Snapshot is Not a Dirty Word: Musings of a Contrarian Walk Around Photographer

Bay of Fires, Tasmania

Like any other Dreamstime contributor, I have had my fair share of rejections, mostly when I forget to hit the “Editorial” button, producing feedback like “get 2,314 signed model releases and resubmit”, or words to that effect.

More creative was feedback that my photo needed to tell a bigger story; silly old me thought that the photo could be used to illustrate many different stories, but I didn’t argue the point.

My biggest slap down has been for submitting a “snapshot”; “we don’t use that type of thing here Sir”, or words of similar tone and sentiment. A snapshot! Shock, horror, shame! How can I ever live it down? Admittedly it wasn’t an overly interesting photo, but it could have been used to illustrate concepts like sun safe, corporate responsibility or OH&S. Again, I didn’t argue the point, and the offending snapshot has been buried deep, never to be seen again.

Here's one of my snapshots that's sold 8 times (and clearly deserves more!):

Kings Canyon, Red Centre, Australia

Oops, here's another snapshot, sold 12 times (again, that's not enough!):

The Chicago Bean, USA

This made me ponder what is a snapshot? How about…

“…an informal photograph that is taken quickly…” (Webster’s Dictionary)

If we accept this definition, then the antithesis of a snapshot must be a formal photograph that is not taken quickly.

So, it seems we can classify photos according to how they were taken, but how useful is this? In my view, not very, because it says nothing about the quality or usefulness of a photo.

Let’s unpack the snapshot issue a bit further in the context of microstock, which basically comes down to the supply and demand of “good” quality photos.

Is this snapshot a "good" photo? I think so, but it's a buyer's view that really matters.

Preserved Orange Slices, Cinnamon Sticks, and Herbal Tea

The supply side is taking photos for sale and there are, of course, many ways of doing this. Some photographers prepare shot lists, hire equipment, studios, models and so on, and those that do it well produce high quality commercially valuable images. But not everyone likes or has the opportunity to work this way, but this does not prevent them taking high quality photos.

I am reminded of the old photographic axiom that the best camera is the one you have with you. The first corollary of this axiom is you should always have a camera with you, and be prepared to use it when a photographic opportunity arises. The second corollary is that you must be able to quickly recognise and react to constantly evolving photographic opportunities. Put simply, always have a camera and be prepared to use it quickly.

This is how a walk around photographer works. It doesn’t necessarily mean taking quick snapshots, as you may loiter around until, for example, a crowd clears or rearranges itself. But it may mean recognising a photo opportunity as you walk down a crowded street, planting your feet in the optimal spot when you get there while simultaneously raising (or lowering!) your camera, taking the shot, doing a quick scan around for additional photos, and moving on, all in a few seconds. In case you haven’t guessed, here I am talking about a guided tour where it may be difficult, but far from impossible, to produce high quality photos (without being left behind).

On the demand side, does a photo buyer really care if a photo was number 118 on a shot list prepared 6 months in advance, or taken by a pesky monkey attempting to steal your camera? Or if the photo they want came straight out of the camera on a formal photo shoot, or was the result of an hour of post-production on a photo taken quickly and spontaneously? I think not. The buyer is the final arbiter of what constitutes a good photo, one that suits their needs, and how it was taken has nothing to do with this.

Shark Beach, Nielsen Park, Vaucluse, Sydney, Australia

This is definitely a snapshot, but 3 buyers liked it none-the-less!

My final take home message? Real photographers, that you folks, just take photos, in any way that suits them.

Until next time, don’t sweat the labels, just have fun shooting your way.


Photo credits: Bruce Whittingham.

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October 23, 2018


One beach snapshot with three sales versus 3,475,092 snapshots of pet cats with 0 sales. There are snapshots and there are snapshots!

October 21, 2018


I totally agree! Some of my best sellers were unplanned snapshots!

October 19, 2018


Good points. Some of my best photos were taken on the spur of the moment, not planned.

October 18, 2018


Thanks Dragan. For me it' s still all about having fun.

October 18, 2018


Bruce, continue making snapshots, if they sell, who cares... good luck!

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