Language is a slippery thing. The meanings of words are constantly evolving. Add in the continuing leaps being made by the technology underlying photography, and it's no wonder that the language photographers use is in an almost constant state of flux.
Words Where the Meaning Has Shifted
There are dozens of words and phrases that have been common place in conversations about photography for decades, but thanks to changing technology, the meaning of the following words has shifted.
Most cameras have a bulb function, often designated as a capital B. Today, the bulb function indicates that the camera will record an image for as long as the shutter mechanism is engaged (whether the shutter is mechanical or electrical, triggered directly or remotely).
The term bulb was originally a reference to a pneumatic device, in the shape of a bulb, that the photographer would squeeze to create pressure on the shutter release. The shutter would then remain open for as long as pressure was applied to the bulb. We now rarely use a physical bulb, but we still refer to this type of variable longer exposure as bulb.
The rise of digital editing may have ushered in the most changes to photographers' vocabulary. I'm looking at you, Lightroom and Photoshop. In an effort to aid photographers' transition from a darkroom to digital editing, Adobe raided the traditional terms used by photographers so that we could all understand the functions of their new digital tools by reference to darkroom techniques we were used to.
As time passes and there are fewer and fewer photographers that have ever used a darkroom, the new digital-centric use for these words has come to dominate the original meanings. For example:
The loupe function in Lightroom allows the user to look closer at one of a series of images to determine the quality of the digital file. Essentially, it's a zoom function.
The term loupe originally referred to a tiny handheld magnifying glass or microscope that photographers borrowed from watchmakers and jewelers. Because printing can be a laborious process, photographers used a loupe to get a magnified look at negatives in order to determine which negatives should be printed.
Dodge and Burn
Today, the dodge and burn tool is primarily used to refer to a digital editing technique designed to darken or brighten selected parts of a digital file. If you look closely at the tool icons for dodge and burn,
you may wonder just what these things are.
Long before Photoshop, photographers would use dodge and burn techniques in the darkroom. A negative would be slotted into the enlarger, which would blast light through the negative onto the photographic paper. The areas where more light reached the paper would be darker, or burned. The dark portions of the negative shielded the paper from light exposure, and conversely, the lighter portions of the negative would let more light through. If a photographer wanted to augment the effect of negative, they could hold something between the enlarger and the paper to reduce the amount of light hitting the paper: this would be a dodge. Or, they could dodge large portions of the paper with the intent of exposing, or burning in, the uncovered areas.
A complicated, inexact process made much more simple and targeted by Adobe.
Most photographers today understand the term develop in reference to a module in Lightroom. However, the Oxford English Dictionary defines develop as:
[To] Treat (a photographic film) with chemicals to make a visible image.
Those of you that have worked in a darkroom will be familiar with the series (and smells) of chemicals that have to be mixed with the film to create a negative. It was long, pungent, and finger-burning work.
The term develop as it is used by Lightroom has nothing to do with chemicals or red lights. In fact, the tools available in Lightroom's develop module have much more to do with what used to be called printing than developing. There really is no developing of a digital file, despite Adobe's use of the term.
After a shoot, photographers will often provide their clients with a series of partially edited, less-than-full resolution images to help determine which files will be processed or printed. These image files are often referred to as contact sheets.
The term contact sheet comes from the days of analogue film. After the film was developed, but before it was printed full size, a photographer would lay the negatives across, or in contact with, a piece of photographic paper. Then, the photographer would expose the paper to light in order to create a series of images that could be evaluated in order to select the keepers.
The end use for these proof sheets are still the same, but the process, which gave contact sheets their name, is not the same.
Today, a lightbox is a function of website construction whereby a viewer can click on an image to get a larger inset view of the image.
Prior to the rise digital photography, lightboxes were literally large tables or walls of light used to illuminate negatives for viewing with a loupe. Doctors and dentists still use lightboxes to look at x-rays (if they aren't digitized), but given the digitization of photography, I highly doubt that there is much use for the lightboxes at Vogue these days.
Today, slide presentations are made through PowerPoint or similar software.
However, the term slide originally referred to a piece of reversal film that was mounted in a metal or plastic frame. These slides were then run through a projector to illuminate the positive film image.
I'm not really sure what I'd rather these days, another boring PowerPoint presentation or being forced to watch my neighbors slide show of his trip to New York.
Words That Aren't Used Anymore
In addition to words that have seen their meanings shift, there are also words or phrases that are all but extinct in modern usage.
Daguerreotype / Ambrotypes / Tintypes / Calotype...
Yes, there are creatives that continue to shoot arcane analog processes for artistic purposes. But, the various early methods of photography and film processing are all but extinct to the wider world.
Victorians were so fixated on death that they created an entire genre of photography designed to help remember the dead. Although this type of photography doesn't exist in the mainstream anymore, it was incredibly popular for a time.
The phrase "memento mori" can be translated from Latin to mean "remember you must die." The phrase itself came to represent this type of postmortem photography. As the appeal of this type of photography has died, the phrase itself no longer has any modern meaning in relation to photography.
Because early exposures were several seconds long, it was almost impossible to take natural-looking portraits without blur. Even if you could mount your camera on a tripod or some other stand, surely you couldn't mount your subject on a stand... or could you? Actually, Mathew Brady invented what has become known as the Brady stand to help solve this problem.
Brady's stand had a heavy base designed to support a subject's arms or neck in a more natural looking pose. The portrait subject could lean or rest against the stand so that they could hold still long enough for the exposure. Looking at these contraptions, I'm pretty thankful for the invention of flash.
Speaking of flash, we certainly don't use flash bulbs anymore, nor flash powder. Transparency is more of a Photoshop layers term than a positive film-related term. Grain has become synonymous with noise, even though they aren't really the same thing at all. Many of us still use glass filters that are physically attached to our cameras, but the takeover of IG filters and the application of Photoshop filters has little to do with a polarizer or an ND filter, even if the end result is the same.
Do you have any dead or dying terms you'd like to add to my list? Comment below.
All images either in the Public Domain or used under Creative Commons License. Credit is provided in each caption. Lead image used under Creative Commons License, mrpolyonymous