We often call certain photographs “snapshots.” However, we rarely pause and ask ourselves, “what is a snapshot?” Instead, we take it for granted that we know what a snapshot is.
But do we? Personally, I believe that we do not. At least not precisely. Not in a way that enables us to give a list of “qualities,” or lack of, that a photograph must exhibit in order to be considered a snapshot.
What is a Snapshot?
I thought that the simplest way of presenting my ideas about snapshots was by making a checklist.
After making a loose list of items that I consider important, I decided to organize this list by grouping these items by main categories, starting with composing the image, continuing with the intended audience, proceeding to processing, optimization and printing, and concluding with the meaning of the image.
The outcome is the checklist presented below. As you read through it, keep in mind that in this checklist I am comparing snapshots to fine art photographs. Clearly, the two have entirely different goals and the outcome from both endeavors is of a very different order of magnitude.
It will make a lot more sense if you compare the items in this checklist to my description of Fine Art Photography. You can find this description in many of my writings: in my second book, Mastering Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, in several of my online essays and in my Mastery Workshops on DVD tutorial series.
This being said let us now take a careful look at what a snapshot consists of:
1) Composition: Entire Image
There is no organization of the visual space or this organization is superficial.
2) Composition: Image Borders
No attention is given to the borders and edges of the image.
The horizon may be accidentally tilted.
The audience and the audience’s needs are rarely considered.
5) Processing and Optimization
Color balance, contrast, etc. are decided by the camera and not by the photographer.
Images are often shared as jpegs instead of prints.
The message of the image is almost always: "I was there and I saw or did this."
8) Vision and Emotional Response
There is no attempt to express the vision of the photographer.
Snapshots are not pre-visualized or post-visualized.
May Snowstorm #2, Monument Valley
We arrived at this location right after a unexpected May snowstorm. Snow in the Southwest is a winter event and it does not snow every year. Therefore, snow in May is quite extraordinary. At first I started photographing the place to document this uncommon event. As I photographed I realized that just being there at this unique time was not going to give me a unique photograph. To create a unique image I needed to work out a unique composition.
This image was literally the last one I created on that day. By focusing on the graphic pattern created by the melting snow, and by creating a visual comparison between the sandstone dome in the foreground and the sandstone monument in the background, I was able to create an image that expressed not just what I saw but also what I felt. I also created an image that can never be done again because the snow pattern on the foreground rock will not happen again in exactly the same way.
Composition is a machine and a good composition is a machine that runs smoothly.
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Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, raw conversion, optimization, printing, marketing photographs and more. Alain is also the author of Mastering Landscape Photography and Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style. Both books are available from Amazon and other bookstores as well from Alain’s website.
You can find more information about Alain's work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com. You will receive over 40 essays in PDF format, including chapters from Alain’s books, when you subscribe.