The Snapshot – Pure Photography Or Pointless Pursuit?

As you probably know, I’m not one for endlessly fiddling about with every possible setting on a camera shot by shot, trying to achieve a perfect photo every time.

And I like post processing even less.

My ideal is to have a camera that’s either simple enough in itself to just point and shoot, or one that’s perhaps more sophisticated, but can be (and has been) set up to use as simply as a point and shoot.

Either way, my focus is on knowing what any given camera does best, and then concentrating on composing and capturing to make the most of that.

Some might say that such direct shooting is not so much “proper” photography, but more like taking snapshots.

That the photographer taking these snapshots is avoiding immersing themselves in the more technical aspects (both at the point of shooting, and in post processing) and as such cannot be considered a “proper” photographer.

But I would argue that it’s by sparing all this infinite faffing about and just getting to the very heart of photography – those elements such as composition, light, shadow, texture, shape and so on – that brings me not only a more immersive and direct experience, it saves me wallowing (and drowning) in the unlimited possibilities of a camera’s settings, and the software in processing.

So for the foreseeable future I’ll be sticking with these kind of snapshots, thank you very much.

How about you? Are you a fan of direct snapshots and a minimum amount of fiddling around?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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26 thoughts on “The Snapshot – Pure Photography Or Pointless Pursuit?”

  1. If your approach of taking snapshots yields images like the one on this post, just continue, it will make you and us happy 🙂

  2. you probably know that I do not like straight out of the camera shots. I am an artist and want the image to reflect my vision. So invariably I edit them in the darkroom of Photoshop and Lightroom. There isn’t a camera made that can capture the complete dynamic range of what the human eye can see or interpret the colors the way I saw them. Part of the act of creation for me is taking the photo into the digital darkroom and seeing what I can do with it. There are some excellent documentary photographers who know their gear and do not post process. A few have made stunning photographs. For many of us the joy is in creating art, and that includes post processing.

    1. I think I’m closer to that way of viewing photography. Quite often I consider that images I take are material I bring back and on which I have to work to get what I wanted, imagined. If I have time, post processing is something really pleasant, it’s a bit like making images come to life. Only when time is missing it becomes a burden.

      1. And this is why I prefer most of my photography time to be actually out walking and taking pictures with a camera, not processing digital files on a computer, which is where I already spend too much time.

    2. Something of an unfair comparison because the eye changes automatically depending on what part of a scene it is concentrating on. The camera can not do this, nor can your eye do it when looking at a captured image. That is why some shoot HDR, which always looks surreal to the mind because we know shadows are sometime solid black and highlights often a glare of white. The eye & brain can compensate, the camera can’t.

      1. Not sure what the comparison is. I’m not a fan of HDR. It isn’t always necessary show all the details in the shadows or highlights. Many times I want the details and can only get them if I process the RAW file. There is flexibility in editing. To not edit there is only one outcome – the cameras choice.

      2. Following on from this, I find that with some photographs, especially with a great depth of field, you can spend time exploring the whole scene with your eyes in a way that you can’t in reality, as your eyes only focus on small parts of the scene in front of you at any one moment, and can’t take it all in at once.

        With highlights I used to be a little disappointed if I shot, say a bright sky and white clouds got blown out in the photograph. But then I’d look at the clouds with my naked eyes and that’s how they looked in reality, because the light reflecting off them was so bright! I think we sometimes expect a camera to create something that isn’t there, and it can’t do without the result looking fake because it’s been artificially (post) processed.

    3. I completely understand what you’re saying Sherry, and so many photographers feel similarly to you. I just don’t get the whole “artistic vision” thing, and taking one image and turning it into something very different. I just have to get close to what I want at the point of making the photo, and choose the cameras, and set them up, to enable this. If you’re going to heavily post process then it becomes almost irrelevant what camera you take the initial shot with, almost like if you want to make a bowl of clay it doesn’t which handful of clay you grab to start sculpting, as long as spend long enough and manipulate it enough to express your final vision.

      1. I need a really solid image that is well lit and focused the way I need it to be. A point a shoot camera will not do the work. I also need large megapixel files to have something to work with. Full frame works best for me. Instructors like Blake Rudis can explain the photographic creative process better than I can.

  3. One of my favourite photographers, the legendary Daido Moriyama, proudly calls himself a snap photographer and has been using compact cameras in P-mode all his life. So nothing wrong with “snapshots”.

    My workflow is, as I mentioned here before, as simple as possible: all my cameras – including phone camera – are in the most neutral settings and then two minutes of “post-processing” via Snapseed (basic) and my favourite VSCO preset. Absolutely no hassle involved.

    1. Ah yes, I’m quite familiar with Moriyama and whilst I don’t always love his photographs, I do appreciate his style and approach, it’s very raw and direct. I use Snapseed for nearly all of my family photos taken with a phone camera, and a near identical tweak each time, and the few seconds it takes is worth it for these I feel.

  4. No, you don’t change every setting with every shot and then see which one of the 10,000 images is ‘best’. Fools play that ‘burn film’ game. Photographers learn what the settings are for and choose the right ones to begin with according to what they have in mind (as in what the subject inspires).
    ‘Automatic’ (or ‘Program’) is one of those settings and is 100% legitimate for a photographer to choose – especially if the subject is fleeting or ever-changing. If you can’t trust your camera to pick the right settings when asked to, get a different camera. As I often say, “I paid for automatic so I’m going to use it”.

    1. Yes I didn’t even mention the scattershot approach where a camera is set to rapid fire in the hope that one of a dozen/50/100+ images will be good. It’s the antithesis of the kind of slow, measured, rambling photography I enjoy.

      That’s an interesting view on auto cameras. I think there was a period of some years with early digital where the auto modes – or rather the scene type modes, where the camera would try to predict the scene you shooting and select the corresponding mode in its repertoire – were very hit and miss, and a camera with more manual control, or the ability to set everything pretty neutral, was preferable. But in recent years – and phones are an excellent example of this – nearly anyone can point and shoot and get great looking images. Not to say the compositions are great or the images are necessarily very interesting or compelling, but they are great looking.

  5. There was a reader in my blog, a photographer himself, would ask me how I made some photographs in my posts, but he got frustrated when I used to say the truth, that they were while traveling in public transport, I just would see something interesting from the window and point the camera to there, waiting when the car would slow enough to make a click. Being architect I have some education in composition, scale, proportion, I think I have some instinct to photograph without thinking so much; in the same spirit of a Japanese archer shooting an arrow from a horse, the yabusame, I agree with another commentator in drawing inspiration from Daido Moriyama, as he says usually only Westerners care about the camera; in my case more important than the camera is the enthusiasm with which we photograph. Gear is important to me in the sense they should not be too perfect that I feel they are doing the photograph instead of me hehe (an example would be the advanced computational photography in google Pixel cameras)

    1. Why was the reader frustrated Francis, because he expected you to share some complex and magical artistic process?

      I think there are many more measurable aspects we are more obsessed with in the West. I recall a conversation with a friend from Venezuela, who I met through salsa dancing some 14 years ago. He was always baffled as to why most of the (English) people in the classes were so obsessed with getting to the next class (Beginners 1, Beginners 2, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Advanced 1 etc) and having some number that defines their “success” as a dancer. He just loved to dance for the joy of it, and the music, and didn’t care about anything else! A great attitude for a dancer to aspire to I always felt.

      1. Oh no, it was rather a concern among those that visited frequently my blog. The photos were taken in pauses in middle of going to work or so, giving a fairly accurate impression that I have no time fo myself much. Venezuelans indeed have that way to enjoy life, which has pros and cons, one pro is that they seem quite happy most of the time, they are very polite with a warm way to communicate; one con is that they are not used to sacrifice a bit the present for the future (in Peru there are 1 200 000 Venezuelans). Classifying dance in categories certainly can take away of its joyful nature, but if we have the goal to learn to be good dancers categories allow us to measure how closer we are to reach a proficiency in dancing.

      2. Yeh I think for me with dancing I wanted to reach a certain level where I was confident and comfortable enough to go to a salsa club and ask pretty much anyone to dance, without thinking I wasn’t good enough for it to be enjoyable for both of us. It wasn’t a measure that could be recorded by a certain number or badge or certificate, more a feeling.

  6. There are photographs that are impossible to create straight out of camera. Like this one: or this one

    Sometimes what I want to achieve requires post processing. I don’t mind the work. I may have the composition but the shadows and highlight aren’t to my liking. I have just three options I control; ISO, aperture and exposure. What if none of those combinations get me what I want?

    Why would I limit myself to only what the camera can see?

    1. Khurt did you superimpose the three figures on a different background in the Eins, Zwei, Drei image? Just doesn’t look right around the edges and the shadows are wrong. Is this what meant that you couldn’t do in camera?

      I think there comes a point where photography goes off into what I might call digital image processing, and it’s not really photogrpahy anymore, it’s not about making a picture with a camera, but making it with a computer. Kind of like CGI in movies, it makes them look great (mostly) but you know it’s not real, and for most of the film the actors performed against green screens. I prefer more a more real and natural look with my photography (especially as I mostly photograph nature!).

      1. I don’t subscribe to this “photography is only what comes right out of the camera” philosophy. It’s dishonest. Image manipulation has been around since the original metal plate photography. Digital cameras have never ever reproduced what the human eye sees. The CPU in the camera is doing photo processing.

      2. Yes, “image manipulation” is present in any photograph really, a combination of how the camera is set up, the components within it, and any after treatments by the photographer. And yes this goes back to the dawn of photography, it’s not purely a digital phenomenon. In that sense there are no pure or untouched images. I just like to do as little post processing as possible, and choose ans set up cameras to make this achievable.

      3. The shadows weren’t quite right because the light and my body moved in between shots. Still a fun image that would not exist if I limited myself to “what the camera could do”.

  7. It just depends on the kind of photography you do, I think…
    Street photographers are famous for just setting their cameras to black and white and then going away looking for “the decisive moment” when something interesting is happening.
    I guess if you take pictures of details and objects in somewhat controlled light, straight out of camera results are also pretty good once you have your settings reflect your preferences.
    I have a disadvantage in that I usually work with a very wide dynamic range – either traveling or going out to photo walks, I’m usually out in the sun – a lot of people say you have to be out really early or really late and I do love those colors, but I also just love being out in the sun. I guess it comes from being from Brazil, from a city where it rains a lot – when the sun comes out everything just looks beautiful. But that presents a challenge that CMOS cameras in particular have a hard time with. The CCD sensors in my Pentax deal with sunlight much better.
    But the point is that I always end up having to do PP. So I am just used to that idea now. I create profiles in Rawtherapee that save time and so I guess that’s the best I can do.

    1. Chris would you say how the CCDs deal with sunlight better is a significant reason you use them? Or did you start with them, then try some CMOS cameras and find they didn’t do so well so reverted mostly to CCD?

      Sunshine straight after rainfall can often look wonderful, I agree.

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