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photobombing also photo-bombing

noun [uncountable]

ruining other people's photos by making silly faces and/or moving into the background immediately before the photos are taken

photobomb

verb [transitive] noun [countable]

photobomber

noun [countable]

'Ryan Grant, John Kuhn, Charles Woodson and Green Bay Packers team president Mark Murphy pose for a picture on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange … (Also note the photo-bombing trader wearing the cheese head. My faith in Wall Street is restored.)'

Yahoo Sports 24th February 2011

'His campaign website was full of photobombed pictures of Brown "with" folks like President Obama and Vice President Biden …'

NBC Washington 25th February 2011

'Ten awesome celebrity photobombs … Last week, NPR asked listeners to share photos of themselves with favorite musicians. That's a swell idea and all, but we thought that taking the angle of the photobomber would be a more entertaining way to look at pictures of famous people with non-famous people.'

Denver Westword 28th February 2011

We've all had that experience of a person's head, arm, hand or other unsolicited body part popping up in an otherwise beautifully composed photo – aaarghh! But what if that unwanted limb, digit or contorted expression appeared not by accident, but by dint of some humorous, deliberate prank? Believe it or not, the art of jokingly sabotaging someone else's snapshots now has a name – it's called photobombing.

some of the best opportunities for photobombing occur at family gatherings and tourist attractions, where … people are likely to be in a good mood and/or concentrating on what they have come to see rather than the idiot lurking in the background

If someone engages in the practice of photobombing, they hop into the range of a camera shot immediately before a picture is taken so that they pop up unexpectedly in the background in a way that clearly shows they were not intended to be part of the main 'subject' of the photo. The activity is surprisingly popular, and there are a number of websites solely devoted to posting and rating the quality of photobombed pictures. Though in principle photobombing should be a source of irritation (i.e. pointlessly spoiling a picture someone is trying to take), it seems to be almost exclusively regarded in a humorous light and doesn't appear to carry any disapproving connotations. This fact, and photobombing's apparent popularity, are doubtless connected with the ease and frequency with which we take pictures these days. In this age of digital photography, we can take loads of shots and discard those that aren't any good without any extra expense or hassle. And since most of us carry mobile phones, we can snap away to our heart's content in any location without even remembering to bring a camera.

If you'd like to have a shot at photobombing yourself, check out photobombing website photobomb.net which offers a few tips. The site explains that some of the best opportunities for photobombing occur at family gatherings and tourist attractions, where there are plenty of cameras around and people are likely to be in a good mood and/or concentrating on what they have come to see rather than the idiot lurking in the background! It also advises that the photobomber should plan his/her 'escape route' carefully – in the days before digital photography, a photobomber wouldn't usually be spotted until the photos had been developed, but not so today, when their antics are obvious seconds after the shot is taken.

Background – photobombing

The term photobombing has been in circulation for the past three years or so, and though yet to make it into a mainstream dictionary, is widely used in popular Internet culture and the media. As well as the related noun photobomber for describing those who jump uninvited into the viewfinder, there's also the word photobomb, which can be used either as a transitive verb (often realized as participle adjective photobombed) or as a countable noun referring to the photo itself.

Though the term photobombing usually has humorous overtones, it can crop up in more serious contexts. The word recently hit the spotlight in the US in connection with political figure Sulaimon Brown, who in 2010 ran as a candidate for mayor of Washington DC. On his campaign website, Brown included photos showing him 'with' President Obama. Allegedly, the pictures were photobombed.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 20th June 2011.

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