The more I learn about photography the more I am seeing a trend, I have meet a lot of people who have taken on the title of photographer and yet a lot of these people do not know the difference between a fine art photograph and a snapshot. These same people are able to say that they like or dis-like a particular photograph; however, they are not able to say what it is about the photo that they like or dis-like. It is not enough that you like or dis-like any photograph, as a photographer we should be able to tell ourselves and others why the photograph works for us or why it doesn’t work for us.
One day I heard someone remark that the hardest thing to teach a potential photographer is the difference between a snapshot and fine art. I have found this to be truer than I would like to admit. Now this is all according to me, so take it as you will, but if you are going around calling yourself a photographer and you cannot articulate why a photo works or why it doesn’t then you really need to step back and take a reality check.
Yes, the hardest thing to teach a photographer is the difference between fine art and a snapshot; particularly if that photographer already thinks they are producing fine art. I have meet photographers that have a business and charging their clients professional prices and yet they are producing snapshots. If you are marketing yourself as a professional photographer and you don’t know the difference between a snapshot and fine art then you really need to step back and reevaluate the work you are giving your clients.
This brings up the question; just what is the difference between a snapshot and a fine art photograph? Dictionary.com defines a snapshot as “an informal photograph, especially one taken by a hand-held camera” and (in hunting terms) “a quick shot taken without deliberate aim.” (snapshots. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved March 22, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/snapshots). As a photographer, shouldn’t your aim be to produce the best product you can. A lot of people define a snapshot as a photograph that is taken quickly and without regard for things like lighting, composition, and subject matter. However; I have seen a lot of photographers put in a lot of work to create snapshots. A snapshot is just a visual record of what is in front of the lens; there is no skill involved,
One of the main differences between a fine art photograph and a snapshot is that the fine art photograph contains artistic elements that depend on the skill of the photographer. Today’s cameras have automatic functions and software that make it easier to get a correct exposure but these automatic functions do not help with the artistic elements that go into making a fine art image. There are so many photographers out there that claim they are fine art photographers and yet they don’t know what makes a photograph a fine art piece. A fine art photographer is able to compositionally justify everything within the frame of the photograph.
A fine art photographer can look at the photograph and not only say if they like it or not but they are able to say what it is about the photo that they like or don’t like. A fine art photographer doesn’t photograph everything they see; they slow down and go through their pre-shoot questions before they ever press the shutter button. When you slow things down a bit, will you miss some photos? Sure you will. Does it make you a bad photographer if you slow down? No, when you start anything you must start slow and learn the fundamentals and build your mental processes. Until you are really able to identify what makes a fine art photograph you will never be a fine art photographer.
Recently I had an experience with my daughter; she showed me the importance of having an opinion and view that is well articulated about artistic things. The other day I purchased a new neck tie and the first time I wore it my four year old daughter looked at me and said “Daddy that looks good on you, you look good.” As you would expect this was an ego boost for me. A few days later I was wearing the neck tie once again and once again my four year old daughter says to me that she really likes the neck tie, so I asked her what she liked about it. My daughters answer to the question of what she liked about my neck tie shocked me; she said that she liked the colors and the circles, and that it looked like a stain glass window. In essence she was able to articulate what it was about the design and colors that she liked. When a four year old can look at something artistic and tell me what she liked about it and I know adult photographers who cannot do that.
In closing remember a photographer who is not learning is a photographer that is not improving and therefore is a photographer that is producing snapshots and not fine art. As well too many photographers spent a lot of money on gear and not enough on their photography education, when you get education you will be better prepared to not only use the gear you already have but make smarter gear choices in the future.