dehaze’ and similar tools. It’s also used as a kind of super-coarse sharpening which doesn’t make the edges of objects crisper in the normal way, but works over a much wider radius to give images more visual ‘punch’ from normal viewing distances.
Lossy/lossless compression (2)Digital images are usually compressed in some way to produce smaller and more manageable files, and this compression comes in two types. Lossy compression is the most aggressive and does involve the loss of some image detail, though this is rarely visible. It's used for JPEG images and some RAW files. Lossless compression simple takes up the 'spare space' in the image file and doesn't discard any data, but the reductions in file size are smaller. TIFF files use lossless compression, as do some RAW file formats.
Loupe (0)In traditional film photography, this is a small magnifying eyepiece for examining the detail in a negative, slide or print. In digital imaging it’s a magnifying view for use on-screen. Aperture and Capture One use a digital representation of a loupe, while Lightroom has a Loupe view where you can zoom in and out.
Low key (0)A photo where most of the tones are dark, such as a black cat in a coal cellar. You can also give photos a low key look with slight underexposure. It gives photos a dramatic, moody look, though the subject matter has to be right for this to work properly.
Luminance noise (1)The chief component in image noise and the one that’s most difficult to remove because software can’t easily distinguish between random image noise and real image detail. The result is that the more noise reduction you apply, the more you tend to lose fine image detail, resulting in images with obvious and objectionable ‘smoothing’.
Luminar (Skylum) (1)Luminar is a comparatively new image-editing program that offers instant effects presets made with a range of different filters and tools which you can combine and adjust manually. Luminar 4 introduces increased AI technologies for sky replacement and augmented reality effects. Luminar Neo is the latest version.
LUTs (15)LUT is short for Look Up Table. It's a kind of conversion profile that 'remaps' the luminance and colour values in an image on to new values. LUTs are widely used in cinematography to create a certain 'look' and they have now captured the attention of software publishers.
Magic wand (1)A selection tool that checks the color values of the image where you click, and then selects neighboring pixels sharing the same or similar values. You can adjust the 'tolerance' setting to control how precise the selection will be. It's useful for selecting areas of equal or similar tone.
Magnetic Lasso (1)This is a variation of the regular freehand Lasso selection tool, but as you move the mouse pointer, the selection tries to 'stick' to nearby object outlines. It can be an effective way to select objects with clear outlines and tones that contrast against their surroundings, but it's not especially reliable nor very easy to use.
Marquee (1)Another name for a selection, though it's usually used only for rectangular or circular selections. It's a way of selecting an area by dragging a 'marquee' around it using either of these shapes.
Masks (15)Masks are related to selections, but they're a more permanent way of masking out adjustments made to an image. For example, you might make an initial selection in an image-editor and then convert it into a layer mask which can be saved with the file and re-edited later if necessary.
Matte effect (0)A vintage or 'analog' effect, currently popular, where the darker tones in an image don't fade to a solid black. It goes against the grain from a technical point of view but it does give images a distinctly evocative look. It's quite easy to do with curves or levels adjustments.
Megapixels (1)The number of pixels captured by the camera’s sensor, so that 24 megapixels, for example, is 24 million pixels. Megapixels used to be a good guide to image quality but now sensor size is more important.
Merge (panoramas, HDR, focus stacking) (0)HDR (high dynamic range) images are usually created by blending a series of different exposures of the same scene to capture a wider brightness range than the camera could capture with a single exposure which are then blended together by HDR software using a ‘merge’ process. Panoramic images are made by merging a series of overlapping frames. Focus stacking is achieved by merging images of the same subject but with different focus points.
Merge layers (0)Sometimes when you're working on multi-layer images consisting of other images layers or adjustment layers it's useful to 'merge' all or some of the layers into a single layer. It makes the image less complex and it's ideal if you've already made all the changes you need to.
Metadata (2)Any information embedded in a digital photo. It can include time, date and shooting information (EXIF data) embedded by the camera, keyword, caption and copyright (IPTC data) added by image cataloguing programs and, sometimes, image processing data added by non-destructive image-editing programs.
Midtones (0)Very broadly, the middle brightness tones in a photo. Imagine the full range of tones in an image split into four equal parts – the darkest quarter makes up the ‘shadows’, the lightest quarter makes up the ‘highlights’ and in between are the ‘midtones’.
Miniature effect (0)Also called 'tilt shift', this effect uses selective blurring to create the optical illusion that you're looking at a tiny model of the world from above rather than the real thing.
Mobile photography (12)Photography based around using a smartphone or tablet to take, edit and share pictures. Many smartphones now have highly sophisticated camera arrays, advanced camera apps which include filters, effects and editing tools to rival those on desktop computers and, of course, the ability to publish images immediately and share them on social media.
Moiré (0)A fine interference pattern sometimes visible when you photograph fine patterns. It happens when these clash with the rectangular grid of pixels on the camera sensor. You rarely see it – most cameras have anti-aliasing/low pass filters to prevent it, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue for those that don’t.
Monitor calibration (1)Monitors rarely display colors with complete accuracy, so some professionals use calibration kits that use a sensor to read the monitor’s colors and then apply a software profile to correct the display.
Monochrome (0)Usually used as just another term for 'black and white', but strictly speaking it can also apply to images with a single color, such as toned black and white photos, or color photos where there is only one principal color.
Multiple exposure (2)Taking two shots on a single frame. In the days of film this meant locking the film advance when cocking the shutter and taking another picture on a frame of film that’s already been exposed. On a digital camera, the camera stores the first image in its memory and then merges it with the second.
ND (neutral density) filter (0)A filter which reduces the amount of light passing through the lens or reaching the sensor without affecting it in any other way. It allows longer exposures in bright daylight (useful for creative blur effects) or controls bright light in a camera with limited exposure controls. You can't reproduce this effect digitally in software later.
Nik Collection (DxO) (13)The Nik Collection is an important collection of plug-ins once published by Nik Software but then taken over by Google when it bought the company. Google then made the Nik Collection free but it has now been bought for future commercial development by DxO.
Noise reduction (16)Noise is the random ‘speckling’ in an image caused by variations in the light levels captured by the photosites on the sensor. Noise is worse with the smaller photosites on small sensors and at higher ISO settings generally. You can get ‘chroma’ (colored) noise and ‘luminance’ noise (general ‘grittiness’) the same color as the background. Noise reduction can either take place inside the camera as the image is processed or later on in software. Noise reduction can be especially useful at higher ISO settings, but some noise reduction processes do more harm than good, smearing fine details and producing soft and hazy images.
Non-destructive editing (13)Software which doesn’t make any direct changes to the pixels in a photo, but saves processing instructions alongside it. These instructions are used to change the appearance of the photo when it’s displayed and can be applied permanently to a new ‘exported’ image.
Offers (4)Software publishers regularly offer deals and discounts and you'll find the best ones listed right here, with the most recent at the top. It's not unusual to get 50% reductions on software sales, so there are often big savings to be made. Keep in mind that offers have a fixed life expectancy and will expire at some point. Where a closing date is given, it will be included in the story.
Offline editing (0)Increasingly, photographers need to store their images on external hard disks because there’s not enough room on the computer’s internal disk. This means – usually – that the external disk needs to be connected before you can do any editing work. Some software, however, can work with lower-resolution preview images while the external disk is disconnected. Capture One Pro catalogs offer offline editing, as do Lightroom‘s Smart Previews.
ON1 Photo RAW (9)ON1 Photo RAW is an all-in one image organising and editing program which includes a large array of preset effects and manual tools for manually adjusting and 'stacking' effects in layers. Includes tools for black and white and portrait photography and also works as a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom.
Organising (4)Image organisation is the science (or art) of organising your photo collection so that you can find or search your images later. Browsing software simply shows your image folders and their contents, cataloguing software imports them into a database for faster and more complex searches, grouping in albums and often non-destructive editing.
Overexposure (0)The technical description is a picture where all the tones are squashed into the brighter end of the tonal scale and where the highlights may be completely ‘clipped’ (lost). The artistic description is a photo that’s lighter than the photographer intended.
Overlay mode (0)One of the most useful blend modes in Photoshop and other image editors. When it’s applied to an image layer or adjustment layer it changes the appearance of the layer below. Tones darker than 50% make the those areas in the layer below look darker, tones lighter than 50% make them appear lighter. It’s often used for dodging and burning effects or for increasing contrast.
Panoramas (6)Panoramas are extra-wide images once captured with specially-adapted film cameras but now created digitally by 'stitching' a series of overlapping frames. Some cameras can do this internally but not always at full resolution, and it's more usually to carry out this panorama stitching on a computer.
Patch tool (0)A tool in Photoshop for covering up blemishes or removing unwanted objects from pictures. You use the tool to drag out a freehand lasso around the offending area, then drag the marquee to a nearby area containing the tones or textures you want to replace it with. It can be effective although as with all ‘smart’ object removal tools, it’s a bit hit and miss.
Perpetual license (0)This is the 'old' way of buying software, where you pay a single sum for a license to use that software forever. This is in contrast to subscription software, where you pay a sum monthly or annually to continue using it.
Perspective correction (11)Perspective correction is fixing problems like converging verticals in shots of tall buildings and making architectural interiors properly square instead of skewed or tilted. It's different to lens corrections, which are designed to fix lens distortion and other aberrations.
Perspective Efex (Nik Collection) (3)A relatively new plug-in in the DxO Nik Collection that's designed for precise perspective corrections. It has a lot in common with DxO ViewPoint.
PhotoDirector (Cyberlink) (0)An all-in-one photo organizing, editing and effects program that's not unlike Lightroom but offers a wider range of consumer-orientated tools which cross over into Photoshop territory – though PhotoDirector is something of a closed system not designed to work with plug-ins or external editors.
Photography Plan (Adobe) (6)A subscription plan which includes Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC. It’s designed for photographers and does offer very good value for money compared to the old scheme, where you paid a much larger amount for a ‘perpetual’ licence, and also had to pay to upgrade to new versions.
PhotoLab (DxO) (11)DxO PhotoLab is the replacement for the old DxO Optics Pro, adding in local adjustment tools when DxO bought the Nik Collection and its technologies from Google. PhotoLab is now a powerful all image browsing, raw processing, lens correction and editing tool, and is renowned for the image quality it can create.
Photomerge (Adobe) (0)Image blending technology found in Adobe Photoshop, Elements and Lightroom. It’s used to stitch individual overlapping frames into seamless panoramas, or to merge bracketed exposures into a single HDR (high dynamic range) image.
Photos (Apple) (1)Apple Photos is the novice-orientated photo organising and editing program supplied as standard with Apple Mac computers and with iOS devices like iPhones and iPads. Your photos are synchronised via Apple iCloud and are available on all your Apple devices.
Photoshop (Adobe) (2)Rightly regarded as the king of image-editing programs, Photoshop is the most powerful program there is for image enhancement, correction and manipulation, though it does not have the image cataloguing tools or the range of special effects offered by some rivals.
Photoshop Express (0)A free app for tablets and smartphones that offers a selection of quick editing tools and image effects. It does not have anything like the power of the desktop program, but it can still add interesting and useful effects to your pictures.
Photosite (1)The technical term for each individual light receptor on the camera sensor. The light captured by each photosite later goes on to form a single pixel in the digital image, but only after being processed by the camera and/or your photo editing software.
Pictorial (0)Picktorial is a single-window all-in-one photo organising and editing application for the Mac that’s not quite on the same scale as Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite, but it’s following Adobe by swapping to a subscription-based payment system.
Picture control/style (3)Cameras usually offer a range of picture ‘styles’ such as ‘Standard’, for neutral results, ‘Vivid’ for richer colors, ‘Portrait’ for gentler tones and more. These are applied to JPEG images saved by the camera. If you shoot RAW files you can choose the picture style later on.
Pincushion distortion (1)This is where straight lines near the edge of the picture appear to bow inwards. It’s not as common as barrel distortion, but you do see it quite a lot with telephoto zoom lenses when the lens is set to its maximum focal length. You may not notice it with many types of subject, but it can be corrected with software later anyway.
Pixel (0)The individual building block of digital images. Each individual pixel is a single block of color, but when there are enough of them viewed from far enough away they merge to form the impression of a continuous-tone photographic image.
Pixelmator (0)Pixelmator is a low-cost image-editor and illustration tool for Mac and iOS which has a clean and simple interface but powerful editing, retouching, selection and layering tools and a range of customisable effects. It also has painting tools and vector drawing tools, making it equally suitable for art projects, illustrations and diagrams.
Plug-ins (9)Plug ins are like add-on programs which work from within your regular software. They provide specialised effects or in-depth tools – or simply a an easier way of working – that aren't part of mainstream photo-editing applications.
Polarizing filter (0)Polarising filters darken blue skies and can cut through reflections and glare in water, glass and polished surfaces. They come in two types: linear polarisers are cheaper and older and don't work well with modern autofocus systems; circular polarisers are more expensive but they are the type needed for modern cameras. Polarising filters are often used to intensify blue skies in landscape and travel shots. It is possible to recreate this blue sky effect in software, though not other polarising effects.
Polygonal lasso (1)A variation of the regular lasso tool where instead of dragging an outline around your subject freehand, you click to add anchor points and work your way around until you get back to the start and you have created a 'polygonal' selection around your subject.
Post crop vignette (0)Normally, if you apply a vignette effect to a photo and then crop the photo you will crop off some of that vignette effect at the edges, too. However, Lightroom‘s ‘post-crop’ vignette will re-apply the vignette settings after the image is cropped so that you don’t lose the effect. Skylum’s Luminar has a Vignette filter which offers both modes – pre-crop and post-crop vignette.
Posterization (0)An effect where the image is split up into just a handful of solid colors. It can be done as a deliberate graphic effect, or it can happen accidentally if the contrast is increased too far in an area of a picture with very few different tones. It's more likely to happen with JPEGs or 8-bit TIFFs because they don't have the bit-depth to withstand very heavy manipulation.
Presets (18)Presets are specific adjustment settings, or groups of settings, saved for re-use. Presets are used widely by image-editing and effects software to apply a sophisticated set of adjustments to a photo with a single click.
Preview (1)Large-size rendition of a photo stored by cataloguing or photo browsing software to save time loading up the full size version. Previews are generally large enough to fill the screen but not as large as the original image. They can also sometimes be used for offline editing where the orginal image is on a disk drive not currently connected to the computer, for example – like Adobe Smart Previews.
PRIME (DxO) (0)A special noise reduction tool in DxO PhotoLab Elite which uses extremely sophisticated noise reduction analysis and processing to achieve much better results than normal noise reduction. It’s very processor-intensive, though, so processing the full image can take a couple of minutes. There are newer versions, including DeepPRIME and the latest DeepPRIME XD.
Printer profile (1)Used in a color-managed workflow to make sure that the printer reproduces colors exactly as they were on-screen. Profiles for the printer maker's own papers will usually be included in the printer driver software, but third-party printer makers often supply their own own profiles and you can use printer profiling software to make your own.
Profiles (10)'Profiles' are closely related to LUTS (lookup tables). They adjust the brightness and colour values in an image, sometimes to correct a device's colour rendition (like monitor profiles) but often to apply a creative effect or film simulation.
PSD format (0)The proprietary file format used by Photoshop, which contains not only the image or illustration you're working on, but all additional layers and information about editing steps and settings so that you can go back later and pick up where you left off. Some other programs support the PSD format to allow for a degree of compatibility but won't support all of Photoshop's features.
Quick fixes (5)Quick fixes can be thought of as automated or semi-automated adjustment tools to enhance images without any further user input. They can be effective if you are in a hurry or still learning.
Radial mask (7)A tool in Lightroom and some other photo editing applications. The centre of the gradient area is left unedited, and the editing adjustment you make are blended in progressively towards the edges of the picture. You can change the size of the gradient, its position and how progressively the adjustments are blended in. The gradient can also be inverted so that your adjustments are applied in the centre and areas outside the gradient area are unaltered.
Radiance (0)An adjustment in some programs that has a somewhat vague and undefined effect, at least in a technical sense. In Aurora HDR, for example, it adds a kind of soft ‘glow’ which goes well with the supersaturated, other-worldly feel of most HDR images.
RAW+JPEG (5)Cameras with the ability to shoot RAW files will almost always offer a RAW+JPEG option too. Here, the camera shoots a single image but saves two versions – the RAW file and a JPEG processed and saved with the current camera settings. The JPEG is useful because you can share it with other people straight away and it also offers a useful benchmark when you’re processing the RAW file later.
RAW file (8)Usually when you take a picture the camera will process the data captured by the sensor into an image file. More advanced cameras can save the image in its unprocessed state – a RAW file – so that you can do the processing yourself later on your computer. A RAW converter is software that processes RAW files from a camera and converts them into regular image files. Not all RAW converters are the same. The closest analogy is the different developers used to process film. Examples of RAW converters include Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One Pro and DxO PhotoLab. Some cameras now let you process saved RAW images and save them as new JPEG files on the memory card. That might sound a bit pointless when you could shoot JPEGs in the first place, but it does mean you can try out different white balance settings, picture styles and more.
RAW processing (23)A RAW converter is software that processes RAW files from a camera and converts them into regular image files. Not all RAW converters are the same. The closest analogy is the different developers used to process film. Examples include Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One Pro and DxO PhotoLab.
Red filter (1)A 'contrast' filter used in black and white photography to darken blue skies and lighten skintones and foliage. It can produce dramatic, high-contrast images.
Referenced images (3)Image cataloguing programs which use a central database to keep track of all your photos store both a representation of each photo and its location on your computer. Some programs will offer to import the photos into a central, ‘managed’ library, but usually they will simply ‘reference’ your files in their current location.
Reference view (0)A new view in Lightroom that lets you place a ‘reference’ image alongside the one you’re working on, so that you can match the overall look and feel – this could prove very useful if you’re trying to achieve a consistent ‘look’ across a series of pictures.
Resampling (2)Changing the pixel dimensions of a photo, usually to reduce the file size for sharing or online use. Resampling is irreversible because it changes the pixels in the photo. If you resample an image down to a smaller size, there’s no way to return it to its original size – the pixels discarded in this process can’t be restored.
Resizing (2)‘Resizing’ and ‘resampling’ sound the same but they’re not. ‘Resizing’ an image means usually means changing the size at which it will be printed, not changing its actual pixel dimensions. So for example you can ‘resize’ a photo to print it as a 6″ x 4″ or a 12″ x 8″. The only thing that changes is the number of pixels per inch in the final print. Some programs blur the distinction between ‘resampling’ and ‘resizing’ so it’s important to make sure you understand what they’re about to do.
Resolution (1)This can mean one of several things depending on the context. Camera resolution is the number of megapixels on the sensor, lens resolution is how well the lens is able to resolve fine detail. Screen resolution is the number of dots on the screen and therefore how sharp/clear it looks.
Retouching (6)Image retouching can be as simple as removing a couple of sensor spots from a sky or cloning out a few scraps of rubbish in a landscape shot. It can also be a highly-valued professional skill in the fashion and advertising industry.
RGB (1)RGB stands for red, green and blue, the three color ‘channels’ that go to make up all the colors in a digital image. It comes in two varieties – sRGB is a ‘universal’ RGB that can be used and displayed by any device, whereas Adobe RGB is a more specialised alternative for pros.
Round tripping (0)This is where you temporarily send a photo to a different image-editor or plug-in to carry out adjustments you can’t do in the software you’re using. When this external editing is complete, the picture is returned back to the original program – a ‘round trip’.
Saturation (1)The intensity of a color or a photo. The higher the saturation, the more intense the color. You can increase the saturation of a photo, but at a certain point the stronger colors will start to ‘clip’ – objects lose any fine detail and become a solid block of color.
Selection (1)A way of separating out a specific part of a picture for adjustments. Selections can be made using a variety of tools such as a rectangular or circular marquee, a magic wand or a selection brush. When the selection is made, it has an animated, dashed outline sometimes called ‘marching ants’.
Selective color (1)A special effect which converts the whole image into black and white except for one specific color range. One the the most common examples is a black and white image with a bright red subject – the girl in the red coat in the film ’Schindler’s List’, for example.
Sepia toning (0)An old black and white darkroom technique that turns regular black and white prints a vintage brown. It also adds depth and richness to monochrome images. These days it’s an effect that’s easy to create digitally.
Serif (0)Previously known mostly for its budget design and illustration software, Serif has now branched out into professional design and image-editing with its state of the art Affinity range, including Affinity Photo.
Session (Capture One) (3)Capture One is a professional image capture, organising and editing application. It started out as a tethered shooting tool for studio photographers, capturing each shoot as a ‘session’ where photographers could quickly sort through images, marking some as ‘picks’ and rejecting others. Capture One now offers Lightroom-style image catalogs but still offers its Sessions mode for photographers who prefer to work that way.
Shadow recovery (6)Shadow recovery is a very useful technique for backlit photos or images shot in high contrast lighting. Digital cameras are not very tolerant of overexposure, so it's often necessary to expose for the brightest parts of the scene and then enhance (recover) the shadows in post processing.
Shadows (0)The darkest tones in a picture. A pretty vague term (like ‘highlights’) but usually taken to mean the darkest areas where you can still see some image detail. Digital cameras often retain more shadow detail than you can see initially, and this can be brought out later on a computer.
Sharpener Pro (Nik Collection) (4)Software plug-in for sharpening images and part of the DxO Nik Collection. It comes in two parts – Sharpener Pro Raw Presharpening for enhancing images straight from the camera, and Sharpener Pro Output Sharpening for preparing images for printing on different devices.
Sharpening (7)Sharpening is a software process that exaggerates the contrast around the edges of objects and makes detail look sharper. It's applied in-camera, by RAW processing software and as part of regular editing processes.
Sidecar file (1)A small data file stored alongside images by some photo-editing applications. The sidecar file contains processing data not embedded in the file itself, which is common practice for RAW files (which can't be modified). Sidecar files may also contain keywords and other metadata.
Silver Efex Pro (20)Silver Efex Pro is a plug-in for recreating black and white and darkroom effects. It's part of the DxO Nik Collection and not sold separately. It can also be used a standalone program or as an external editor by programs like Capture One.
Skylum (0)Ukrainian company best known as the publisher of Luminar. It has also published Aurora HDR in the past, though this now appears to have been brought into the Luminar software ecosystem as an 'Extension' to the core program. Skylum's speciality is the extensive use of AI for image enhancement.
Sky replacement (2)A new landscape enhancement technique first introduced in Luminar Skylum and now offered by a number of different photo editors. It uses AI to identify and mask the existing sky in an image and then offers a series of alternative 'replacement' skies in various styles. The masking and sky replacement is usually highly effective, though does vary according to the subject and the software.
Smart album/collection (4)An album or collection in a photo organising application that automatically brings together images that match the properties you choose. For example, you could have a smart album/collection containing pictures shot on a Sony A7 camera in the RAW format with the keyword ‘winter’.
Smart Preview (Adobe) (0)With Lightroom‘s Smart Previews you can store smaller, lower-resolution versions of your photos within the Lightroom catalog while storing the full resolution versions on an external disk drive. Smart Previews are compressed DNG files and fully editable – any changes you make are automatically used for the full resolution photo when your drive is reconnected. Smart Previews make it practical to view and edit your image library on a laptop with a relatively small internal drive.
Snapseed (Google) (0)A simple image-editor and effects tool originally published by Nik Software, but then by Google when it took that company over. Google has since discontinued the desktop version of Snapseed, but it still exists as a free app for Android and iOS smart devices.
Snapshot (history) (1)A Snapshot is a record of the current image state while you’re editing it. You can create a Snapshot in Photoshop or Lightroom when you reach a point that you think you might want to return to during editing. You can save a number of Snapshots to quickly compare different editing steps.
Soft focus (5)Soft focus effects are popular in portrait photography but they can also work well in landscapes and other kinds of imagery where you want to create a romantic, ethereal look.
Solarization (0)Solarisation is an old darkroom technique for partially reversing a print during the development process. This produces a picture that's part positive and part negative. The result is a picture that can add a surreal look to any subject from a portrait to a landscape. The lighter parts of the scene reproduce naturally, but the darker parts are reversed, so that bright skies, for example, become dark and foreboding.
Split toning (6)A more complex type of toning where two colours are used not one – shadows are tinted with one tone and highlights with another. The results can be very effective, though it’s not always easy to find good-looking toning combinations and split toning doesn’t work with all images.
Spot (sensor) (2)The sensors in interchangeable lens cameras are prone to picking up specks ion dust which appear as small black spots in your images. Sensors have anti-static coatings and sensor cleaning mechanisms designed to repel and shake off dust particles but they often persist despite this. They can be removed with manual sensor cleaning or by using dust removal tools in software. Cameras with interchangeable lenses do not have sealed interiors and the sensors can pick up spots of dust. These can be removed in software using spot removal tools – you dab on the dust spot and the software uses nearby pixels to cover it up. It’s like cloning but easier, because you can leave the software to ‘heal’ the spot automatically.
sRGB (1)A standard color space used widely by displays on smartphones, computers, tablets and other electronic devices. It’s reproduces a sufficiently wide range of colors to give realistic photographic images and is supported by almost all devices. As color spaces go, it’s a safe and effective ‘lowest common denominator’.
Stacking/grouping (0)A way of keeping related images together in an image cataloguing program – such as different exposures in a bracketed series, the individual frames of a panoramic image, the shots from a continuous shooting sequence or edited and original versions of a photo. Adobe Bridge can stack images, as can Lightroom. Apple’s now-discontinued Aperture offered the most consistent and versatile stacking system.
Standalone software (0)Software that you launch directly and which doesn’t need any other program to run – as opposed to plug-ins, which need a ‘host’ application.
Stock photography (0)Generic images offered for sale to anyone who wants to licence them for use on websites or in publications. Stock images are generally submitted to a searchable stock library by individual photographers. When a client pays to use an image, the photographer gets a percentage of the fee.
Straighten (2)It’s very easy to accidentally shoot with the camera slightly skewed so that horizons or vertical objects aren’t straight. Most photo editing apps have a simple Straighten tool to put this right.
Structure (3)Structure is a relatively new concept in image editing. It enhances detail and outlines using the same basic principles as regular sharpening but across a wider radius. It's not designed to enhance fine detail, but shapes and outlines seen from normal viewing distances. It's like Lightroom's Clarity adjustment, but on a finer scale.
Style (Capture One) (1)Capture One offers two kinds of one-click adjustment and a slightly different terminology to other programs. In Capture One you can create custom settings for each of its tools and save this as a ‘Preset’. Capture One Presets use a single tool. But you can also combine multiple Preset adjustments to save a ‘Style’. Phase One sells a number of different Styles packs designed by professional photographers and for use with Capture One.
Subject recognition (5)A new branch of AI-powered technology in both cameras and software. In software, subject recognition is used to work out how to optimise images for different photographic genres and also to identify and mask specific areas for adjustment such as skies, subjects and other object types.
Subscription software (5)A new way of paying for software where you pay a monthly or a yearly subscription rather than paying a single sum for a licence to use the software for as long as you like.
Temperature (white balance) (3)Temperature, or 'color temperature', is one of the key settings in white balance adjustments. Different light sources have different color temperatures, from yellow/orange for incandescent indoor lighting to blue for open shade under blue skies or twilight.
Tethered shooting (1)A technique used by professional studio photographers where the camera is connected to a computer and the computer is then used for controlling the camera, checking pictures as soon as they’re taken and then correcting and enhancing them as necessary before saving.
Textures (8)Textures are a great way to add an 'analog' feel to a digital image. They can be relatively subtle, such as adding a 'paper' texture that simulates the fine pattern or fibres of art paper, or more dramatic, simulating the look of an old photographic 'wet plate' or unusual printing materials like tin or wood. Textures can also replicate the appearance of a scratched, stained or faded print.
Thirds (Rule of) (0)A ‘rule’ of composition that says that pictures look best if objects are placed one-third of the way in from the edge or top/bottom of the picture, rather than being placed directly in the centre. It can be helpful, though calling it a ‘rule’ gives it more importance than it deserves.
Thumbnail (1)A small rendition of an image designed for easy identification amongst lots of others. Image cataloguing software will show the contents of a folder, album or search results using a grid of smal 'thumbnail' images.
TIFF (3)An image file format that uses ‘lossless’ compression but produces much larger files than JPEGs. It’s sometimes offered as a file format on more advanced cameras but it’s more useful later on as an image file format for image editing and manipulation on a computer.
Tilt shift (3)Tilt shift lenses, or 'perspective control' lenses, have built-in lens movements which let you shift the lens up, down or sideways relative to the camera, or tilt it at an angle. The shift movement is good for correcting converging verticals in architectural shots, while the tilt movement has traditionally been used for depth of field control in studio photography.
Tint (white balance) (4)A secondary white balance adjustment used alongside colour temperature for more complex light sources like fluorescent lighting. Colour temperature works across an amber-blue spectrum, while tint adds a green-magenta axis.
Tone mapping (1)A technique used by HDR software to ‘map’ the extremely wide brightness range of a high dynamic range image into an editable form where the extremes of shadow and highlight detail are preserved. It’s usually the first and sometimes the only step in making an HDR image.
Toning (7)Toning is a popular technique in black and white photography where a chemical tint is added as the print is being developed. Sepia toning is popular for creating a vintage look, but selenium toning can add a richer, colder tone, while cyanotypes – strictly speaking, a different chemical process – have a much stronger blue tone.
Topaz Labs (1)Company that makes standalone noise reduction, image upsizing and sharpening tools that are also built into an AI Photo app in a simplified form, which chooses and applies optimum enhancements via AI.
Toy camera effect (0)A deliberately low-quality image effect that mimics the retro look produced by cheap old film cameras. Pictures have added contrast and color saturation and strong vignetting at the edges of the frame. Some toy camera effects add a color shift.
Transform (0)Changing the perspective or scale of a photo or objects within the photo. Typically it can include straightening, scaling up and down, skewing or correcting converging verticals, for example.
Type (0)The ‘designer’ word for text. Many photo editors also double as graphic design and illustration tools, including Photoshop, Affinity Photo and Pixelmator, and with these you can combine words and photographs on different layers.
Underexposure (0)The technical description is a picture where all the tones are squashed into the brighter end of the tonal scale and where the highlights may be completely ‘clipped’ (lost). The artistic description is a photo that’s lighter than the photographer intended.
Upright tool (Lightroom) (0)A set of perspective controls which can correct converging verticals, skewed horizons and other perspective problems. Lightroom offers a set of automated one-click buttons which often fix the problem immediately, plus a manual tool for correcting more complex or difficult perspective problems.
Variant (Capture One) (1)Used in Capture One Pro to create different versions of a photo without physically duplicating the image file on your hard disk. Capture One Pro’s adjustment are non-destructive, which means they consist of processing instructions rather than direct adjustments to image files. Lightroom has a similar feature called ‘Virtual Copies’.
Vector tools (0)Tools used for drawing shapes rather than editing the pixels in photos. Vector shapes are described mathematically, so you can scale them up to any size without quality loss, edit them after they’ve been created and combine them in different ways. In photo editing, they’re most likely to be used for making a very precise ‘path’ for cutouts and object selection.
Vibrance (0)A more sophisticated version of the regular saturation adjustment which targets the weakest colors rather than applying a constant saturation increase across the whole range. It’s less likely to produce solid, ‘clipped’ colors and can give a more natural, more controllable color boost.
ViewPoint (DxO) (1)DxO Viewpoint is a software tool that corrects distortion using lens correction profiles, fixes volume deformation created by wideangle lenses and offers perspective correction tools for fixing converging verticals and more. It works as a standalone app or as a plug-in and also integrates with DxO PhotoLab.
Vignette (19)Vignette effects can be very useful, both as an aid to composition and as a way of adding a vintage, 'analog' look. A vignette can help focus attention on the main subject and tone down a distracting background. It can also act as a kind of framing device so that the picture feels properly enclosed and your eyes don't drift out of the frame.
Vintage effect (1)Any effect which gives the look of an old photo, including sepia toning, photo borders, paper patterns and textures and anything else which gives a distressed, ‘aged’ look.
Virtual Copy (Lightroom) (6)Because Lightroom uses non-destructive editing, its adjustments are stored as metadata (processing instructions) rather than new image files. This means it can create any number of Virtual Copies of the same image for trying out different effects, without having to duplicate the image itself on your hard disk.
Viveza (Nik Collection) (3)Viveza is a software plug in which offers localised adjustments for photos via ‘control’ points. It’s part of the Nik Collection. You can use it to apply dodging and burning effects to enhance color images in just the same way you would in black and white.
Volumetric distortion (1)A special type of distortion correction once built into DxO Optics Pro but now built into the separate DxO ViewPoint application. It fixes the distortion usually seen with wideangle lenses where objects near the edge of the frame appear disproportionately wide – it’s most obvious with human figures.
Warmth (5)Warmth is an image characteristic that people often respond to. Landscape photographers like to shoot in the 'golden hour' when the sun is low in the sky, and people generally prefer portrait shots to have a little warmth to the colour rendition.
Watermark (0)A way of marking images as your own property to prevent others from passing them off as their own or earning income from your work. Watermarks are visible on the image, which is a downside, but they do act as a visible deterrent and warning that you take image copyright ownership seriously.
White balance (14)White balance is a color adjustment made in software to correct any color shift in the ambient light to make it neutral – to 'balance' the light so that it's a pure, neutral white.
White balance presets (4)If a camera is set to auto white balance then it will try to analyze and correct the colors in every scene, which can lead to unpredictable results. White balance presets lock the settings down to specific values for different conditions. You do need to select them manually according to your own judgement, but they do force the camera into a consistent color rendition.
X-Trans sensor (1)A sensor layout unique to Fujifilm which replaces the usual bayer pattern of red, green and blue photosites with a more ‘random’ arrangement. Fujifilm says this eliminates the need for a low-pass filter to combat moiré (interference) effects, resulting in sharper fine detail.
XMP file (1)This is an additional file saved by some photo editing software alongside an original image to store adjustments and/or keywords and other metadata. It's used by Adobe for RAW files, for example, where it's not possible to embed this data directly in the file. These XMP files are often called 'sidecar' files because they are saved separately to but alongside the image they relate to.
Zone System (0)A system developed by the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams for measuring the light levels throughout a scene and allocating them to ten brightness ‘zones’. The idea was to develop the film to a specific level of contrast that captured the full range of tones and make appropriate artistic interpretations with dodging and burning during the print-making process. It worked well with the very exposure tolerant sheet films of the day, where each negative was processed individually, but it’s mostly of academic interest today since digital sensors don’t offer this extended exposure latitude.
10-bit HEIF (1)HEIF stands for High Efficiecy Image Format, a format which may one day rival or replace JPEG as a 'universal' image file format. The advantage of the HEIF format is that it can store 10-bit image data rather than the 8 bits of JPEGs, which should make it much more resilient to heavy image editing later.
14-bit RAW (5)The ‘bit depth’ of RAW files is a factor in the picture quality they can produce, so this is a selling point for advanced digital cameras. Some cheaper models can only shoot 12-bit RAW files, but while this sounds like a small difference, the extra bit depth potentially offers 4x the image data so 14-bit RAW files are a worthwhile benefit, especially if you want to process photos heavily later.
16-bit image (6)These are photos with 16 bits of data for each of the red, green and blue color channels and are one of the options for TIFF files. These aren’t created directly by the camera, but you can generate 16-bit images from RAW files and they withstand heavy image manipulation better than regular 8-bit images. The file sizes are much larger, though.
• Read more: Bits and bit depth explained
16:9 ratio (3)This is the aspect ratio of full HD and 4K UHD video and it’s been widely adopted as the aspect ratio for domestic TVs and computer monitors. The 16:9 ratio means that the picture is 16 units wide by 9 units high. These units can be anything from pixels to centimetres to inches, but the point is that the ratio between them always remains the same at 16 wide to 9 high.
24-bit/48-bit image (1)This is the 'old' way of describing the bit depth of an image, by multiplying the bit depth of each channel by the number of channels. So an 8-bit image would equate to '24-bit' (8 x 3) in the older terminology, and '48-bit' (16 x 3) would be described as 16-bit today.
8-bit images (5)These are photos which use 8 bits of data for each of the red, green and blue color channels. This is enough to give over 16 million colors – more than enough for photographic images. The JPEG photos taken by digital cameras are 8-bit images.