The snapshot!

What exactly is a snapshot? As a professional wedding photographer, I often get requests from couples saying that they only require "...a few snaps..." and, like many other pros, I try to explain that I don't take snaps, I take high quality, professional wedding photographs. I create images which provide the bride and groom with memories of the day which they, and their families, will cherish for, hopefully, a very long time. As my website tells anyone who visits it, I pride myself on 'Making a fraction of a second... last a lifetime'. These memories will then be preserved in the finest hand-crafted Italian storybook or matte albums in the World.
However, I fear that I may have become a photo-snob. I may just have forgotten why photography is so important to millions of people world-wide. I hear and see so many of my colleagues responding to similar requests in much the same way as I have, but could it be that we're missing the point?
I recently read an interview with David Bailey in which he stated "...I quite like snaps because they bring back memories. I think that's quite important to people" and do you know what? He's right! (of course he is - he's David Bailey!) The humble snapshot is the one we all carry in a wallet or purse. It's the desktop image on our laptop. It's your new Facebook profile shot. It's the first thing to be packed in a soldiers kitbag as he heads of to war. It's the creased piece of paper we cry at as we remember loved ones we've lost.
I hear so many photographers - pros usually, including myself - moan that the ever-decreasing price-point of DSLRs and the new batch of 'Instant-Professionals' each January (as they learn to use their Xmas presents) is destroying the industry. I hear how they're destroying our businesses by charging pennies for 'snapshots they've tried to make arty or quirky with the latest digital filters'. I watch as these new pros take nothing but snapshots with the pop-up filter or a speedlite sitting on top of the camera ("haven't they heard of Off Camera Flash/ or bounced flash?") "No-one is interested in photography anymore!" is a cry often heard. Well, I'm sorry but you're wrong! EVERYONE is interested in photography! Everyone from that pain-in-the-arse wedding guest who hovers over your shoulder trying to copy your every shot (and won't he/she be the next one advertising his/her new business with the shots they take - even though the bride and groom are looking at the official photographer in them?) to your 3-yr old who tells you to "smile and say 'jelly babies'!" (Ok, maybe the last one is just the way my youngest daughter is turning out, but still) So, Uncle Bob will have his shots on Facebook before you're even home - so what? So, your daughter has cropped off half your face and it's a bit blurry (a godsend when the subject is me!) - so what? Does that make it any less important than that shot you practised for weeks, took ages to set up and then tripped the shutter for the same 1/125 of a second?
As I write this I am on a plane back to Scotland from Bulgaria after a 5 week trip mixing business with pleasure. I flew out with both my daughters, with my wife joining us after 3 weeks or so. During those 3 weeks I had a few shoots arranged and, as always, if I wasn't shooting I was spending quality time with my daughters (often fighting with daughter number 1 over who got to use the G15 and who used the 7D) and I tried to keep a steady flow of shots going back to my wife as much as possible. Most of the time I took advantage of the beautiful light and scenery, but if the girls were just messing around I still made sure I got the shots to show my wife. As I looked around me I saw almost everyone taking snaps - everywhere! And with all sorts of cameras! They were using 5D Mk3's, D800's, 35mm film SLR's, compacts, iPhones - hell, I even saw one woman fly past on a scooter using her iPad to make a video! I saw them try to illuminate a moonlit seascape with the built-in flash on their phones, shoot friends and family with half their face in bright sunlight and half in deep shadows. I watched as people were ordered to pose in ways which I knew wouldn't exactly flatter them. All the things which should have made me cringe and try to shake some sense into them. But, instead, I just watched hundreds of people doing exactly what I was doing - creating memories which they would look back on and smile. Images which they would share with loved ones back home. These will become their new Facebook profile shots, laptop wallpapers and framed prints on the fireplaces the world over. Would my shots be any better than theirs? Technically, maybe - maybe not. Would my fellow photographers hold my shots in higher regard because I'd thought about the background, lighting etc. before I pressed the shutter (most of the time, anyway, ahem...)? Would it matter that I shot at f2.8 to draw the viewer into the eyes or that the girls position in the frame was guided by the Rule of Thirds? Who really cares? Certainly not my wife, who was just happy to see new shots of our girls. ("Have they grown?" "She looks so much older in that shot! It's only been a couple of weeks?!") I wasn't being paid for my snapshots and neither were they - I assume - so what difference does it make? Even once my wife arrived, it didn't stop. Blown highlights? Stupid expressions? Movement blur? Digital noise cos I shot a compact camera at ISO 12,800? Yep, they're all there and do you know what? I couldn't care a bit. Yes, I got some great shots (well, I'm happy, at least) but that's not the point of a snapshot. Sitting at home without my girls for the next 4 days, looking at the hundreds of stupid faces, cropped heads and blurry photos, I'll smile, cry, laugh and remember the times I spent with my family and friends.
And there's the whole point of it all - time spent with family and friends. Yes, we can try to make our shots as creative/ artistic/ technically perfect as possible, but as long as they remind us of those times which will never be repeated, then they are doing exactly what they should. Of the thousands of shots I've taken over the years, my proudest shot of all is a snapshot I took when my first daughter was only about 30 minutes old. After a stressful time and an emergency operation to save the wee one, there was a fraction of a second where her eyes appeared to meet her Mothers - okay, I know it's not possible but it's how it looks. In the shot, my wife's hand looks out of place and takes away from the image slightly - technically - but do I care? Not a single bit! What camera/ lens/setting did I use? I have no idea, although I could always have a look at the EXIF data if it bothered me that much, which it doesn't. To me, it shows the woman I want to grow old with and the beautiful, healthy daughter we almost lost. Is it a perfect shot? I'd argue with any man who said 'No', because, to me, that's exactly what it is - my perfect snapshot.
Whilst I still argue that there's no place for the 'take a snapshot and use a quirky filter to save it' wedding photographer, I think I may have just remembered that there will always be a place for the humble snapshot. Well, if its good enough for Mr Bailey...


Popular posts from this blog

How a 9-yr old shot a wedding using the Fujifilm X-T1

Swimwear & fashion photoshoot with the Fujifilm X-T1 & X100T

Billingham Hadley Large review