Hit the Books with Dan Milnor: Snapshot Photography Tips

I just bought another camera. I’m not proud of it, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life telling people the camera doesn’t matter—that whatever you have will work. But the camera does make a difference when it comes to certain things. Certain things are critical to the image-making process. 

People get bogged down in megapixels and frames-per-second, but the camera size is far more important in my mind. Do you want to carry it or not? A large camera that gets left at home might not be the best idea if photography is something you want to practice.

My new camera is tiny. It literally fits in the palm of my hand, which might make someone think it’s not a serious camera, but it is. The file size is only 26 megapixels, but that works just fine for me. The autofocus is solid, the viewfinder works in all kinds of light, and the camera does many things I’ll never need or want it for. The best part is it’s always with me because it’s so small and light.

Snapshots still matter

Snapshot of a sailboat sailing in the sunset.

One of the things I love most about this camera is that it works wonderfully for snapshot photography. The snapshot has a long history in photography but is also a style of image that’s the subject of ridicule among serious photographers. 

I see the snapshot in a very different light. 

I think snapshots are just as important as any other kind of image. I’ll explain why, but first, let me define “snapshot.”

Snapshots offer freedom

Snapshot of a fisherman holding a fish.

Oxford Languages says a snapshot is “an informal photograph taken quickly, typically with a small, handheld camera.” Well, there you have it: a small, handheld camera. But let’s revisit the first part of this definition. “An informal photograph…” 

Sometimes, as consumers and professional photographers, we get too serious about being serious. Sometimes, we try to make everything more significant than it really is. 

If you’re a professional surviving off your talents as an image-maker, it’s very easy to fall prey to only making work that contributes to or defines you as a photographer. Take it from me—someone with 30 years of professional photography experience—this is incredibly stifling.

Snapshots represent photographic freedom. These images are the postcards of our lives. They aren’t meant to define anything or anyone but rather to simply record the endless moments that form the tapestry of human existence.

Snapshot photography is everywhere, and it exists in good light, bad light, out-of-focus fuzziness, and accidental gems. There is no right or wrong with a snapshot. There is no rule to follow or procedure to employ. Snapshots are personal sketches.

A little snapshot story

Several weeks ago, my wife and I dug out an ancient slide projector and looked through tray after tray of images that her 86-year-old uncle had captured. Even though he was the family’s visual historian, he was a snapshot photographer. 

There wasn’t a single overly sophisticated image in the lot, but guess what? The images were incredible, not to mention hilarious, and functioned perfectly as the highlight reel of their family. Within 10 minutes of seeing the first image, both my wife and her uncle were laughing and crying.

Don’t mobile phones take snapshots? Umm, no.

You could easily argue that the mobile phone is the ultimate tool for snapshot photography, and it surely does function well in this role. Still, I would argue there is something different about a snapshot made with a phone versus one made with a camera that requires the user to hold it to their face while looking through a viewfinder. 

This isn’t about better or worse. This is about something different. 

The narrow, tunnel-like feel of the viewfinder works to eliminate distraction. With a camera, there are no text messages, phone calls, or social media apps. There is only what lives inside that viewfinder. 

But whatever tool you choose, just remember that making snapshots is the key element. Just snap away, no judgment. Your snapshots, your life.


Dan Milnor, professional photographer and Blurb creative evangelist, is all about sharing his photography and bookmaking expertise. Are you ready to turn your photography into a photo book? Join us at Blurb.

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