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A snapshot of key photography terms for marketing

Overhead shot of photography kit including camera, various lenses and lens caps, batteries, flashes and a camera stand

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Why read this? : We explore the key photography terms marketers should know. Learn how to speak the same language as your photographer. Read this to have more effective conversations about images.

In most cases, marketers hire a professional photographer to shoot their images. (Unless it’s something quick and spontaneous for social media).

For example, images to use on your packaging, in your advertising and on your website. You want those images to look professional so you hire a professional to take them.

After the photographer shoots these images, there are normally 2 evaluation stages.

Overhead shot of photography kit including camera, various lenses and lens caps, batteries, flashes and a camera stand

There’s a business evaluation which you lead. This looks at 6 key questions including who it’s for and where it’ll be seen.

But before that, there’s a technical evaluation. The photographer normally leads this but should involve you. This focuses on areas like colour balance, exposure, framing and composition. It’s about making photographs technically correct. The photographer is usually happy to explain the process, but it speeds things up if you learn some of the more technical photography terms. It’s about speaking the same language as the photographer.

Key photography terms

As background reading on photography for non-experts, we recommend the Digital Photography Handbook by Doug Harman. It covers many different areas of digital photography including :-

  • getting the right equipment.
  • using your digital camera.
  • the digital darkroom (photo editing tools)
  • outputs (online or print).

It also covers all the basic photography terms used by professionals, which we’ll summarise in this article, starting with composition :-


Composition is how you lay out the different elements which appear in the photo. The elements have to look balanced and aesthetically pleasing. 

These principles also apply to design. That’s another visual medium where how you manage layout, balance and aesthetics matters. 

For example, there’s the Rule of Thirds. This is where you overlay a 3 x 3 grid on your photo.

You position elements along the lines or at the intersection of lines. This helps the photo look more balanced and visually appealing. 

For example, you position a horizon line one-third from the top rather than right across the middle. 

Design principles - rule of thirds

You position a person being photographed in front of a large object (say a building or a statue) one-third to the right or left rather than slap bang in the middle. Photos which follow this “rule” feel more balanced. 

Composition also covers how you frame the image. This is where you include other items in the shot to give a sense of perspective. Or to alter the photo’s mood.

A hand holding your product so you can tell how big it is. The branches of a tree coming into the shot to give it a more outdoors feel. Arranging your product range at different distances and at different heights to make it more visually interesting. All examples of photography composition. 


Focus is a measure of the sharpness of an image at a particular distance from the lens. Most cameras have an auto-focus as default, which captures everything in sharp focus when you take a photo. This is good in most, but not all cases. 

For example, if you’re shooting a range of products or a landscape, you want the detail to be clear. You want everything in sharp focus.

But sometimes, you have distracting background details. You want those things out of focus so the eye is drawn to the most important elements. 

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

Depth of field

To achieve this mix of some elements in focus and others not, you adjust the Depth of Field (DOF) settings on the camera. 

Harman defines this as “the range of object distances within which objects are imaged with acceptable sharpness”.

So, some objects are in sharp focus, while other (less relevant) elements are blurry. The audience’s attention will be automatically drawn to the elements in focus.

Close up of hand holding photography lens in front of a lake and some hills

The blurry background is mostly ignored. You see this effect in lots of portrait photography, for example. The important element is the photo’s subject, not the background.

It’s also often used to showcase product images. For example, notice how sharp the microphone is in this photo. But how blurred the background is. The photographer wants you to focus on the microphone, not what’s going on behind it. 

This effect was done by adjusting the camera’s DOF.

For example, the photographer will have used a wider aperture setting (also known as an F-stop number). This lets in more light to create a shallower DOF so only the object is in focus.

Close up of an old fashioned metal microphone on a stand

Narrower apertures let in less light, so give a deeper DOF. You do that when you want everything to be in sharp focus.


Focus and DOF are important for close-up work.

Most people get the basic concept of zooming in and out with a camera.

Zooming in focuses on important details, and can help you create more interesting images.

Close-ups are used a lot in marketing photography to draw attention to specific details of a product. 

For example, on this iconic Jack Daniel’s label.

Jack Daniels bottle close up on label

The photographer has picked out the sharp detail of the front label with a shallow DOF on the close-up. Look at how crisp and clear the “Jack Daniel’s” text is compared to the blurry text on the side, for example. 

You also see it a lot on high-ticket items like cars, jewellery and electronics. 

Photographers often like to focus on key details rather than try to capture the entirety of an object. This focus on specific qualities makes the products feel more premium.

This can lead to unusual angles and viewpoints. These types of shots make for more attention-grabbing photos such as with this close-up of the Mercedes badge.

Mercedes logo badge with three pointed start on bonnet of a car


Exposure is a measure of the amount of light which reaches the camera’s sensor. Well-exposed photos pick out key areas of light and dark in the shot with sufficient detail. 

But if not enough light gets in, the shot looks dark. You won’t be able to pick out the details in the shadows. This is underexposure. 

And if too much light gets in, it can bleach out the image. You won’t be able to pick out the details in the highlights. This is overexposure.

Woman standing in a poorly lit street at night. She is blowing into her hands which holds a light and some sort of illuminated confetti

Professional photographers spend a lot of time making sure they get the exposure just right. Lighting is key. For example, they’ll look at the amount of natural light and different types of camera flashes. They’ll use light meters, and extra off-camera light sources to properly light a shot.

This becomes more important when shooting in low-light conditions.

For example, if your photography needs to be shot at night, or in dark locations like a nightclub or at a party. “Auto” lighting settings don’t work so well in these conditions. 

Professional photographers have the technical skills to get the best shots in low-light conditions. They’ll adjust the camera settings to factor in the light.

Hand pouring a brown liquid into a glass filled with ice in a bar

For example, the camera’s shutter speed affects how much light reaches the sensor. 

Also, the camera’s ISO settings measure the camera’s sensitivity to light. Lower ISO settings work better in bright light. Higher ISO settings drive faster shutter speeds and are better for low-light shots.

White balance

Photographers will also adjust the white balance to change the lighting of a photo. 

Sunlight and candles give off a natural warm glow. But if you shoot on a cloudy day, you don’t get the benefit of this natural lighting. Plus, if you shoot indoors, household tungsten lights can add a yellow colour to photos. Fluorescent lighting adds a cold blue tint to images. 

You may want these for their aesthetic effect. But in most cases, sunlight is the best and most natural way to light your photo.

Two wine glasses on the railing of a balcony overloloking the sun setting on a sea view

You can adjust the White Balance on the camera, or with photo editing software to make the lighting look more natural.

Black and white

Most photography is colour. But in some cases, you want a different impact by making it black and white.

These types of photos catch people’s attention by being different. We’ve all got so used to seeing colour photos, that we notice when it’s not there.

Black and white can change the photo’s mood. It suits images which need to convey an older, more traditional feel. Or which you want to feel sombre and stark.

Close up image of a man in a suit wiping away a tear and looking sad

The mood and feel are usually outlined in the brief. It tries to fit the photography style back to the brand identity. Jack Daniel’s did this, for example. They ran a long-term campaign using black and white images to show the age and tradition behind the brand.

Conclusion - Key photography terms

Customers’s perceptions and buying decisions are heavily influenced by what the brand looks like.

The photography you choose to represent your brand therefore has an important impact on your brand’s success. 

In most cases, it’s so important that you hire a professional to do it.

But getting to the right image isn’t simply a case of pointing and clicking the camera. 

Overhead shot of photography kit including camera, various lenses and lens caps, batteries, flashes and a camera stand

As we’ve covered elsewhere you need to do a business evaluation of the images to make sure they will help you meet your marketing objectives.

Plus, the photographer should also lead a technical evaluation. That often involves a lot of photography terms. While you don’t need to know every term, it helps to learn the main ones we’ve covered here. 

The composition covers how the image is laid out. Focus is a measure of an image’s sharpness and works hand in hand with depth of field. Close-ups help you draw attention to specific details of your product. Exposure is a measure of the light that hits the camera’s sensor, while the white balance reflects the tone of the lighting. Finally, there’s black and white which can be useful to help photos stand out when colour photography is the norm. 

Check out our photography in marketing and our evaluating photos article for more on this. Or get in touch if there are any key photography terms you think we’ve missed from a marketing point of view.

Photo Credits

Black DSLR kit : Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Running : Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash

Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

People taking notes : Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Lens : Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

MIcrophone : Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

Jack Daniel’s : Photo by Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

Mercedes Benz logo : Photo by Chad Z on Unsplash

Sprinkles : Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

Drink pouring in bar : Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Man crying : Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

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