-:- photography by Tim Kovar

Snapshot vs. Serious shot

Photography Year 1

Topic 1

  1. What do we mean when we talk about ‘making’ images?
Timmy and Judy, 1969
Timmy and Judy, 1969


Tim and Judy, 1969 and 2017
Tim and Judy, 2017

It is the difference between taking ‘snapshots’ and making photographs carefully. A ‘snapshot’ is really just to capture a moment for just oneself without worrying about how other people will view the image, and not reflecting on how that image can be changed or improved the next time. A carefully made photograph involves a greater measure of analysis, of thinking about what the picture says and how it works. That analysis is sometimes done before the shutter is pressed, and sometimes after. Either way, the photographer is thinking about a multitude of elements that make the image better or worse, and how they affect what the image says.

We walk around with a camera, spot something that attracts our attention, point the camera, and at some point we click the button to capture the scene. What are the factors that influence that process? What happens when we look at that image later and we are disappointed with what we see? Or what makes you happy when you see the image later? How do you evaluate that picture taking process and the result?

(How do we create meaning; don’t be paralysed by analysis)

Everybody make snapshots, from your grandmother to Edward Weston. Sometimes we click the shutter reflexively because the child smiles, or everybody is in the frame, or the dog looks at us funny. Usually that image only means something to the people involved, like family or friends. I have plenty of pictures of my kids that no one else is interested in. They mean a lot to me, my wife, and the grandparents, but that is it.

[two pics of first/last day of school]


But not all family pictures are only interesting to the people involved. Sometimes they talk to a wider audience. How about this shot from Nicholas Nixon? Four sisters standing together. Millions of shots like this are taken every year. Nothing distinguishes this image: not composition, posing, lighting, expressions, clothing, social context, nothing. Do you think it is just a snapshot?

The Brown Sisters by Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters by Nicholas Nixon

But how does it change when we line up 40 years of the same shot?

The Brown Sisters by Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters by Nicholas Nixon

The Brown Sisters by Nicholas Nixon

How does the meaning change? Take any individual shot, and what does it mean? Then look at the entire series and how do you respond? You are evaluating these pictures. What factors do you think are the most important?


How about these three shots of four young men?


[come back to Eiffel Tower shots: my pics, google images pics, trip advisor pics]

What factors affect meaning? What factors affect when you press the shutter? What factors affect the images you save and the images you throw away (two stars vs zero stars)?


The professional photographer is more aware of how composition, framing, lighting, format and such affect the quality of an image. More often than not they will select their gear, their vantage point, their subject, knowing they want to create an image slanted towards a particular kind of meaning. Think of the sports photographer, the news photographer, the wedding or portrait shot. They all start with a plan, then adapt to what the situation throws at them.


That doesn’t mean that each shot has to be thought out in advance, or that you can’t push the shutter without having an interpretation already thought out for that shot. A lot of the time the photographer puts themselves in a situation and shoots away at anything that grabs their interest. Even so, experience will tell them to move sideways, shoot low to the ground, zoom in or out, or make different choices because it feels right at the time. Then later on they turn a serious critical eye to judging the images and selecting the best ones that meet the story that seems to work. Then maybe next month or next year, they go back and select different images that fit a different story in a different context.


Often the ‘making’ of the images comes after they have been taken.

Shoot lots of pictures.

Look carefully at those pictures.

Think carefully about those pictures.

Shoot some more.