Apple turned ‘bokeh’ into a verb, and photographers hate it

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bokeh verb
The child in the background was "bokeh'd."
Screenshot: Apple/YouTube

The serious photographer has made peace with the iPhone and how it has turned everyone into a photographer.

But Apple’s introduction of bokeh to the photographic novice has caused some heartburn, thanks to an ad featuring two mothers who turn bokeh into a verb.

The ad on YouTube, which shows how the iPhone’s Depth Control feature blurs the background on portraits, has garnered nearly 10,000 dislikes. This led some online photography news sites to theorize that many of the dislikes come from offended purists of the craft.

In the ad, two mothers sit side-by-side while one uses Depth Control to blur the background. The other woman’s child essential gets blurred out of the picture and causes her to ask, “Did you bokeh my child?”

Bokeh gets verbed

This marks the first time in photography’s history where someone was “bokeh’d.”

Bokeh is a Japanese word for the quality of the blurred portion of a photograph taken with a shallow depth of field. With a traditional camera, this is achieved by opening the aperture as wide as possible on a lens that is often expensive.

It makes the subject pop in a portrait, but it can also mitigate a distracting background. This too is shown on an earlier Apple ad. The user photographs a woman on a congested street and is able to clean up the background with Depth Control to make her pop.

Apple has achieved a computational version of the bokeh effect and even uses f-stops on its slider scale as the user works to make a more pleasing background.

Many photographers dismiss Apple’s Depth Control as nothing more than a filter.

Some took to social media last fall in an attempt to correct Apple’s Phil Schiller in his pronunciation of bokeh while explaining the improved effect on the newest iPhones.

bokeh
Phill Schiller putting the focus on bokeh.
Photo: Apple/YouTube

Schiller pronounced it bo-cuh, sounding similar to the Florida destination. It is pronounced bo-kay, like the flowers a bride holds walking down the aisle.

Apparently, Apple is sticking with bo-cuh because that’s how the two women pronounce it as they turn it into a verb.

It’s more than one word

The website PetaPixel, in writing about the ad, used the headline: “Thanks, Apple: ‘Bokeh’ is Now a Verb.”

The Online Photographer posted the 38-second spot and stirred a lively conversation in the comments.

“Apple is wrong in its pronunciation, wrote Lucian Pintilie. “Not only in this ad but also during their various launch events where they touch upon photography. For a company very proud of its attention to detail (obsessing over even minute details is something that Apple considers a virtue), getting this wrong is…well, wrong. What message do they send to the discerning public? Do they even realize that?”

So why the bitterness over bokeh?

The iPhone has been a disruptive gadget in photography and the camera industry. On the positive side, it has erased an otherwise steep learning curve and lets you just take pictures. Some, whose exposure to the craft did not happen until they got their first iPhone, are now renowned artists, influencers and working photographers.

Many professionals have enthusiastically embraced the iPhone as another tool in their bag. Other see it as a symbol of a changing field that has made it very difficult for some to earn a living.

Consider how a Chicago newspaper a few years back laid off its entire photo staff with the belief that the writers could take pictures with their iPhones.

There are also horror stories of wedding photographers having to compete with the iPhones of family and friends just to get the nice pictures they were hired to take. By the time the photographer arrives at the reception, someone with an iPad already has a slide show of smartphone photos going on a table.

These are two extreme examples and the iPhone is a contribution to photography, not its killer.

The indignity will fade much like the background of a photograph.