When I think back on my childhood, I remember very few full stories. Most of my memories are fuzzy, especially the earliest ones, and they come in waves over me. Often they are brought on by a sight or a smell. I have a million studio photos from my childhood, really, way more than most people my age. What I don’t have are many day-to-day photos. There are no photos that correspond with those precious memories that have stayed with me. There are no photos of that time my now-divorced parents held my hands and swung me up between them. No photos of the way my mom used to push the bath water around her back to get the cooler water to me more quickly. No photos of how my dad used to throw his arm over me and pull me close when I would try to wake him up in the morning. Of all the things I remember and wish I had photos of, not a single one was posed or planned. Each one was a fleeting moment that left a permanent impression on my heart and mind. These precious unplanned snippets of childhood are what I want to preserve for my own children.
I purchased my first DSLR six years ago for that very purpose, and I did not hesitate to snap a thousand photos. Most of them were not very good, but I never missed a thing. However, at some point in my photography journey, I started to feel I had “out grown” just capturing moments. I felt the pressure to constantly be creating, and past creating, critiquing and stripping away the emotions of the photo, boiling it down to its technical pieces. I found myself tossing out photos of my kids because they were technically imperfect. Those I didn’t delete, I stashed away for myself but never shared for fear of losing the respect of other photographers, clients, or even my friends who had grown to admire my “work.”
I am not sure when photographers began to use “snap shot” as a derogatory term, but most of us have heard it used to reference sloppy work. In truth, it just describes a photo that is taken quickly. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me. Isn’t that why we bought our cameras in the first place? To catch those perfectly imperfect moments that define our lives and live on in our memories? I am not saying I want to go back to shooting blurry photos in automatic. My concern is what I missed when my priorities changed from documenting my children’s childhood to just creating art. What did I delete in-camera? What shot did I not take at all for fear of imperfection? We are putting an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves as photographers when we stop being able to enjoy the precious things we capture on the fly because we can’t turn them into a perfectly formed piece of art. Not only that, we have stopped documenting the very things that we got into the business to preserve.
Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. I am not suggesting you shut down your fine art portrait studio or that you stop having your family picture taken with everyone smiling at the camera. There is a place for all of that! What I am suggesting is that we, as a community, stop discounting the “snapshot.” Grab your camera, shoot the moment, and don’t leave a photo on the cutting room floor because you didn’t have the time to perfectly frame the shot. Stop tossing out memories because of a chopped finger or a blurry foot. Take the shot, no matter how imperfect, then edit it. Keep it. Share it. It isn’t beautiful because it is perfect. It is beautiful because you captured it and it is yours forever.