For a while now, my photography goal has been on capturing a more energetic, or emotionally resonating type of moment than my earlier style, which was a little more withdrawn, involving distant figures and light architecture. The shift to film allowed me to constantly concentrate on finding the next “worthy” scene to work, as opposed to being held back by the slower perfectionist compositions I was able to create on a digital camera with live view.
Although I spend a long time out and about I am making far fewer images than ever. With high discretion over what I feel is valuable to capture, a roll of 36 shots can represent literal weeks of time spent searching for those moments.
This is quite an oppressive and restrictive way to photograph, but I feel the results are worth the effort. I’m very happy with my recent images, and I definitely feel that the aesthetic, and stories I want to tell, are moving in the right direction.
I think a balance can be found in the incorporation of a snapshot workflow alongside my more serious photography. The line between snapshot and a serious image can feel arbitrary, but to me it’s important to have a clear distinction regarding what I want to achieve with an image.
A serious image to me will be the emotional cornerstone to a story; it will contain the characters, or gesture, or moment, or aesthetic that resonates most with me, and hopefully my audience. A snapshot can include any of these things, but to a lesser extent. I will take less time over creating these, and when curating treat them as their own little contextual collection rather than seeing any individual image as having merit by itself (although to others it may very well). They feel like B roll, and it can be freeing to “care less” about the overall image and go for the gist of the scene.
I think my extreme focus on the “bigger picture” of finding those main significant images means I’ll sometimes overlook the smaller details, despite including them as often as possible in compositions I care about. A detail on it’s own, isolated from context, doesn’t make the best image in my opinion – but it can provide context to other images, which is a utility I’ve only recently started to take advantage of.
Snapshot photography is probably the most prevalent form of popular photography – everything from Snapchat to (unfortunately in my opinion) the rise of civilian and professional snapshot journalism; as such I wanted to make as much of an effort to distance myself from this style. However, whether this prevalence is indicative of any erosion of “quality” I have managed to find a rough use for it in my own work, and am now figuring out the best way to implement it into my methodology.
Snapshot photography today has such potential for immediate and practical applications, especially in communication. I use the ability to instantly send communicative information — like landmarks — over social media when meeting up with people or to take visual notes in the supermarket. This is all photography but at its most basic level, direct, non-artistic, quick-paced communication of an idea to be immediately disposed of upon use.
This affects my perception of a snapshot moment. A wide angle lens, colour, and a more direct, single idea per frame direction seems to be the best approach.
My solution has been to dedicate my Olympus XA (formerly Rollei 35AFM), which is always in my shirt pocket, to these snapshot mentality photographs, whether that’s a neat detail, a personal photograph, or something part of a larger project. It almost always carries colour film, and is essentially the only thing I use for colour film photographs these days.
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This bypasses my concerns over saving film, which were prevalent towards the start of my shooting on film, but have become less and less as time has gone on, and I’ve become better at nailing shots on the first try.
The choice of colour film varies – Kodak Portra 400 is an excellent all-rounder, and Pro Image 100 is good for sunny weather. Even the more “fun” films like Cinestill 50D have found their place in this workflow, and I especially enjoyed using it for snapshots while in New York over summer 2019.
The Olympus XA provides a forceful breath of fresh air from my black and white standard, and the 35mm offers a wider field of view than I’ll normally consider shooting. Together this makes me work differently enough that I really feel my mindset change when I shoot with this setup.
I’ve started to make an effort to set aside time to “allow” myself to make snapshots. Even if it’s only half an hour out of my daily walk I feel that allocating specifically towards snapshots gives me permission to take my attention from other things, and is a good exercise to train my eye to find more interesting compositions incorporating these aspects.
I’ve even found that I mind less about imperfections in the technical details of these images. I’ve never been one to care too much about correct exposure, but framing and focus are usually essential. However as the purpose of these images is not to speak for themselves but to operate alongside other images there is less of an emphasis on creating something perfect and more an attempt to convey the real essence.
I also allow these snapshots to adhere to fewer of the other aesthetic limitations I impose – things like cars, baseball caps, writing, are less important here than when I work more seriously.
By allowing myself to enjoy these otherwise imperfect images I am also able to go back and see merit in some of my old work, and to repurpose photographs I would have never considered publishing previously.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I hope some of the ideas have been useful! To see more of my work please consider following me on Instagram! I buy all of my film from Analogue Wonderland.
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Some great points here. I’ve often found the distinction between ‘snapshots’ and ‘photographs’ most evident in travel situations. I love being a tourist and being ‘wowed’ by new places and experiences, and so a lot of my travel photography ends up being snapshots. I always tray to create ‘photographs’ and I often wonder what elevates my snapshots to that status – luck? I find ‘acceptance’ is my biggest ally – observe, learn, move on. We are all still students.
Thank you Chris!
What an excellent article. I was up very early this morning looking at some of my work made last summer while on a beach holiday with my family. I had two cameras with me: a 645- Bronica ETRSi and and my 35mm Nikon F2. I noticed that I used the Bronica for my more “serious” landscapes and the F2 about 50/50 of “serious” shots and snapshots. In looking at them as a group, I discovered that the snapshots were just as “serious” to me as the others and more important. As a result, it dawned on me that I might start a project of just snapshots, with an eye towards using a film camera like a cellphone camera and see what turns out. Anyway, great article and very coincidental for me.