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.

Log in or register to post comments


Previous comments

Hmm, I disagree with you as to whether Compression is real. See this by Matt Granger at minute 16, only about 40 seconds of viewing. An excellent example of compression in real word terms.

I'm not sure what you're watching because A) lens compression is not real, and B) he flat out says at 16:49 "I'm gonna go further away". That's what creates compression.

BTW, let me add the two thumbs down votes on Dave F's comment are exactly why "telephoto compression" is such a poor choice of words. There are people misled into thinking it is a real thing. It absolutely is not, and their photography misses opportunities because of their misunderstanding.

What amazes me is that it's such an easy thing to test, yet so many people still get it wrong. But hey, as long as downvoting facts makes them feel good I guess it's ok.

I stand by my original post, and agree with Dave F above. I must, you see: My daughter, who is a physicist who specializes in optics, would disown me if I said lenses can cause artificial compression of image elements. ;-)

I believe that the effect is miss understood, it is in fact the combination of focal length and distance. Stating it as “lens compression” is misleading.

Just so long as you remove the words "in fact", "combination", and "focal length" from that statement. Downvotes won't change facts no matter how many times you click them. The worst part is how easy the test is and yet many still choose to ignore it. It's right there in Mark's original post: take a shot from the same position with a telephoto lens and a wider lens, then crop the wider image in post until it matches the composition of the telephoto. The background will appear the same distance from the subject. That's what compression is, the relation of the background to the subject. It's got nothing to do with blur or anything else; just the relationship between the background and the subject with regards to distance. The only thing that changes this is the camera's distance from the subject.

If a telephoto lens had any effect on this, the cropped image and the telephoto one would appear different. But they don't. And that's just the practical test; math proves you wrong too.

My most hated word is influencer. Every stupid girl/boy showing of their bodies on instagram is an influencer nowadays,

Iain Stanley's picture

I’m surprised this hasn’t come up. It was on my original list.

“Expressing your vision”. “Expressing your emotion”. You are taking a photograph, not painting the Sistine Chapel!

Cristiano Uyeno's picture

Bokeh is an interesting Japanese word . Once I've seen a Jared Polin post somewhere about when Bokeh is not actually good or something like . Well , the word Bokeh has also a different meaning if you say that your mind just went Bokeh . For example this :彼はぼけてきている。

Thank you, thank you, thank you. As an amateur photographer/snapshot shooter for 45 years, and an Electrical Engineer professionally, the use of buzzwords has driven me loco many times. At least due to my longevity I have had the pleasure of seeing many of them fade with time. Like some of my old B&W prints....

Iain Stanley's picture

They even permeate your favourite sports so much that commentators who’ve never said such things before start throwing their new lingo 5 times a game. Infuriating. Then the coaches catch on......Arghhh

Agreed in general. Creamy and Buttery are the Moist of photography lingo.

Apple trying to use Bokeh as a verb in their commercials was very cringe inducing.

For me I add Street Photography as used by so man snapshooters to the list.

Iain Stanley's picture

Hahaha moist has to be the best/worst word in English

“Natural Light” photographer. AKA, don’t know how to use fill or rank amateur. Loved it btw!

Iain Stanley's picture

If someone only works with flash, does that make them a “Flasher”? That could be dangerous!

Pamela Farias's picture


Nick Haynes's picture


Aargh! As many of you do actually know, you might be creators, and you may very well be creative, but you are not creatives!

But, like the misuse of "acronym," I guess it is a lost battle.

Before diy digital world- color trade shop clients always wanted us to "make it pop".

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes “pop” and “influencer” were in my final shortlist

Rod Kestel's picture

Thanks so much for reaching out.

Iain Stanley's picture

Reaching out!!!! Yes. 1,000 yeseseses. Whatever happened to getting touch, or contacting? What the f%%k does reaching out mean??

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

"Internationally published"

Iain Stanley's picture

Hey I’m internationally published! Though that’s an incentive in education, as opposed to being domestically published. Journals have certain rankings attached to them and the Ministry of Education allocates points for publications in blind peer-reviewed journals outside Japan.

Jordan McChesney's picture

Using “cliche” to describe a subject or location you don’t like or you’ve seen many times, while ignoring the nuance of the individual images. This gets double points when they also love something that would fit into their definition of “cliche”.
Ex: calls pictures of flowers a cliche, yet loves portraits of “beautiful” women

Iain Stanley's picture

Beautiful women holding that would confound them!

fine art photography - love it. Never thought of it that way.

Early In my photo career, bokeh was known as “Circles of Confusion”. I think I prefer “bokeh”.

Iain Stanley's picture

Circles of confusion. Sounds like my life!

More comments