Playing with Words

English is rapidly becoming the language of choice even for non-native speakers. Due to the proliferation of the internet (which happens to be mostly in English), English is now the de facto language in many places. English is not my native language and yet I also write these articles in English. So, for the literary bend in the photographer’s mind, here are some phrases every photographer should be aware of. I have compiled this list from various sources and will keep adding to it in the future.

Distant Hills

If you are interested in photography but not the English language, I recommend skipping this article and going over to the Index of Articles for a list of various other interesting write-ups.

So, here is the list (and no, this is NOT a photography dictionary page) –


ATGNI – Acronym for ‘All the gear, no idea’. This is all the more common with cameras and lenses becoming easily available for purchase and the average incomes of people going up. Related to it also the ‘GAS‘ or ‘Gear acquisition syndrome’ but with a minor difference. People with GAS know what they are doing with their equipment.


Camera doesn’t lie – Sure, the camera just captures what is in front of it but what about the photography techniques and the horrors of post-processing and editing. Reminds me of a short conversation –

Stranger: “That is a beautiful child you have there.”
Mother: “That’s nothing. You should see his photograph.”


Chasing the light – Landscape photographers long to capture the wonderful interplay of light conditions that happens around the golden hour. This longing makes these photographers reach out to places which may be difficult and sometimes even dangerous, more so when they do so in a hurry due to the rapidly changing light conditions. This is ‘chasing the light’. (Time of the day)


Chimping – Checking the preview screen immediately after capturing a photograph. Do see this article – To Chimp or Not To. The chimps do love looking at mirrors and maybe that is where the slang came from. Photographers doing chimping seem to be replicating the way chimps act in front of mirrors. In fact, the sounds which some of us emit while seeing a wonderful capture on the preview screen also sometimes sounds like the chimps rejoicing.


Contre-Jour – That’s when photographers who shoot against the light try to be French! It is simply a French word that literately means ‘against day’ (or shooting against the light). Why complicate English with French words when the same can be said in an equal number of words as ‘against-light’? Anything French is considered stylish by non-French people.


Fauxtographer – Person with lots of money to spend on photography gear, who then goes around with the super-expensive camera hanging around the neck, and yet with no idea of photography. Refer to ATGNI above. I am happy that there are many fauxtographers or consumers in the present world. They help to increase the sales and keep the cost of photography equipment down for the not so rich people like me. (Who is a Photographer?)


Flipped, the camera, a bird – A subject showed off the middle finger to the camera. This may be in contempt or just fun. The most famous photograph of this act is that of Johnny Cash from the San Quentin State Prison concert. Search for it on the internet if you are curious. The word ‘flip’ in itself is quite an old slang for the act though no one seems to be sure of where the bird came from.


I shoot people – I am a photographer (though I wish I was a sniper). This phrase is quite common on the run-of-the-mill printed T-Shirts. Sometimes even on coffee mugs intended to be great gifts to photographers.


Nifty Fifty – This has nothing to with the fifty share benchmark index of the National Stock Exchange of India. The 50 mm lens are one of the easiest lenses to manufacture and have been here for a long time. They are quite inexpensive too and hence the term nifty which rhymes well with their focal length. Do see these two articles – 50mm lens for Nikon, Normal Lens. Nifty Fifty on my Nikon makes, a poor man like me, feel as if holding a Leica.


PHOBAR – PHOtoshopped Beyond All Recognition. This is when super-enthusiastic photographers go overboard with image-editing and change the image to such an extent that it is no longer true to itself. No, this is not the creation of abstracts! This is plain and simple misuse of image editing algorithms.


Photography – I had to include this word on the list due to the confusion surrounding on its pronunciation. The word is made up of two parts – ‘photo’ and ‘graphy’, which means painting/drawing with light. In the earlier days of this word, the pronunciation was different from now a days. The stress was equal on both the ‘o’s of ‘photo’. ‘Graphy’ was spoken softly at the end. Thus the word was spoken as ‘phOtO-graphy’.

The present pronunciation lays stress only on the second ‘o’ of the word photography and the first ‘o’ being almost hidden. Now it is spoken out as ‘phtO-graphy’.

(Russian word for a photographer is ‘fotograf’. Interestingly, the Russians pronounce it with stress on both the ‘O’s.)

The sophisticated people, the new generation and those trying to copy this pronunciation have further modified it to ‘pho-TOG-raphy’. This really pains my ears when I hear the ‘graphy’ part being split up into two. The word literally gets murdered by such speakers. The latest shortening of the term photographer as ‘tog’ or ‘photog’ has further worsened the way these words get pronounced.


RTFM – Acronym for ‘Read the f**king manual’. This is what most photographers want to say on sites like ‘quora’ and ‘yahoo answers’ but instead, they end up saying ‘PLEASE refer to the user manual’ (though the ‘please’ is also not as stressed upon). User manuals are a good source of information, seriously.


Say Cheese – Saying cheese spreads the lips similar to a smile. Is that what front desk people in most industries are taught to say to themselves? Saying the word ‘cheese’ provides a very waxy smile. Thankfully, the word has become so common in English speaking population that people actually end up laughing when they hear the all so old cliche of saying cheese.

Various other languages use other similar words in their own languages to mimic a smiling face. Russians use ‘Raisins’ whereas the Swedish say ‘Omelette’. Moroccans prefer saying ‘Bread’ and Latin Americans smile while saying ‘Whiskey’!


Shutterbug / Shutter Nutter – Someone as crazy about photography as me. Photography occupies the mind most of the time. Even while watching films, my mind tries to see the kind of lighting that was used or the way the camera was set. Does your mind also see these things while watching films?


Spray and Pray (Machine Gunning / Grip and Rip) – How does a shotgun work? It fires out a blast of small pellets, some of which hit the target and others don’t. There are photographers who do the same thing. They use the camera to capture as many shots as possible and pray that some of them turn out fine. Machine gunning also conveys the same meaning.


Uncle Bob – The person who goes to a wedding or a dinner party as a guest, but armed with a camera. No, he is not the official photographer but just a hobbyist who wants to capture everything in his own camera. In fact, I am yet to see an ‘aunty Bob’. It seems this is more of a male trait… and no, I may be a Shutterbug but I am not Uncle Bob (except maybe once when I captured a few photographs of behind the scenes at my sister’s wedding). Uncle Bobs are altogether a different breed. They don’t sleep and breathe photography but they emerge with their cameras at the least expected places.

The present generation of mobile phone junkies who want to share everything on social media and messaging platforms are not the same as Uncle Bob, though they may be in the making.

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