In the context of relativity, “observer” can mean two different things.

Often, observer is synonymous with reference frame or (spacetime-)coordinate system: An observer in this sense is someone who assigns coordinates to everything that happens around him. In particular, all events are assigned space coordinate values and a time coordinate value. In the context of special relativity, it is often the case that when one talks about an observer, what is really meant is an inertial observer, corresponding to a special type of reference frame.

On other occasions, the term is used in a more narrow sense – in those cases, an observer is someone sitting at a certain point in space and using the light signals reaching that location to construct an image of his surroundings. In the context of optical effects in relativity, for instance gravitational lensing, observer is usually meant in this way.