Photo Video Terminology

It occured to me that I talk a lot about photography and video stuff here and on facebook. I know a lot of you probably don’t know the lingo. So I’ve decided to create this little cheat sheet so you can understand what I’m talking about.

This is not by any stretch a complete list. I may also add to it over time. But these are the most common things I may bring up.


2K – Is a cinema standard resoution measured at 2048 pixels × 1080 pixels. Just slightly wider than Full HD video that is 1920 x 1080. 2K is typically what you watch when you go see a digitally projected movie in the theater. Although some higher end theaters are moving to 4K projectors.

4K – Also known as UHD (Ultra High Definition) is a video resolution that is twice the size of Full HD. Typically 3840 pixels × 2160 pixels (8.3 megapixels in photography lingo) for televisions. Although that resolution may be wider for cinema such as 4096 × 2160 (8.8 megapixels.) 4K UHD is the next standard and 4K TVs are already starting to hit the market for consumers.

8K – (also called UHD) is 7680 pixels × 4320 pixels (33.2 megapixels in photography lingo). This is in very limited use. Some of the 2012 Olympic games were shot in 8k. But none of it you saw on TV.

Zoom Lens – Any lens that can zoom. The ability to change its focal length. For example a 24-70mm.

Prime Lens – Any lens that does not zoom. A fixed focal lenght lens. For example a 50mm or a 75mm or a 28mm. Prime lenses tend to be sharper than zoom lenses and often let in more light.

f1.8 – This is an aperture setting on a camera lens. The aperture is the iris inside the lens that opens up or closes down letting in more or less light. There are several aperture setting, f1.8 is just one example. Others would be f1, f1.2, f1.4, f2, f2.4, f2.8, f3.5, f4, f5.6, f7.0, f8, f11, f16, f22. Those are not all of them, just a handful. The aperture controls both how much light is let in and how much of the scene is in focus. The smaller the aperture number the more light and less is in focus.

Fast Lens – This is a term used to describe the aperture setting on a camera lens. When we say “this is a fast lens” what we really mean is that it has a large aperture and can let in more light. For example an f1.4 or f2.8 lens. It has nothing to do with the speed of the autofocus.

1080p – The “p” stands for progressive scan. Older video cameras were interlaced, which means they captured a frame of video that was half the lines and then another frame that was the other half of the lines. They then interlaced those two half-frames together to create a complete frame. That’s a pretty simplistic way of describing it. A progressive scan camera captures full and complete frames all at one time, like film cameras. You may see different resolutions described as 240p, 360p, 480p, 720p or 1080p.

Hard light / Soft light – These are the different types of light that exist. A hard light is any source of light that has a single high intensity source, like a light bulb. A soft light is any source of light that is spread out over a larger area producing a softer glow. An example of a soft light would be a fluorescent light bulb. You can turn any hard light into a soft light by using modifiers like a screen or a softbox in front of it, but you cannot turn a softlight into a hard light.

Producer – The person responsible for organizing a video or photo production. They deal with getting people there, making sure everything is on budget, making sure the project is going as planned, working with other people in the field to see that everyone has what they need and is in scope of the project.

Director – The person responsible for the direction of a video or photo production. They work with the talent in front of the camera and all the trades people behind the camera to see the vision of the project come to fruition. On a film production the director is the key person calling the shots. In television the producer usually has more control and in theater the actor has the most control.

Director of Photography – Also know as a DP, DoP or Cinematographer. This is the chief camera person. They are responsible for working with the director to set up the shots, come up with a lighting scheme for the scenes and operate the camera and/or organize and direct all the other camera operators/cinematographers on a multi camera shoot.

Camera operator / cameraman/woman – This is a person that works a camera on a film shoot. They get their instruction from the Director of Photography. Below the camera operator are other camera assistants such as the focus puller and on film shoot the film loader as well as other assistants there to help.

Gaffer – An electrician on a film set. Sometimes the head of the electrical department. Sometimes known as the chief electrician on a film set. They are responsible for working with the Director of Photography on where lighting and power needs to go for a scene.


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