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
Venson Stein's picture

My pet peeve is to "be a story-teller." Or "It's a story-telling lens." To borrow a phrase from Moon Unit- "Gag me with a spoon." :-) "Fine Art Photographer" is another one. Just call yourself an "Art Photographer." Let other people judge whether or not it is "fine."
BTW, I'm sure you know this, but you failed to accurately describe it - Bokeh refers to the aesthetic qualities of the background blur, not merely the blur itself. "The characteristics of the background blur," as it were. There is no English equivalent word. For someone like myself who shoots with vintage and historic lenses, the qualities (or lack thereof) of the background blur, are definitely a thing.

The comment about adopting "bokeh" in English but then pronouncing it wrong is just silly. If that annoys someone they have something else more fundamental in their lives that is irritating them and causing them to have a low tolerance for such superficial things.

BOKEH - if that pronunciation bothers you, imagine how much worse it is to hear Americans butcher the word KARAOKE.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Them: "Your camera takes great pictures!"

Me: "Thanks! I taught it everything it knows."

Nick Haynes's picture

The Eleven Most Annoying Words Used In Photography

--- Thank goodness the author avoided the all too common "number of things" kind of title that youtube makers and photography sites have become obsessed with.

Would like to see this trend drowned in the the steaming mayonnaise of long-exposure water!

"steaming mayonnaise" ... ... ...

Nick Haynes's picture

Now I know what to make my first youtube photography video about!

Iain Stanley's picture

Unfortunately, for whatever reasons the human brain works in its weirdly confounding ways, titles with lists or numbers in them tend to be more popular...though oversaturation might be reversing that trend

Steven Magner's picture

Content Creator.

Because obviously all of us with a camera are just purchasing expensive paperweights and have no interest in actually creating content from it...

My personal bugbear is "Shoot like the pros". Yeah, use a camera!

Uneternal Van de Dood's picture

My most annoying words are "3D-pop" or "medium format compression" and the people who defeat these terms.

Scott Wardwell's picture

"Buttery" is how I describe the action of the slide on my Beretta.

Bloody creamy bokeh was the first that came to my mind.

Mike Young's picture

I laughed at this because I just semi-retired from a global US company and every day was rich with words and phrases people just made up to make them sound important. They weren't, the work wasn't but it provided much enjoyment watching it unfold in meetings. Not sure what happened to plain English.

Iain Stanley's picture

It’s archaic, apparently

Mike Young's picture

Oh the printer envy.

Ricardo Consonni's picture

The most annoying word/term is 'digital influencer', by far.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yep influencer of any kind is right up there on the totem pole of sh#t words

Reading photography articles by people clearly tired of writing photography articles. At least this one isn’t complaining about being asked for camera settings and gear lists.

I say this same thing everyday! You took the words right outta my brain.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Don't get me started on "full frame". Before CaNikon's marketing departments butchered it, it meant something entirely different. Take a photo with any camera. Print every pixel, grain of silver halide, or blob of dye, without cropping, and you've to a "full frame" image. Doesn't matter whether it's from one of those disc cameras from the 1970's or a 4x5 scanning back on a view camera.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

Not so troubled by bokeh, as long as it has a similar meaning in japanese - mainly because my ancestry is rather mixed and I'm poli-lingual anyway.
But fine art and photography don't click together, for me. One or the other. Example - nobody I've seen ever sculptured a marble statue, with their bare hands and a $4,000 fast telephoto lens. Or painted an oil portrait of an elephant, using their camera strap.
Having an aesthetic appreciation of art might lead to a photographer taking "better" or "more interesting" photos. But it's still not an "art" process.

Stuart Carver's picture

I hate bullshit in all it’s forms so this article is close to my heart, I can’t stand people using buzz phrases in all walks of life.

I commented on a Facebook photography group (I’ve since left Facebook due to seeing too much BS) about heading out snapping and I got a reply along the lines of ‘One does not snap, one captures a moment to create a piece of art, we are artists and the camera is our brush’, I was like seriously F—k off.

People using the word one in sentences to sound like some upper class moron is another thing that I can’t stand.

Iain Stanley's picture

One must appreciate and understand one’s importance in the world of fine art. We are creators of the highest order.

Stuart Carver's picture

Hahahahaha don’t, it’s too close to bed time for me to get irate. It’s kind of what it would be like if Boris Johnson was a photographer.

Iain Stanley's picture

Instead he’s just a snapper, of the mental kind. As it were.

Stuart Carver's picture

Haha yeah, we wouldn’t want to compare him to the fish, it’s insulting to the fish:)

Nowadays when my subject is out of focus, I just call it bokeh. The word does have a use after all.

It's not just the stupid terms is it though. It's the things people say to you like "I bet that camera takes good pictures doesn't it".

Makes me want to either hand them the camera and say "go on then", or push the camera right up the orifice that they are speaking out of, but I end up saying "no, I take the pictures the camera just records what I point it with whatever settings I choose".

I mean, if someone cooks you a good meal you don't say "wow you must have a good oven to make that".

Bokeh is the most stupid term ever and I just don't use it. Same as "I'm a natural light photographer" means "I don't have a clue how to use flash."

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