Snapshots, Images and Photographs

“I understand how a first impression is often just that: a quick snapshot that, on its own merit, is meaningless.”
| Adriana Trigiani

Snapshots, Images and Photographs: When to Capture What?

The initial idea of this post is strongly inspired by Daniel Gregory and his course “Visual Literacy”. I build upon Daniel’s original wording and characterizations to develop a helpful tool in my own photographic workflow.

In “Visual Literacy”, Daniel distinguishes snapshots, and images from photographs. I think this differentiation is very helpful in our own workflow for the reasons I mention later on. The three of them can be differentiated by a) occasion, b) level of compositional perfection, c) level of technical perfection, d) meaning and intention, and by e) emotional connection. Based on this categorization, we may come up with the following working definitions:

Snapshots are everyday observations with almost no compositional idea at a low level of technical sophistication, with neither a deeper meaning nor with an emotional connection.

Images are occasional observations that may have a medium to high level of compositional and technical perfection, but they don’t own a deeper meaning, intention, nor do they offer an emotional connection.

Photographs are rare events that are usually planned with a very high level of compositional and technical perfection that do offer a deeper meaning, intention and immediately let the audience feel emotionally connected to it. They often are story-tellers on their own and act as medium for us expressive photographers.

Figure 1 illustrates the categorization of snapshots, images and photographs.

Figure 1: Snapshots, Images and Photographs (own figure)

While there seems to be a smooth transition in between the three categories, it is a helpful tool to observe one’s own photographic process. “Working a photograph” for me often means taking a series of snapshots that may transfer into a better understanding of the context. They often help discovering something deeper in it, a story one would like to write – if one only could have the right angle, light and colors. Basically, snapshots are my vehicle to discover why I want to make a photograph.

Images often are natural successors helping to improve putting the objects in it into relations creating a composition. Certain techniques may also further help to carve out the idea. However, for telling the full story, often, time is needed and a re-visit (or even more than one) of the discovered location to find the right light or moments to build up something the viewers recognizes as being emotionally connected to. Image therefore are helpful to carve out and communicate the story of your final photograph.

This however said doesn’t mean that snapshots are of less importance. Often they are the catalysts towards something bigger… Snapshots help us to protocol certain events and become time travellers.

In sum, snapshots, images and photographs are helpful tools to reflect about our own photographic process in order to improve the story-telling quality and emotional connectedness of a photograph. Once we add more thoughts and carve out the intention that let us made the snapshot, we may create an image that could finally translate into an expressive photograph.



  1. Gregory, Daniel. Visual Literacy., 26022020.