Why does a professional photographer’s blood boil when asked to take a ‘snap’?

Something that makes my blood boil is when I’m asked to take a ‘snap’ of something.

A snap. It’s a photograph right? So what’s my beef with the word?

Well, yes, a snap is definitely a photographic record of a moment in time.

A snapshot in time, preserved forever in print or a digital file that will last until it is deleted or forgotten about on out-of-date media. Remember floppy discs? My latest computer came without a CD drive and I have still have lots of those with photos on. I used to send my clients images on CD – in the post. But now I can’t even read what’s on them.

I am old enough to remember an even older medium. Small white cardboard squares with an even smaller, semi-opaque, dark brown square in the middle. These were slides. In the 70s they often were the centre-piece for an evening’s entertainment.

Huddled in a darkened room I remember watching our neighbour’s slide-show of their summer holiday in Yugoslavia. I marvelled at the clicking rotating machine and gazed at the floating dust particles that were illuminated by the projector’s beam of light.

The flying mallards had been removed for the occasion. That night colour images flicked up on the living room wall as we ate cheese and pickled onions on sticks. Like a laser-beam gun, if the projector got stuck, which it frequently did, the heat from the light bulb would burn a hole in the film. For a young boy this space-age technology was exciting stuff.

I remember seeing words like KODAK. I remember seeing pictures of unusual and exciting foreign cars (I’ve always liked cars).  I also remember cringing, embarrassed by the countless snaps of the hosts showing way too much flesh on the beach. I also recall the smell of the slides catching fire.

But these evening soirées were flawed. The sophistication of Babycham, prawn cocktail and avocado pear didn’t disguise that slide-shows were actually extremely boring.

The trouble was  that the photographs were usually just snaps. Records of a memory, a time or a place.

If you were there when the photograph was taken, seeing it displayed, on a four ft square panel on your living room wall would bring your memories flooding back. You would laugh, possibly too much after opening your third Watneys Party Seven. You would be taken back in time to relive the moments recorded by your camera. You would also think your guests from next door were also having a blockbuster of an evening.

But I wasn’t. And neither was anyone else.

We didn’t engage with any of the images. We were not looking at art. We were viewing a series of disconnected, often poorly taken ’snaps’ that meant nothing to us.

Before they were taken down, the positioning of the the three ducks hanging from the magnolia wood-chip had a sense of balance to them, an aesthetic that was comfortable to look at. Interior design fashions change. As do styles of photography.

There is still a place for a snap. And I encourage everyone to take more of them. Sometimes the naivety of such an image can bring unexpected or accidental, beauty. A snap will always jog your memory. It may bring back fond memories of loved ones. But outside of your close circle usually these images will remain snaps.

If you want your clients, or perhaps your neighbours, to notice and enjoy your images then the way and how they are taken needs to be thought about.

Visual language is key.  Photographs need to have an aesthetic, a feeling of beauty and balance, a wow-factor if you like. This is what a photographer strives to create every time they use their camera.

So the next time I’m asked to take a ‘snap’ I may just have to bite my tongue and think of those flying ducks.


In my next blog I will share my thoughts about visual language.