Are These the Most Annoying Words Used in Photography?

Are These the Most Annoying Words Used in Photography?

Very few things get me riled up like buzzwords, soundbites, and marketing drivel. And over the years, I've noticed some words in the photography vernacular that are right up there on the gibberish scale. Here are a few examples.

While procrastinating this week, I came across a job advertisement on a site I like to occasionally peruse, and the language left me dazed, confused, and in a state of giggles. "Is this really how people speak these days," I thought to myself. To get an idea what I'm talking about, here are some choice phrases used in the ad: "evangelize the product vision," "own the roadmap," "lead technical debt," and my favorite, "fail well." So, this got me thinking about photography and some of the words and terms that are far too frequently used and make me want to smash my camera to smithereens over an evangelized product's proverbial head.

"Creamery" and "Buttery"

Seriously, what the actual funk? Creamy? Buttery? Who started this ridiculous term? But more importantly, who ran with it and allowed it to become part of the everyday photography vernacular? Heads should roll. If you're not familiar with either of these interchangeable terms, they refer to the blur effect that lenses with very wide apertures allow you to produce. When you shoot wide open (at say f/1.8), then your subject will be in focus and the background will be blurry. Different lenses create slightly different shapes that are sometimes more or less roundish, but are pretty much the same to the naked eye. Somehow, somewhere along the line, some bright spark decided to describe the blurry effect as "creamy" or "buttery." To this day, I have absolutely no idea what it means. Here's an example shot below, where you can see the blurs and circular shapes in the background. Creamy? Buttery? Errr, no.


This particular one is like a thousand fingernails scratching vertical lines up and down a blackboard to me. No, it's worse actually. More like a person with a mouth full of silver fillings in their teeth grinding aluminum foil back and forth incessantly. I think it's mainly for two reasons: first, the wild variations of pronunciation and second, the actual choice of the word. In terms of pronunciation, I hear all types of versions like "bow-ka," "bow-kay," "bohhh-kaaa," "boh-kee," "boh-ka," and so on and so forth. Bokeh is actually a Japanese word that is pronounced with a very short "bo" and a very short "ke", as in Ken.

Perhaps because I live in Japan, it annoys me to no end when I hear the mangled versions so-called influencers and YouTubers come out with. However, it's understandable because it's a Japanese word. But that brings me to my next point. Why did some person way back when decide that the best way to describe the blur effect of a given lens would be to pluck the Japanese term from the tree and plonk it into photography English? It's not like English doesn't have its own words that can do the same job. And even when you use "bokeh" with 95% of the English speaking world, you then have to explain that it means blurriness and out-of-focus areas anyway. So, why not just use those words in the first place instead of a random word from another language? And now, the effect is we get all these people trying to sound knowledgeable by using a Japanese word and then mangling its pronunciation. Awesome.

Fine Art

I don't know about you, but if I see another person describing themselves as a fine art photographer or a creator of fine art, I think I'll drown myself in a bucket of creamy, buttery bokeh. This all came to a head for me last week when I bumped into an acquaintance of mine who I'd worked with previously in education. I asked what she'd been up to and she said she'd just started up an Instagram page trying to sell fine art prints. It took me aback a bit because she'd never been the slightest bit interested in photography and after talking with her for about 10 minutes, it became abundantly clear she didn't have the first clue about anything related to photography. Indeed, it transpired that she'd recently bought the iPhone X, invested in some reasonable clip-on lenses, and thought her new hobby made her a fine artist that she could make a buck from, so much so that her new Instagram profile bio reads: "fine art photographer. Creator of fine art photos." Outstanding.

But it's not just her. Type in "fine art" to the Instagram search field and you get an endless list of people describing themselves as fine art photographers. Then, check out their galleries and you'll see that 90% of their images are nothing more than regular snaps thousands of other photographers are taking. Take a photo of a wedding. Fine art. Shoot a flower. Fine art. Black and white. Fine art. Your kids at the beach. Fine art. Just add fine art to your name and you have instant credibility. Just look at these images I snapped off below. Fine art galore.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are some wonderful photographers out there today creating extraordinary pieces of fine art. It's those cheapening the term by using it so loosely and freely that annoy me to no end because they are detracting from the true creators of fine art we have among us.

Summing Up

In the modern day world, it seems the academic boffins out there are in an endless pursuit to create more and more pointless, meaningless, confusing terms to enter into mainstream vernacular in order to fatten their credentials and pad their images. Terms like "moving forward," "thought leaders," "brand awareness," and "ice the game" have all somehow entered our worlds and are spouted ad nauseam by so-called experts. It's no different in the world of photography, and today, I've given you a few different examples that get me quite riled up when I hear them. I didn't list too many, because I'd love to hear words and terms that you really hate hearing too.

So, don't hold back. Let me know your thoughts and annoyances in the comments below.

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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Look at the cover picture .. it is the perfect capture of the typical FStopper !!
Angry Frustrated and Non Agreeable.

Errr, that would be me. Glad it paints a pretty picture :)

This is what happens when terms like :bokeh" start to trigger you.


Pretentious pronunciation of “Colour” as “kuh-loo-er.”
Misuse of “tones.”
Improperly interchanging “sharpness” and “detail.”

Ok wtf everyone... Why am I getting so many thumbs downs. Am I wrong in saying that colour is pronounced kuh-lr or kuh-luh? I hear it pronounced kuh-loo-er all the time and I thought that was improper and pretentious sounding. Am I wrong?

Double points for colour with a “u”

Several countries spell color with a u, it is not pretentious, it how they spell the damn word in their country. Not everyone is an American. Just like some countries spell grey or gray, same thing.

Fair enough, but when it’s my colleagues who live in the same country as I do where we do not spell color with a “u,” it comes off a little pretentious.

Hang on, I’m confused haha. I’m Australian, so I always use a “u”. This site has US spelling so I play along. I thought the “colour” reference above was about something entirely different. When it comes to comments here (not the article body) I always try to spell with British English. That ain’t pretentious!

I’m not saying anyone who spells it with a “u” is pretentious. Im saying it annoys me when people use it in a pretentious way. I have colleagues who grew up in the US where we spell it “color” and for no reason, when they talk about photography they pronounce it kuh-loo-er.

As a Canadian, it's pronounced the same as color. Anyone pronouncing it differently because there's a u in it is, in fact, being pretentious.

I'm English. Colour is indeed spelt with a u.

But if I shifted to America, I guess I'd get used to color!

Canadians also like to put 'u's in words that dont need them :D :D :D

We also switch “er” around to “re” in words like “centre”, because reasons. I think we also add extra “L”s in words like “cancelled” and “travelled”, but I’ve lived here so long I can’t even remember which is which anymore. Teaching English in Japan as Canadian has taught me so much about my own language, haha.

You’ll notice my wonky aluminium spelling in there somewhere too :)

I honestly didn't know "ah-LU-mih-num" and "ah-luu-MINIUM" were the same thing until I moved here. Also, I sat next to a Londoner for 2 years, and now I can't stop saying "wee-KEND". My English is a broken mess of Canadian, American, UK, with just a splash of Japanese to confuse everyone.

omg I can not say wee-kend the other way! hahaha I had no idea people say it different!

I have been asked, by Americans, where I get the "ium" in aluminium. My reply is that it is the name of a chemical element and that there is no such thing as "caesum" or "sodum" or "uranum".

Chill out and take some laudinium man.

With colour and some of the other spellings I think it is just an eagerness to be different from Americans. None of it ever stuck with me, living in Canada, in my writing. But I did adopt the different way of saying "z" when in Canada. although logically it is just zee, not zehd, right?

I imagine a lot of it comes from the "commonwealth" routes as well, since a lot of the spelling is shared between the UK and Canada. For the spelling and vocabulary, I honestly never knew it was spelled "center" or "traveled" in America until moving abroad. Nor did I know "toque" and "parkade" were primarily used only in Canada. All that being said, I did grow up in a rather small countryside town east of Vancouver, so I could be in the minority.
As for "zehd", I've always favored "zee", as it rolls off the tongue a little easier.
Also, I apparently I say "about" funny, but no one has been able to adequately explain how, haha

Canadians spell with a u, because they speak British english. Americans dont in an effort to be different from the British, which is why we drive on the other side of the road as well. Americans are the ones trying to be different, everyone else speaks British english. Just to clarify that for you.

You are not trying to be different from Americans, Americans are trying to be different from the British (for good reason).

Most Brits, insular though we may be, will have some familiarity with British and American spelling differences. Our cultures interact so much, and our literature is shared. Very surprising if most literate Americans are also not aware of it.

C'mon now, most Americans can't spell worth a damn anyway.

So that's why they make up words as they go along! ;)

But seriously: Brits gave up educating children to speak their own language a generation or two ago, so we aint got no write to talk ;)

Damn ignorant Yanks! I blame their terrible schools.

Americans and their need for worldwide domination. Even in spelling. I'll remind you that you were english emigrants not long ago, where they spell it "colour".

Pretentious use of “Colour.”!!!! That's the correct spelling of colour. Only the Americans spell it like that. The rest of the the English speaking world spells it with a 'u'.

There is English, and there is incorrect English. There is no fricken 'American English'.



We are just more efficient and cut out the unneeded letters and words. Thats why we invented all the shit everyone else uses all the time to tell us we do it wrong :D

Also why emojis were invented, words are just too hard :D

Despoiling a rich language like English is like turning Shakespeare into colour by numbers. Gadzooks, tis a veritable sin ;o)

Example: American "burned" (6 letters), English "burnt" (5 letters), American "earned" (6 letters), English "earnt" (5 letters), and so on (learnt, dreamt, smelt)…

With respect, like in my reply to Logan. I understand that it’s spelled that way in other countries, but I’m referring to my colleagues who grew up in the US where we have spelled “color” like so all our lives and suddenly decided to use the word “colour” (which we define in the US dictionary as British) after they became a photographer and now pronounce it kuh-loo-er.

I am an American living a good deal of my life in Canada it is still hard to shut off the "kuhlooer" pronouncement in my head whenever I see "colour" written. Someone who actually pronounces "color" that way is advertising a little ignorance.

Is it like, y'know a warder kuhlooer, totally, I get it.

Damn ignorant Yanks! With their rat infested, horrible schools.

There is some gray area on this issue.

color science...
I truly don't understand this, we usually edit our pictures, so color science doesn't matter at all...

Yeah, this one has been popping up in chat forums lately. Something must have happened to make so many people suddenly start spouting it. It's just the word "color" with "science" added after it to make it sound as if the speaker/writer knows something we don't, a bit of "language science", as it were. Drives me nuts because 99% of the time, the topic under discussion has nothing to do with the science of color.

Color science to refer to all orange an teal trash around.

Um, in English please?

Why do they call it color science, when they should call it "crank the orange and teal slider". For one good or at least innovative photographer, you can find, let's say, at least 5 oooooverly pretentious. Hope this will clarify my opinion XD.

Yeah I think it’s been taken a tad too far. Nonetheless, I can say that getting accuracy in colours when you’re going from screen to paper print can be very frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing. For many years I was painfully frustrated by the lack of consistency and accuracy my prints had compared with what I had on my screen. Many meticulous hours of research later and I’m now consistently spot on with screen to print matching. It’s a stretch to say it’s a science though....

The stupidist thing about colour science is that what people really mean is colour opinion.

agreed !

People who rant about colour science but never bother to use a colour checker or calibrate their monitors & printers. Amusing stuff.

Isn’t colour science referring to the cameras method of processing jpegs? For example the Fuji film sims have a certain colour science that tries to replicate their film stocks. If people are using it for other stuff like RAW images or how they edit it then aren’t they just stupid?

Fine Art Photographer
Editorial Shoot
Destination Photographer
Piece of glass
Award Winning

Just stop it. Really.


Love that header image :D

Award-wining is definitely on top of the list for me.

I once won an award for swimming 10metres when I was 4.
That's about how valid the 'Award winning' declaration is when I see people use it.

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