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I frequently see these two words in 3D programming. For example:

the direction of the directional light

the orientation of camera

So, what’s the difference between them?

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Have you looked in a dictionary? What does it tell you? –  coleopterist Oct 12 '12 at 15:46
    
I looked, but still don't understand –  zdd Oct 12 '12 at 15:54
    
Hello zdd, this question can be improved by citing sources you checked before posting it, and explaining why your research results were inadequate for you: are there some reasons due to which you do not understand the difference between these words? Please, clarify. –  user19148 Oct 12 '12 at 16:55
    
You could say "the orientation of the directional light" and the sentence would have an identical meaning to your example without sounding as redundant. –  ghoppe Oct 12 '12 at 18:43
    
Probably unrelated: english.stackexchange.com/q/110301 :) –  tchrist Apr 3 '13 at 11:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think that the words are very similar, but there is arguably a subtle distinction.

The word direction suggests movement. While it may refer to a static object, it describes it as if it were or could move toward the described location.

the position toward which someone or something moves or faces:
Cars were facing every direction after slamming into each other on the icy road.
I glanced in her direction (= toward her).
You’re headed in the direction of (= toward) Toronto.

The word orientation seems to connote that the object is static and there is no suggestion of movement. As noted in a comment to this post, it is a relationship to the environment.

the position of something in relation to its surroundings:
The church has an east-west orientation (= has one main side facing east and the opposite side facing west).

There are many cases where either could be used, (even a paraphrase of one of the examples under direction)

Cars were oriented every which way after slamming into each other on the icy road.

However, there are many when only one or the other will do.

He moved in the direction of the door.
His orientation allowed him to see the window while lying prone.

A substitution probably could be made, but it would call for a more convoluted sentence.

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3  
I think think your Cambridge links makes the meanings quite clear, but you missed one subtlety in your explanation. Orientation is position of an object in relation to its environment (everything), direction is movement or facing towards something specific. –  ghoppe Oct 12 '12 at 18:51
    
@ghoppe I agree, and thanks for the addition. –  bib Oct 12 '12 at 18:59
    
A car sliding sideways is oriented, or facing, at right angles to its direction of movement. –  ErikE Apr 4 '13 at 0:07

In 3D geometry you can represent the orientation by a line and the direction by a Euclidean vector (an arrow).

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Orientation means "direction of a thing". For example,

The building was oriented towards north direction.

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I am not sure how this answers the question at hand. I am also not sure I would label "oriented towards north direction" as grammatical. –  RegDwigнt Apr 3 '13 at 23:12

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