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.

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Previous comments
Iain Stanley's picture

Haha “mood board”? WTF is that?

Ryan Cooper's picture

A collage of photos that “show” what you are trying to create. The expectation is that you hunt through the internet to try to find examples of your vision.

Iain Stanley's picture

looking at other people’s work to get an example of your vision. That....confuses me and has me in a very confounded mood now haha

Ryan Cooper's picture

Exactly! I hate the idea of having to "proof" my idea by showing the ideas of others.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Just photos?
I get colour swatches, inspirational quotes and just about anything they can stick on a 8 page PDF. Proper works of art, some of them.

Too funny, “A collage of photos that “show” what you are trying to create. The expectation is that you hunt through the internet to try to find examples of your vision.” that should read someone else's vision. New one to me, sad and kinda lame.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I actually get those a lot from clients, or is it agencies, or studios? or even customers. I can't remember what I'm supposed to call them.
Despite the daft name, they're actually pretty handy! I can't make them for toffee, but creative people seem to love them to express their desires. :)

Daniel Medley's picture

I think mood boards are great, and often times a huge time saver. When trying to put a project together it's a lot easier to get an idea across with a mood board than verbally.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Only if the concept is generic enough that finding mood board imagery is easy. Though I find it also tends to create unnecessary barriers such as when the team gets hung up on trying to "copy" exactly what they see in the mood board.

Daniel Medley's picture

I don't think they are useful to only generic concepts. I think it depends greatly on how they're used. Often times I'll use my own images, or stills from movies as part of the mood board. I always convey that it's a "mood board" not a template.

It could be just me, but I've found it much more efficient to firmly establish a concept and then build a mood board that I can use in conjunction with verbally explaining it. I suppose it matters who you're dealing with, but I've found that stylists, MUAs, and models seem to really appreciate it.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Oh, I definitely agree in that they appreciate it. Most demand it. But for highly specific concepts I often find myself hunting for images for hours and hours and at the end, I haven't found a single image that "really" portrays what I'm after so I end with a mood board that has a ton of caveats and notes. "Look at this but not this", "This is about this, and not this", etc. Then the team never reads the notes and is hopelessly confused.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I am so with you regarding 'bokeh', especially when pronounced by Americans and Canadians. It seems North American cannot pronounce a simple 'BO' it always sounds like 'BOW'. My name is Motti and I cannot tell you how many variations of my name I heard in the past 30 years living in Canada (Mowti. Mownti etc... :-)).

The word 'Bokeh' is pronounced exactly as you described it; 'BOKE'. And not 'BOWKE' or worse, 'BOWKA'.


Iain Stanley's picture

The funny thing is, I teach photography to college students here and sometimes we look at videos where English speakers say “bokeh”. I don’t think one of my students has ever realised what they were talking about!

Jordan McChesney's picture

Things like this happen in many languages. For example, in English we still spell it "tsunami" but we pronounce it "sumani", changing the つ sound for a す sound. On top of that, I apparently live near "To-KEY-oh" according to most English speakers. Whereas in Japanese, they turn everything in to katakana, so even when I teach words like "etiquette" they don't understand it's the same as "エチケット" until I say it that way.
Don't even get me started on the blatant misuse of words like "high tension" here, haha.

Iain Stanley's picture

Haha the Japanese language has mangled so many words I’ve lost count, and my exasperation has turned into a shrug of the shoulders. The worst thing, as you said, is having to mangle a word from my own language just so the Japanese can understand what I’m saying. I feel dirty when I say things haha

Nicolas Thulliez's picture

There's also a problem with the pronounciation of nikon...

Rob Mitchell's picture

You used a lower case n.
You're so bad

Nicolas Thulliez's picture

does it matter ? :D
and I only use nikon gear ;) (oups... I did it again :D )

Simon Patterson's picture

Also wrote "pronounciation" which is a common mispronunciation of "pronunciation"! 😀

Iain Stanley's picture

Don’t start me there

Motti Bembaron's picture

'Light quality' when describing strobe or Speedlight.

Venson Stein's picture

"Speedlight instead of "flash" is also a bit obnoxious. :-)

William Faucher's picture

Flash is pretty vague, while speedlight is specific, I don't see how that is obnoxious? "Bring two speedlights" vs. "Bring two flashes", which one is more likely to cause a misunderstanding?

Kirk Darling's picture


Iain Stanley's picture

How many icons we must have in this photographic world of ours.....just one letter away from ironic

Motti Bembaron's picture

The (insert a number) ways of doing this and that...

Dan Grayum's picture

This was a buttery article. Very entertaining.

Iain Stanley's picture

The only vision I get with “buttery” is Kramer getting roasted as a chicken.....

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Thank god I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read this post, it’d be all over my MacBook right now!!!!! :)

Dan Grayum's picture

And Newman wants to eat him! Lol

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