Aperture: Roughly speaking, the aperture value – or AV – refers to how wide the 'iris' of the lens opens when you take a picture. The higher the number (known as the f-number), the smaller the opening. This gives a greater depth of field, meaning most or all of the shot will be in focus. Conversely, a low f-number will give you a large opening, so only one part of the image will be in focus. This is commonly used in portraits, for example, where the background is blurred – giving a nice focus on the face.
Autofocus: Every photographer’s friend! Your camera will focus automatically, meaning you can shoot faster and generally more accurately. If your subject is not in the middle of the shot, however, or if you are shooting wildlife which is hidden behind vegetation, you might need to resort to focusing manually, as autofocus will likely focus on the wrong part of the image.
Composition: How the elements are arranged within a photo. You may set up the composition artificially (ie. moving objects or asking people to stand in a particular position) or by moving yourself, your camera or zooming in and out to perfectly compose your shot. There are all kinds of composition 'rules'; you’ll learn about some of these on your photography vacation.
Contrast: The difference between the lightest and darkest parts of an image. Shooting at midday often results in very high contrast images, where sunlit areas are bleached out, and areas in the shade are almost black; this is why many photographers prefer early morning or late afternoon light, or overcast conditions.
Exposure: The exposure refers to the amount of light the film (or digital image) is exposed to. Overexposure results in a bleached out image; underexposed photos will be very dark.
ISO: Traditionally, this measured the film speed. The lower the number (ie. 100 or 200), the slower the film; film with a low ISO number is best used in very bright conditions. A high ISO film (800, 1600, 3200) works well in twilit conditions or indoors. However, a high ISO creates a very grainy photo – which you may find attractive or not. Although film is rarely used now, digital cameras still have an ISO setting which works on the same principles – even replicating the grain effect.
Image stabilising: A feature now on many DSLR lenses which minimises natural shaking (ie from your hand). Some photographers prefer to use this feature only when necessary, as it can drain the battery faster.
Polarising filter: You know those stunning beach photos, with an aquamarine sea and a sapphire sky? Or deep turquoise lakes? To get this rich colour, rather than all the light bouncing off the water, you’ll need a polarising filter, which controls which light is absorbed. It hides reflected light (on water or glass, for example) and deepens the sky for instant pro shots.
Self timer: The original way of doing selfies! The timer is set for a few seconds’ time, allowing the photographer to step into the shot, or simply avoid camera shake from pressing the shutter.
Shutter speed: This measures how long the shutter is open when you take a picture, which affects how much light is let into the camera. So slower speeds are used when there is less available light, and vice versa. Speed is measured in fractions of a second; typically, if you’re shooting slower than around 1/30 of a second you’ll get camera shake, so best use a tripod.
Resolution: The resolution of a digital image affects the quality. The higher the resolution, the more pixels. A low resolution image may look fine on a computer screen, but for printed images, the higher the resolution, the better.
RAW: Digital cameras store images in different formats. JPG is the standard format, but RAW files are much higher quality, You’ll need to make sure you have software such as Photoshop or Lightroom to open and edit these files (and convert them to JPG versions). The best thing is that as the RAW file contains so much information, you can adjust things like the contrast much more successfully. Additionally, no matter how much editing you do, all the original information is retained in the RAW file, so you can always go back to the start with no loss of quality. Think of it as a digital negative.
SLR: Short for single-lens reflex, an SLR camera allows you to see directly through the camera’s lens when you look through the viewfinder, by using mirrors. This set up means you need to look through the viewfinder, not on the LCD screen, when you’re taking a picture. Pro photographers prefer this though, as your screen is hard to see in bright sunlight – and holding the camera to your face also helps keep it steady. SLRs also capture images faster; no more annoying delay after you’ve pressed the button, only to find the bird has flown by the time the shutter finally goes.
Telephoto lens: Also called a long lens; think paparazzi, or those fancy looking black and white lenses you see hardcore wildlife photographers cruising round with. You’re unlikely to need anything quite as extreme; but if you are going on a trip specifically to photograph birds or wildlife then you’ll need at least a 135mm lens, up to around 300mm, as a start.
Wide angle lens: Also known as a short lens. For sweeping landscapes, or even to take in as much as you can of a narrow scene (a small room, a train), you’ll want a wide angle lens, typically 50mm or less; the lower the number, the wider. Be aware that if you are taking photos of a close up subject (such as a portrait) with a wide angle lens, the image will be distorted (think of the effect created by a convex mirror – or the wing mirror on a car). The most extreme wide angle lens – with a completely distorted image – is a fisheye lens.
Zoom lens: Zoom lenses allow you to focus in and out of a scene. They are ideal for travel photography as you can choose your focal length on the spot and won’t need to keep changing lenses (particularly hazardous on the road when there is plenty of dust, dirt or humidity to get inside your camera). Depending on the focal length, they’ll allow you to shoot both portraits and landscapes with a single lens, for example. The lower the mm, the wider the scene – and the higher the mm, the closer in you’ll get to wildlife at a distance, for example.