Many photographers describe a picture as a snapshot or photograph as a shorthand way of whether the picture has artistic merit. But that begs the question of what makes a picture a photograph rather than a snapshot. I thought about this for a while and I think that the distinction between snapshots and photographs is that photographs are created actively, while snapshots are taken passively. I also think the distinction isn't binary, but more of a continuum. The more creative choices a photographer consciously makes, the more the picture would be considered a photograph instead of a snapshot.
Here's an example. Both pictures are of the same subject (chair) at the same location (hotel room) taken within minutes of each other. They represent the same photographic opportunity and potential, but the results are entirely different.
In the first shot, I didn't think about the shot at all. I just took it.
In the second shot, I made several choices consciously.
- First, I observed the chair. What I found most interesting were the curves of the chair and the pattern of holes. I then visualized how I wanted the shot to look to highlight both of these aspects of the chair.
- Framing: I selected what part of the chair to photograph, and how I wanted to frame it. I tilted the shot so that the curve would form a diagonal line across the image. I also made sure to capture the concentric curves on the bottom right of the shot which echoed the diagonal line.
- Shooting angle: I observed the chair from various angles and distances, and chose a lower shooting angle.
- Focal length: I tried looking through different focal lengths and chose a moderate telephoto angle (50mm is equivalent to 75mm in 35mm terms).
- lighting: I moved the chair near the window so the light would shine through some of the holes.
- DOF: I chose a narrow depth of field to create a variety of light patterns in the pattern of holes. To get the narrow DOF, I used a wide aperture, used a short camera-to-subject distance, and used a longer focal length.
- focus target: I chose to focus on the curve to draw the viewer's attention to that, and from there allow the curve to guide the viewer's eyes toward the blur from the shallow dof allows the curve to melt among the dreamy pattern of holes.
From these choices I got the shot above.
POSED VS. CANDID PHOTOGRAPHS
It is possible to create a photograph with both posed/setup shots and candid shots. However, you are faced with different challenges in creating a photograph. With a posed shot, it is easier to control creative choices. However, because it is posed, there is an implied expectation that the photographer will in fact make all available creative choices. Almost any significant flaw will make the picture seem like a snapshot instead of a photograph. I have a lot of examples of those :( Here's the most recent one (because the subject is positioned to face the camera directly, I consider it a posed shot):
With candid shots, it is more difficult for the photographer to control all creative choices, but because it is assumed that the photographer is not 'directing' the subject, there are fewer variables that the photographer is expected to control.