Snapshot Photography vs. Mindful Photography

March 13, 2011  •  Leave a Comment


The dictionary defines a snapshot (in the context of photography) as “a photograph that is “shot” spontaneously and quickly, most often without artistic or journalistic intent”. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A snapshot may allow you to quickly capture a scene or a subject that might otherwise be missed. That’s OK for capturing a memory or a moment. Snapshots can capture and convey great sentimentality.

Is it bad to take snapshots or be a snapshooter? Not at all. To each his own. If snapshots work for you, more power to you.

But to me (and many other photographers), snapshot can be a pejorative term, synonymous with bad lighting, bad composition, bad focus, and bad point of view.

If you want to improve your photography, take your images to the next level, or get more pleasing results from your photography, maybe it’s time that you move from snapshot photography to mindful photography.

Mindfulness is simply being observant, attentive, careful, deliberate, focused (so to speak) in the moment. Mindful photography (hmmmmm, maybe I should coin that phrase – consider it registered until otherwise notified).

Mindful photography, then, is a state of awareness that allows you to focus on the photographic process, not just pushing the shutter button.

When I run Mindfulness groups, one of the recommendations I make is for folks to slow down a little. Make everyday chores an exercise in Mindfulness. When you do the dishes, do them 3 times slower than you usually would – stay in the moment and focus on the process, not the outcome. When vacuuming, again, do it 3 times slower than you normally would – notice what’s going on while you do it.

When you slow things down a bit, will you miss some photos? Sure you will. You’ll no doubt have fewer photos that are poorly composed. You may have fewer out of focus photos. You’ll have fewer photos with feet, noses, antlers, and tails cut off. Maybe fewer photos of animal butts (not judging – if that’s your thing, fine).

Equipment (with 1 exception) is not an issue in Mindful photography – doesn’t matter if you’re using a disposable camera or the latest DSLR. It’s not the equipment, it’s the photographer and the photographic process. A Mindful photographer will generally get better images with a disposable camera than a snapshooter will get with the latest DSLR. It’s the photographer and the process, not the gear.

The one gear exception? I bet some of you can already guess what it is. A tripod. Yes, they’re heavy and cumbersome and unwieldy and generally a big pain in the butt – and frequently hideously expensive. And they’re worth every bit of inconvenience in the field. There’s no better way to slow yourself down than using a tripod for every shot you take. A cheap tripod (that will at least hold the weight of your gear) is better than no tripod.

I know, I know – I can hear the anguished cries now. “I hate tripods,” “I’ll never use a tripod,” “You must be some Gitzo shill.” But consider this:

By using a tripod, you can more mindfully consider composition. You can find the best light. You can position the camera/lens for the best angle for your subject. Your keeper rate will go up. Your backgrounds will be cleaner and less cluttered. And your images will be much sharper.

One more trait of the Mindful photographer: knowing when to not take a picture. The light is poor. The background is just too cluttered. There’s just too much stuff in the way. I won’t take the picture. I’ll come back another day, I’ll try a different position. And I’ll get the photo I want, not the one I had to settle for.

So, is it wrong, then to take a snapshot? Nah, digital film is cheap. There’s nothing wrong with it. But maybe you can slow down a little – consider the light, the composition, the point of view, and wait a few seconds (or minutes) before you push the shutter button. Do a little experiment and monitor how your photography changes.

Here’s to Mindfulness.

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