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Photographs and snapshots (05/20/2007)
By Tom Hirsch
Okay, so what's the difference between a photograph and a snapshot? Good question. The difference lies in the way the entire image frame is utilized. A snapshot is the effect of concentrating on the subject; a photograph is the result of examining the scene as a whole.

There's nothing wrong with taking snapshots. When we photograph the actions of a one-year-old playing on the floor, we're not going to get the child to pose for us in the most appropriate lighting, or toddle over to a background without flaws. Our goal is to get a picture of the youngster that will serve as a family keepsake.

Snapshots are appropriate when we have no control over the subject, the lighting or the surroundings, or when we're just interested in a picture that can serve as a remembrance of a person, scene or an event. Many snapshots end up as works of art, and frequently the quality of the picture is due to the strength of the subject matter and the insignificance of all other factors.

But if we are in the habit of just taking snapshots, we could run into a few hazards that won't show up until the prints are in our hands. Even then we might overlook the flaws, but other people won't. For example, when taking a snapshot of a friend in the park, we might bring the camera's viewfinder up to our eye and concentrate only on the person's face. When we get the pictures, we, or someone, will notice a telephone pole that appears to be growing out of the person's head. If we're shooting a beautiful landscape, we might concentrate on the meandering stream and overlook the billboard that reeks of civilization.

The camera sees it all. It doesn't selectively weigh the importance that we place on each part of the scene. The film or digital imaging card records everything, good and bad, that we will see when we get the photos. It's up to us to make sure that what we get is what we see. If we want a good photograph, we should get in the habit of examining every part of the image in the viewfinder

before taking a picture. It's just a matter of self-training. As Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, "You can observe a lot by watching."

It's not that difficult. Each time we look through the viewfinder, we should ask ourselves, "Do lines in the background confuse things by competing with lines in the subject? Do any background objects seem to be growing out of the subject? Are there objects that are totally foreign to the picture idea? Is the background distracting; does it compliment the subject, or does it grab all the attention? Is there sufficient contrast between the subject and background?" No need to memorize these questions. You get the idea.

If you're not satisfied with the answers you get to any of your questions, there are several ways of making corrections. These include moving left or right, changing elevation, moving an inappropriate object, relocating the subject, changing camera to subject distance, zooming in or out, waiting for a more suitable time, or various combinations of these. Digital camera photographers can examine their images in the LCD monitor and delete the bad ones if they want to, but it still helps to have the generalizations in mind. The approach taken will depend on the situation; but whatever is done should result in a clearer concept, and should convey the photographer's intentions to the viewer.

In a snapshot, the center of interest is all-important. In a photograph, everything should work together. Supplementary objects can increase depth perspective, provide a sense of location, and give a feeling of completeness. But to be effective, they should not attract attention to themselves, or contain distracting lines, shapes, or irrelevant objects. Everything should relate to the center of interest or overall theme.

If you're interested in memorable photographs, when you bring the camera up to your eye, look at everything you see in the viewfinder as if it were in the final print, because it will be. 


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