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
Andy Day's picture

Fine art. ARGH. Drives me insane.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Great artists create. Great marketers classify. ;) It is much easier to call bad work "fine art" than to actually create great art.

Venson Stein's picture

Agreed. Let other people decide whether it is "fine" or not.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Being fluent in Japanese, I, too, find "bokeh" ridiculous. It simply means "blur" or "perceptual fuzziness". There's nothing esoteric or differently nuanced about it, and "blur" is a perfectly adequate synonym in the context of photography.
It's as if Americans have suddenly started calling their food "oishii" instead of "delicious", as if "oishii" somehow signifies a higher level of complexity in flavor or sophistication in the consumer. (It doesn't.)

Iain Stanley's picture

We have a few of those ripsnorters in wider English. How about paying “homage” to someone? Or not being too “au fait” with something. The great thing is listening to my fellow Aussies busting out such French words. Dear lord haha

Well... Sometimes a word develops a connotative definition, more nuanced than its denotation. I would argue it's easier to make that distinction with a foreign word since you don't have to think about the original meaning. I've always understood bokeh to refer to the quality of blur, rather than the degree of blur or just "blur".
I don't believe being fairly fluent in English and conversational in Japanese gives me any special right to find anything ridiculous or incorrect in either language; just being ME is enough! ;-)

Venson Stein's picture

Ignore that pretentious dork. I know Japanese photographers who confirmed to me, that the term does mean- "Characteristics of the background blur." The aesthetic qualities of the blur, so to speak.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Then the appropriate term in English would be "quality of blur".

Blur has other meanings that bokeh doesn't. Such as motion blur. Bokeh is a good word. I remember the days before we adopted its usage, and we never even considered lens bokeh in reviews and purchases. We didn't really know how to discuss it. Oh gosh, that 500 mm catadioptric lens on my Nikon F. Great reach, but the horrible bokeh gave you a reason to want something one might describe as 'buttery" in the background.

Jacques Cornell's picture

And "bokeh" has meanings that "blur" doesn't. But, when you're talking about photography, "bokeh" = "quality of blur". Understand, too, that Japanese tends to be a very vague language. It doesn't have to be. It's possible to be extremely precise in Japanese. But, as a highly context-dependent language, precision is often foregone for the sake of convenience, and it is expected that the listener/reader will fill in the missing information based on the context and their own understanding of the matter under discussion. So, the "quality" part of the English phrase "quality of blur" is simply dropped, and you are expected to intuit that because the topic is photography rather than, say, bad eyesight or mental disfunction, what is being referenced is how blur looks in a photo. I can't tell you how many times, in my work as a translator, I turned to my Japanese colleague to ask "what or who is the subject of this verb" or "to what/whom does this clause apply" and he couldn't tell me. Translating typically vague Japanese into English can be maddening and requires both creativity and linguistic gymnastics.
Also, photography has been first a hobby and then a profession for me for almost 40 years, and I can report that quality of lens blur was certainly a topic of discussion among my colleagues and in relevant media long before "bokeh" crossed the Pacific.

Venson Stein's picture

I guess your not fluent enough to understand it actually means "the aesthetic qualities" of the background blur. Not the blur itself. There is no English equivalent word.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Someone who's mental faculties are diminished is said to be "boketa". I guess you're not fluent enough to understand that. Japanese is a highly context-dependent language, and in discussing photographic images, "bokeh" is used as a kind of shorthand for "quality of blur". However, it doesn't express anything that could not be accurately described with the English phrase. I lived in Japan for 12 years and worked as a translator. I also studied photography there for three years, and all the discussion was conducted in Japanese. So, I'm familiar with everyday Japanese as well as technical terms specific to the subject of photography.

Brilliant! 100% agree.

Daniel Medley's picture

Pronouncing ISO as an acronym when it's not an acronym and is pronounced as a word, eye-so.

That in and of itself isn't really annoying and I don't correct people, but when it gets rolled into a conversation and people double down and insist that ISO is an acronym; that's mildly annoying.

Iain Stanley's picture

Int’l Organization for Standardization. Close enough!! Haha

Logan Cressler's picture

Except they themselves, specifically state it is pronounced as a word and is NOT an acronym. In addition, photographers are the only people in the world that pronounce it like eye-es-oh. There are ISO standards for nearly everything, and when I worked in both heavy equipment and construction, we used many ISO standards (EYESO). So dont pick and choose which things you want to keep using incorrectly after writing an article about people using words incorrectly.

Iain Stanley's picture

My sarcasm clearly needs a reboot

International Standards Organization.... ISO..... Acronym? No. Before most of this readerships time we had ASA, American Standards Association and we didn’t say Asah🙄

Logan Cressler's picture

That is because ASA was an accronym. When it changed to ISO, photographers just carried over their how they have always said things without looking into the correct way to say it. I dont care how you pronounce it, but it is correctly pronounced as EYESO, you can choose to say it wrong if you like, but I think they get the right to state how they would like their name and abbreviations pronounced.

Venson Stein's picture

If such things trigger you, I simply must ask- Do you have a life outside of internet forums?

Daniel Medley's picture

Mildly annoying is "triggered"?


Stuart Carver's picture

Triggered, another annoying as hell word.

Nick Haynes's picture

"Pronouncing ISO as an acronym when it's not an acronym and is pronounced as a word"

Excuse me while I shout, scream and tear my hear out. ... Thanks, that's better, although I look even worse without hair.

This is my biggest language-misuse thing. The demise of the word abbreviation, and substitution wit acronym is fairly recent. Maybe you can even remember using the words properly a few years ago?

Abbreviation is the general word, acronym is the special case. Acronym means an abbreviation pronounced as a word. Laser, radar, Unesco... ISO.

The rest, USA, UN, BBC are *abbreviations,* not acronyms.

By the way, I do have a life ;) --- but the death of a good word and misuse of another good word irks!

Jordan McChesney's picture

Sorry to be Mr.Pedantic English-Man but, pronouncing stuff as the separate letters is known as an initialism. An abbreviation is more general and just refers to the act of shortening a word, for example shortening "doctor" to "Dr." is an abbreviation, but it's neither an acronym nor an initialism. Acronyms and initialism are both forms of abbreviation, but not all abbreviations are acronyms or an initialism.
As far as I know, anyway. English linguistic PhD holders, feel free to correct me, I always like to learn.

Nick Haynes's picture

Your response is welcome... and stimulating. I'd so much rather some cares!

I'm aware of the word initialism, but can't think that I've ever used it. I'd use "abbreviation" for "Dr" as well as BBC. I'm happy to be challenged and do some more research on that. Just as long as nobody (and lots of people will) calls either of them an acronym!

Cheers :)

"Soft light" seems to be everywhere lately and most of the time it's misused. If you're looking at the highlights and calling it soft light, you're using the wrong term.

Jacques Cornell's picture

A working pro I assisted once told me that moving a light source away from the subject makes it softer. It doesn't. What it does is reduce the difference in brightness between nearer and farther objects. I guess that's what "softer" meant to her. To me, it means more gradual transitions between lit and unlit areas at the same distance from the source, generally in relation to the apparent size of the source.

salt&pepper noise has been used to cover up the noise in MF film 2 decades ago. who started it? maybe kodak (marketing) back then or some processing biz ? who knows. Nowadays in the forums amateurs who never worked for anyone come to the forums telling the other amateurs (all serious about the gear that they have) that they have "clients" not customers but clients (it sounds professional, doesn't it?)

Leigh Miller's picture


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