In defense of snapshots


In photography there are two main pejoratives: amateur and snapshot. Self-important Photographers (with a capitalized P) on the internet love pointing out who is and isn’t a real photographer, and what is and is not a Photograph. Those who don’t live up to their standards are amateurs who shoot snapshots.

Look at all the Facebook groups, Tumblr sites, and articles at major photography sites decrying the rise of mommy photography and so-called “fauxtographers”. These are actual, working professionals who use their time to point out why other photographers aren’t as good as they are. (And, it should be pointed out, photography is a field dominated by men and most of these “fauxtographers” are women.)

Despite all this the snapshot still reigns supreme. The majority of photos ever taken have been snapshots and this will continue on forever. Most people who pick up a camera have no interest in creating Art™, they simply want to record a moment. They want something permanent outside of their memory.

The snapshot is the king of photography. Ask anyone what they would save if their house were on fire and odds are their photos would be on the top of the list. Sure, that might include your wedding album or portraits of your kids, but most of the photos you would want to save are snapshots. Pictures of your grandma or grandpa, your parent that passed away, or the child who is now a teenager and refuses to talk to you.

The snapshot is the purest form of photography. It might not have perfect exposure, it may be shot with the wrong ISO or with a lens that can’t go bigger than f3.5, but it represents pure passion. When you snap off a quick shot of your kids you are taking a photograph of the most important thing in your life. It’s not a paying job, it’s not another house or another wedding, it’s the most precious thing to you, the thing you are most passionate about. Art, no matter how beautiful, can’t compete with that. For you, at least.

In a previous post I wrote that a selfie in a museum that merely records a moment isn’t worth it to me. And I still think that’s true. I’m interested in taking different pictures at museums, but that doesn’t mean a selfie isn’t exactly what someone else wants to take. And it doesn’t mean I don’t take snapshots. I do, all the time.

Malign it all you want, the snapshot is still the king of photographs and more important to most of us than the perfect prints hanging on our walls.