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

I think in going forward we need to invest in out of the box blue sky thinking. Fine art painterly retro style is where it is at. So I thought I would run this idea up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes it. You see we are at a cross roads and if we stay still we will go backwards. It's a perfect storm, so now is the time for the rubber to hit the road. This should cause a paradigm shift in the market.

Belive me, as I have got skin in the game!

Jeff McCollough's picture

"Model call"

Most people who use this term don't ever work with actual models but rather just random people for free to get more photos.

Adriano Brigante's picture

My understanding is that the word "bokeh", used in the context of photography, doesn't simply mean "blur", but rather "the aesthetic quality of the blur".

Venson Stein's picture

Thank you Adriano for being within the .01% of photographers, who actually know this.

Jacques Cornell's picture

In common usage in Japan, "bokeh" is SHORTHAND for "quality of blur". The word "bokeh" alone doesn't actually mean "quality of blur", it simply means "blur", and this meaning applies to non-photographic subjects. Senility, for example, is described as "bokeh". It's just that when you're discussing photography and you say "bokeh", people understand that you've dropped "quality of" for convenience.

Dave Terry's picture

Regardless of its origins, today, in 2019 the word bokeh means something very specific to photography when used in an English speaking context. Words needing to be explained is simply the nature of vocabulary related to any specific field. Words or phrases that also usually need to be explained to non-photographers? Aperture, Depth of Field, Shutter Speed - specific words with specific meaning within photography that all had to get their start somewhere.

Being annoyed by the word is like being annoyed by similarly appropriated non-English words, such as lemon (Arabic), mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Hindi/Urdu), tattoo (Samoan), canyon (Spanish). The most pretentious thing I can think of in photography is attacking the use of a perfectly fine, and useful word intended to describe something very specific to camera lenses so as to differentiate the nature of the blur they create from other types of blur. Such as motion blur.

Whoops, is "motion blur" also a trigger word for the author?

Literally, I heard one person complain about this 10 years ago, and since then it seems to be the approved refrain from anti-hipsters everywhere trying to fiercely establish their anti-hipster cred to all the other anti-hipsters (who actually end up being swung back around to "being" hipsters again for trying so hard to follow the currently-hip trend of trying to avoid being called a hipster, because, ya know, the label "hipster" is actually now un-hip, and the last thing the anti-hipster wants to actually be is "un-hip" in actuallity - you see, "un-hip" is the last thing they want BE, but the last thing they want to be CALLED is "hipster" - it's a conundrum. It must be very difficult cultural waters to navigate).

I can just imagine some hipster from the 1840's scoffing at the use of the word "aperture" relating to photography because they were annoyed by so many photographers in the 1830's using it relentlessly, and then writing a humorless article about it (by hand), and handing it out to his friends as they all twirl their handlebar mustaches in disdain. Hand-written because printing on a press was too expensive probably for this sort of #drivel at the time.

"Bokeh" has always rankled me. As if that blurriness is being elevated to something esoteric and valuable, a bouquet if you will, of wonderful sensory delights.

Wes Jones's picture

I spread buttery bokeh on my toast every morning. It's so cinematic.

Iain Stanley's picture

Is there a Preset I can buy for that?

Logan Cressler's picture

I have many presets to sell you. Stop being an amateur photographer with just one click and a Visa card.

Venson Stein's picture

Everyone and their Grandmother is selling presets these days. The cashiers at my local super market, try to sell me Lightroom presets.

Iain Stanley's picture

Grandmother Presets. Is that the film look? Got a link so I can add me some Grandma touches to me collection. Yesss!

Nicholas Monteleone's picture

I think it's funny that I just read an article about not being in a box as a photographer and being open to different points of view and then scroll down to this article railing against what terms people like to use to describe certain looks or how they describe themselves as photographers. And to furthermore rail against a seemingly new photographer that doesn't use the gear this author seems to believe you have to use to be a real photographer. This article just seems to be a bit out of character for a lot of the other content on this site. And while I hate marketing buzzwords and phoniness as much as the next person, this just comes across as petty.

Iain Stanley's picture

Huh? I don’t care what gear anyone uses. My objection was/is to a person whose photography is, at best, in its infancy stages referring to herself as a “fine art photographer”. Gear is irrelevant.

Nicholas Monteleone's picture

It didn't really come across that way. I've seen some amazing work come from smart phones. To your issue with bokeh, I can understand the frustration of people mispronouncing words, as someone from Southern Louisiana we get them a lot. But I will say that the English language steals from tons of different languages and that this pronunciation would just be the English version of the word. Kinda like the name for "lemon" originally came from an Arabic term for citrus, līmūn. In standard modern Arabic, the word for lemon is pronounced “laymuun.” None of us pronounce it that way. That's just how language works. Maybe take a breathe and don't let the little things get to you.

And let me say that I have had a sufficiency of long exposures with neutral density filters turning that quaint babbling brook into some slushy, seething miasma.

There. Got it out of my system. Thank you for the indulgence.


Daniel Medley's picture

Referring to photographers as "snappers ..."

Venson Stein's picture

That is almost as dumb as "Shutter-Bugs." WTF? I was on a scenic, hiking trail in Arizona when 2-3 people with cameras pointed me out, and one of them said- "Look! There's another Shutter-Bug." Almost vomited.

Logan Cressler's picture

These young whipper snappers and their saggin pants and their rockin and rollin! GET OFF MY LAWN!

Christian Lainesse's picture

At the last unconference, my tiger team touched base as part of a fishbowl, followed by a fireside chat and came to the paradigm-shifting conclusion that buzzwords are dumb.

Venson Stein's picture

At the end of the day, we must put a stake in the ground!

In Germany: TFP and "Pay-Shootings" (spooken by white trash people: paiiiiiii schuutings)

OK. I guess you need to be there to appreciate that.

Venson Stein's picture

TFP = The Fukkin Photographer??? :-)

"Telephoto compression". There's no such thing as telephoto compression. But, because that's what we call it, many are misled into thinking it has to do with lens focal length. It doesn't. It has to do with distance to subject.

Any lens from the same shooting point of the same subject will have the same "telephoto compression". Yes, even that ultrawide 11 mm on your 5D Mk III. Don't believe me? Go try it. Crop your wideangle down to the same image area as your telephoto. Note that the only reason we use telephotos is because of the better image quality. The image elements themselves display exactly the same relative positioning.

This, unlike the author's complaint about use of visually descriptive words, or a foreign word (Travel much? Go order pepperoni on your pizza in Italy), is vital to understanding basic principals of image composition. Bokeh, buttery, etc, are not.

What about medium format look? 3D pop?

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