The Problem of Word Inflation in the World of Photography

When did every photo become stunning? And if every photo is stunning, is any photo stunning?


It seems every news and blog site that I visit these days in inundating me with stunning photos. Sometimes the photos are labeled “Jaw-Dropping” or “Amazing” or “Incredible,” and to be honest, the pictures are usually great. But just as often they are just above-average pictures with exaggerated headlines.

What’s going on here? When did every picture become stunning? And if every picture is stunning, is any picture stunning really? I mean how stunned can I get?

If I’m initially stunned into a stupor looking at a Jeffrey Mcgillicuty’s picture of the sunset, do I get progressively more stunned as I view pictures of Aunty Ellie’s shot of her steak and egg breakfast in the Bahamas? Do I get even further stunned to the point that I cannot help but drop my jaw to the floor for the jaw-dropping shot of Hawaii that Yahoo! says I will not believe? How much more comatose into stundom can I get?

It’s called word inflation and it’s a little out of control

I was in Peru years ago and as I crossed the border they made me cash 60 dollars US into Peruvian dollars because there was rampant hyper-inflation and they wanted US Dollars in the country. I gave them $60 and they gave me 15 huge stacks of Peruvian dollars that measured at least a foot high. I felt like a millionaire. But by the time I left Peru two days later that same stack of bills was worth about half of what I changed it for.

Well, the same thing seems to have happened in describing photography. I did a Google Trend search on the word “stunning” and I found its use on the Internet nearly doubled in less than 10 years. Apparently a heck of a lot more things are stunning than ever before.

Not an excellent graph but it does show a doubling of the word “Stunning” as it appears on the Internet.


And the word jaw-dropping appears to be just as bad.


What can we do?

Well the first thing we need to do is find two new words that far surpass stunning and jaw-dropping in describing photography. Maybe we can use “brain-paralyzing” in place of stunning and “heart-stopping” in place of jaw-dropping to tell people about our awesome photographs. Since stunning has become so mundane we need to up the ante a bit.

Or we could simply refer to great photographs for what they are… great photographs. And good photographs for what they are… good photographs.

Now, I leave you with a brain paralyzing photo:


About the author: Frank McKenna is an amateur photographer based in La Jolla, California. You can find him on his blog, 500px, Tumblr, and Google+. This article originally appeared here.