That's just a snapshot.

Started Nov 15, 2012 | Discussions thread
drusus Contributing Member • Posts: 745
Re: That's just a snapshot.

We all love stories. That rule is extremely helpful in understanding some otherwise strange behavior, such as watching the news: why do we care so much? Think of the news you and people around you read: do you really need to know those things? Why do people love gossip so much? These are all stories. We humans seem to simply love stories. This is also useful to know in preparing a professional presentation or a speech. If it doesn't sound like a story, people will tune out (and daydream, which is usually making up more stories).

Given that we all love a good story, saying the a picture must tell a story is a limiting and constraining imposition, in my opinion. I think it's actually a way of saying "I don't know the words for commenting on this picture, so I'll use a simple formula: does it tell a story? Now I have something to say about this picture". While it's true that a photo that tells a story is usually appreciated by a viewer, this does not mean that telling a story is the only way that a photo can be good.

For one thing, I don't think that people must be in the picture to tell a story. Your shot of the mall or theater or whatever it was could be interpreted to tell a story. At least in my mind, I pictured myself being on my way to a movie on a sunny afternoon. You could call that a story. But there are photos that are striking in all kinds of ways. They could strike us because a color juxtaposition tickles our visual system in a particular way. Some photos of people show a single expression so clearly that I enjoy connecting with that person's emotion. One photo by Annie Leibowitz of her mother showed an expression that I can't even name, and my name for it might not even be what her mother was experiencing or what the photographer was trying to capture. And yet I was drawn in to look at that photo for a long time. I have a good idea of what emotions that expression was evoking in me, and maybe this was a universal effect on all viewer or it was my own personal experience. There was no story. But I am glad she took that photo. It made me feel connected to life in general, people feeling things, communicating them to each other, and, in this case, being sad but having gotten used to it. It was a great photo, with no story.

You are lucky that you can describe why you take photos. I reached that insight only after 20 years of being an amateur photographer. It was revolutionary. In my case, I realized I want to capture life experiences in my life and the life of those close to me. And the occasional landscape and street scene, when one presents itself. Yes, this amounts to "family snapshots", but phrasing it as a photographic goal helped me decide what pictures I want to take and what equipment I need. And I strive to make every photo more of a photo (with attention to light, composition, mood, framing) and less of a snapshot. So that's now my hobby. I know what I want out of it, and I know what audience my photos are directed to (me and my family). I have some criteria for judging how well I succeeded with a photo (mainly, does it bring me back to that scene and to the emotions I experienced in that scene?). I enjoy my photography much more now than I ever did before.

You too sound very clear in why you take photos and what you enjoy about taking photos. I think that's a blessing that not every amateur photographer has. My suggestion is not to worry about stories but to consider the huge variety of effects that a photo can have, on you, on someone who knows you, and on a stranger, and keep posting away and see what reactions you get. Those reactions can't make you right or wrong in taking or sharing your pictures. They are part of your experience of photography, and you are entitled to experience this wonderful hobby in any way that enriches your life.


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