I Like to Snap…

My Love of Photography

Have you ever thought much about why you like photography? Or indeed why you take the pictures you do? No? Well nor me, until earlier this week. A few events have made me reflect on what it is to take differing types of pictures, in different ways and at different times. I’m still thinking so bear with me, this is difficult.

Like many men, I suspect, I get a thrill from handling my camera and using it to photograph, but recently I’ve become aware that this is by no means a constant in my picture-taking. More on this aspect later. For me there are three main image making scenarios. Firstly, I’m setting out to take pictures, and I’ve got something specific in mind. Perhaps I’ve planned a trip or perhaps I’ve been thinking about a particular picture I can take at home, either way there is planning involved and the end point is to produce some images that I am pleased with. The better they can be, fresh out of the camera, the more satisfied I am. Secondly, I’m in a social situation, but I have taken my camera along to record the event. Here there is no planning involved and actually, depending on the precise circumstances, I may or may not take any photographs. I think that this depends on how sociable the act of engaging in the process of photography is likely to be for the people I’m with, because human contact, not image making, is the primary purpose. Mind you if it is a large gathering and I feel anxious, I do sometimes hide behind the camera to give a purpose to my social interactions. Thirdly there are situations where planning to go somewhere socially with others, where photographs may be expected to be taken, happen and these are somewhere in between the first two scenarios given above. So where is this preamble leading?

I like to Snap!!

It seems to me that there is a lot of pretentious nonsense spoken about photography. Some image makers espouse a notion that every image has to be carefully considered, of high technical quality whilst also having a competent and pleasing aesthetic. Photographs must tell a complicated story, requiring the viewer to have superior imagination and narrative understanding. Photographs must involve an ordeal to achieve, either through the hoops that must be got through just to be there, perhaps at sunrise or after dark, or perhaps involving a hike up a mountain or travel in dangerous settings, in order to have enduring value as an image. I hear things said like “If you snooze you lose” and “You don’t take a picture, you make a picture”. And yet, on the flip-side, many people are much more concerned with gathering mementos of their everyday lives, often using a mobile phone camera these days, to share with their friends of Facebook or other social networking sites. Many of these pictures have little aesthetic merit but huge sentimental value and there is nothing wrong with that. Well, what is best? Who is correct?

An old friend of mine, now pardon my rudeness, once said “Eat shit.., 10,000 flies can’t be wrong”. We were adolescent at the time, and I think the comment was more for its intrinsic shock value than about making an important point, but this phrase has stayed with me because there are many trends, fads and innovations out there that lead to huge numbers of people doing something a little unusual that is initially disparaged. The advent of colour television, mobile phones and Betamax video all spring to mind as technologies that initially led to criticism for the early adopters. For flies, eating excrement is a natural and purposeful enterprise. They are able to extract nutrients that sustain them, from the copious waste that humans cannot use. Not an obvious pastime, but not at all crazy once you are in possession of the full facts. I’m not seeking to draw a parallel with the many photographs that get taken on mobile phones, for these images  do also sustain, at least the spirit if not the physical health and can be a vehicle to greater technical proficiency. Put another way, 10,000 people taking poor quality i_snaps can’t be wrong. And they are not, they are purposeful, and the images meaningful to them. Of course there is a severe limit to how much you can learn from photography with a camera phone, as they have few controls and little precision, though I expect that to change in years to come as manual controls sneak in to camera phones, or phones sneak in to better cameras. After all, the very best camera is the one that you have with you and several successful books have been published on the back of this (for instance the excellent “The Best Camera is the One That’s with You: iPhone Photography” by Chase Jarvis).

So what is a Snap to Me?

In my old Collins Gem English Dictionary from 1998, in a very different time, a snapshot is an informal photograph, whereas a photograph is a picture made by the chemical action of light on a film (my how that has changed!) and an image is something altogether more general and complex. It’s a mental picture of someone or something, an impression that people have of a person or organization, a representation of a person or thing in a work of art, an optical reproduction or even a metaphor. We can see right away that the pretentious crowd are using the correct word for their impression of the way photographs should be made, but what about the happy snappers? Looks like they are correct too, with an emphasis on informal. And this, at its crux, is why I like snapping. It’s the informality of it all. To be in situations where others are comfortable with your taking pictures. To not have to worry too much about the quality or purpose of a picture. To make it just because you can. To create and keep memories of events and people for when you are old (or gone). To be accepted for what and who you are, to be at peace with yourself, enjoying the moment. This is the time I take pleasure in my camera. This is what I enjoy. It is not that I don’t enjoy my more technical photography, it’s just that it is different. That is a much more professional endeavour. It is do-or-die. The stakes are immense. You have to get things right. The camera is a tool to be wielded with skill and accuracy. Like computer programming, there are no half measures, no in-between. It works or it doesn’t. You have a moment, if you are lucky a few moments, but you have to be on time and on task. The rewards are high but so are the costs, in that the perfectionists are correct at least.

Is it really this Black and White?

As with many things in life, however, there are situations in-between the extremes. Grey areas exist, betwixt these poles, in which people have options. A third way if you will. A more personal way or style if you like. Once you have the technical skills to take successful photographs, you don’t lose them, or fail to implement them, just because you are in an informal social situation. These skills do contribute to the less formal pictures you take, making them better timed, technically proficient, better framed, more interesting with better background narrative. The informality of the situation helps you concentrate on your technique and encourages you to play more. Try things you might otherwise not have done in a more formal setting, where failure is not an option. Your missed opportunities will be fewer if you have good technique, your personal memories will better reflect how you felt at the time (remember the camera looks both ways) and there is a chance that your pictures will hold the attention of others for more than a microsecond.


Realize that picture-making settings vary considerably, and be comfortable with that. Learn what you can, through rigorous image making opportunities, but use these skills to take personal pictures that have meaning for you. Be snap-happy, and proud.

Cheers, till next time,