In Defense of Snapshots

9 Mar

Snapshots are photographs which celebrate the beauty of an ordinary day. Candid moments captured against the rush of time.

Snapshots are pictures which aspire not to be “fine art”, but to hold a memory you can feel even 20 years after the photo is taken. I would argue that because snapshots are so unassuming, so humble…and because they can store so much powerful emotion inside their images, that they are art in it’s truest and most meaningful form.

So I say stop your highfalutin’ ways, photographers…you know who you are. Stop putting each other down by using the word snapshots. Don’t look down on snapshots, you big meanie.

Snapshots are the truth and art could very well be seen as a lie. Bold statement, isn’t it?  But think about it.

Are you thinking about it?

Moving on.

Snapshots. Yes!

Consider a small picture of a boy smiling over a bowl of Cheerios, taken by his mother an hour before she drops him off at 3rd grade on a day in which nothing special happens (apart from the fifty billion miracles which happen every day, of course).

Contrast that photo with the school portrait of the same child. The  professional school photo is posed and awkward. It was taken in front of a generic blue sky background by a man who smelled like a combination of motor grease and wax paper and handed out rigid black combs you could keep. This photo is soul-less.*

In twenty years when that child is all grown up, which photo do you suppose will be more dear to his parents? The “professional” portrait of a glassy-eyed little boy smiling because he’s been asked to do so, or the snapshot which captures the little boy you remember, the one with the light that shines from his eyes when he smiles genuinely? I think the answer is fairly obvious.

So…can I talk about wedding photos without being too hypocritical? Sure, why not. We’re all friends and big kids who know how to respect differences of opinion without getting our feelings hurt, right? Right.

It seems the current trend in the world of popular wedding photography is to produce “artistic” images utilizing things like “creative” lens flare and tilt shift (simply put, blurriness). Don’t get me wrong. Striking images can be produced with a photographer who understands the math (yes, math) behind the trade and doesn’t use automatic settings.

I wonder, though if in time the bride and groom will look back at the photos they (likely) paid thousands of dollars for and just wish their faces weren’t obscured by crazy rainbow flare or that their legs weren’t blurry. What seems cool now may just be embarrassing as hell later. Or worse, a trend that may be tacky in the long run covering up the timeless beauty of reality.**


I just think that in the end, the things we treasure most are the simple things, the less expensive things, the free things, even! The things that contain actual emotion. The things that are true, not the photo software enhanced artistic lie of it.

A copy is never as good as the original, and staging/posing photographs is forging life. It isn’t real. It may be nice for a few years to show off wedding photos that look like they belong in an Anthropologie catalog, but they won’t hold up over time. Photos in magazines and catalogs are for marketing purposes, after all. Are you getting married, or are you selling something?

Snapshots are closer to what your memories look like. And to hell with anyone who would dare to critique the aesthetics of your memories.



* No offense intended to anyone who takes portraits at schools or mall-based studios. A job is a job and I respect that. These are only my opinions and not meant to be the final word in photography criticism. So, we’re still cool, right? Right.

** Yes, I am fully aware that there are photographers who can take both posed photos and candid photos. I’m mostly talking about not using the word “snapshot” as an insult.


5 Responses to “In Defense of Snapshots”

  1. pearlessence March 9, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Photography that captures memories is definitely an amazing skill. Posing may not be as realistic, but it’s still a way to preserve the occasion, because not everyone has mastered the skill of being able to take meaningful pictures (like me lol)

    • Ashley Noelle March 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

      It is an amazing skill, but I’m mostly saying it is the casual, “free,” non-pro photos that we end up treasuring. Not trying to criticize photographers, except the mean ones who use the word “snapshot” as an insult. 🙂
      I think posed photos absolutely have their place. I just don’t like the popular idea that they are more valuable, artistically, sentimentally, or otherwise.
      Thank you do much for your comment! I appreciate it super much!!

      • pearlessence March 10, 2012 at 12:00 am #

        I didn’t even know that people used “snapshots” as an insult. Definitely doesn’t seem necessary at all…!

      • Ashley Noelle March 10, 2012 at 11:01 am #

        Isn’t that odd? I’ve heard many people say this and that’s what initially got me thinking…but…wait…snapshots are…real! Hehe

  2. Courtenay Bluebird March 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Because I’ve been looking at a lot of common source photographs lately from everywhere and every time since the beginning of photography, I can tell you that what feel immediate are the least posed images.

    Now, before I go further, let me say that my grounding is in directorial (narrative) photography and documentary work. (Two very opposite ends of the spectrum.)

    Even though I know how to do photo manipulation, I haven’t been doing a ton of it b/c I haven’t felt like retouching everything. I don’t know why. (I like color filters, though.)

    I love snapshots. LOVE them. I’m so glad you’re talking about this subject because the more I look at history and images, the more I appreciate the candid image.

    Here’s something you might like— my photography mentor shot my wedding. I asked him if he could shoot the whole thing documentarian-style— nothing posed, everything loose. The photographs he took I am going to cherish for the rest of my life. They are amazing. (Well, he’s amazing, you know?)

    Ah, thank you for writing about something that has been on my mind a lot right now. (And doing it with such ease and clarity! Nice!) And thank you for letting me blather on and on in your comment section.

    You really did spur a lot of thinking for me today! Thanks!

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