Embrace the Snapshot

Hawaii, 2016
Hawaii, 2016

The “snapshot” is a word looked down with disdain and hatred. No photographer wants to hear that his/her photos look like “snapshots.” We want our photos to be respected, appreciated, and seen as “art.”

But what if there is a benefit of making snapshots in our photography— and what are the joys of making “snapshots” in our daily lives?

Don’t take your photography too seriously

99.9% of us have day-jobs that pay the bills, and we view photography as our leisure, our hobbies, and even our passions.

While some of us aspire to make photography our full-time living, many of us are satisfied with the lives we already have— and we don’t want to make photography our living.

So if you don’t make a living from your photography, don’t take your photography too seriously— in the sense that somehow you shouldn’t take snapshots (because “serious” photographers don’t take snapshots).

Almost every single “serious” photographer I know still loves to take snapshots (usually with their smartphones). We take a bunch of random photos of our food, friends, family, places we visit— snapshots that have no value to anybody but ourselves.

So if you see something you feel an uncontrollable urge to photograph (but you don’t think it is “artistic”) — just shoot it anyways.

What is a “snapshot” anyways?

Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject (I try to treat all my photos of Cindy as 'artful' snapshots)
Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject (I try to treat all my photos of Cindy as ‘artful’ snapshots)

I think when people think of a “snapshot”— they think of a photograph you take without any consideration of composition, form, or artistic value.

However I think taking our photos in a “snapshot-mindset” is a way to liberation in our photography. By not letting our conscious mind obstruct our intuitive and creative mind, we are less burdened by “rules” of composition and form. When we shoot a snapshot, we are fully-in-the-moment. We appreciate the experience more than the photograph. And isn’t that what life should be all be about anyways?

Photo critics are funny

One of the reasons I started the “Learn From the Masters” series is because I didn’t understand all the jargon and nonsense that I read from “serious” photo critics. Rather than “drinking the kool-aid” of famous photographers, I tried to discover for myself, first-hand, what made great photography— and why certain master photographers were great.

One photographer I didn’t understand at all was William Eggleston. All his photos looked like random snapshots.

But photo critics said that he had a “purposeful” snapshot— that he “intentionally” embraced a “snapshot aesethic.” I laughed to myself.

But at the same time— I’ve always believed in the democratization of photography. That anyone could be a “photographer”— that photography shouldn’t be constrained to only “experts” with fancy cameras. That anyone with a smartphone could make a lovely image that is personally meaningful to themselves.

Snapshot with Anders Petersen! He told me that his favorite cameras were compact cameras-- the Contax T3 and Ricoh GR cameras.
Snapshot with Anders Petersen! He told me that his favorite cameras were compact cameras– the Contax T3 and Ricoh GR cameras.

I started to discover that many other master photographers embraced this “snapshot” aesthetic— like Daido Moriyama, Stephen Shore, and Anders Petersen. Their photos felt more real, more natural, and more authentic (compared to photos with absolutely perfect lighting and aesthetics).

The beauty of the imperfect

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

One of the aesethics that inspires me the most is the Japanese aesthetic of “wabi-sabi” — the concept that there is beauty in imperfection.

Snapshots are by default “imperfect.” Nowadays our snapshots are shot mostly on our phones, and they allow us to appreciate the small moments of everyday life with loved ones and family. Not only that, but our smartphone snapshots are easily shared with one another through digital means.

Snapshots can bring a lot of joy into the lives of others. For example, Cindy and I have been doing a practice of making more 4×6 prints, and sharing them with close friends and family. Seeing the happiness and excitement of our friends and family holding physical prints brings me so much more joy than getting 1,000 likes on Instagram.

For me, the value of a snapshot isn’t about recording memories for yourself, but recording memories for others. At the end of the day, photography is a social act.

As “street photographers” — we are concerned with documenting humanity all around us. And if there were no other humans to photograph, would we even bother?

So if your photos bring joy and happiness to others— share them as much as possible. I remember in the early days of Facebook, I would meticulously upload all these snapshots I took of my friends and tag all their faces. This brought me a lot more joy, satisfaction, and purpose than making “artistic” photos for myself.

Use the easiest camera at hand

Hawaii, 2016 #cindyrpoject
Hawaii, 2016 #cindyrpoject

The great beauty of shooting snapshots is that you can use any camera. It can be your DSLR, your Fujifilm camera, your compact camera, or even your iPhone. You don’t need to shoot in manual mode, aperture-priority mode— just use “P” (program mode, as I do), or fully-auto. Embrace JPEGs, and share your photos with your loved ones.

Me and my entire family use “Kakaotalk” (like a What’s app/Facebook messenger— primarily Koreans use it) and I love sending snapshots to my close friends and family. Cindy and I send “selfies” of each other at places we visit, and share them with our loved ones to keep them updated with our lives. We are also very happy whenever we receive family photos of adventures they go on. This is a good way how “social media” can bring family and friends closer together.

I advocated for this before— to share more photos with close friends and family directly (with instant-messenger applications); rather than uploading your photos for everyone to see on Facebook or other social networks. By directly sending someone a certain snapshot or photograph, it is more personal. And isn’t that what makes photography meaningful to us?

Keep snapping!


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