Wilderness Wales


A Photo or a Snap?

{[Morgan with Snowman]}What’s the difference between a photograph and a snap? Are they just two different words that mean the same thing, or do they mean something different? Are some people snappers and others photographers? Are those who make a distinction simply being elitist? Do photographers consider themselves to be superior to snappers?

First of all, let’s make it clear that this is all just a matter of opinion. Many people use the words snap and photo interchangeably, and don’t think deeply about the meaning of the words. I however, do make a clear distinction between the two. I’m not trying to be elitist, I just consider them to be different types of photos. Since I’ll no doubt use the words snap and photo a lot in the future, I thought it would be appropriate to start by explaining what I mean when I use these words, so that there’s no misunderstanding.

So what’s the Difference?

To my mind, a snap is a casual photograph, one that is usually taken on a compact camera, using automatic settings, without any thought of lighting, composition or other technicalities. The point of a snap is simply to preserve a memory of a person, a place or an event.

A photograph on the other hand is typically taken by someone with an interest in the technicalities and art of photography. They usually use more complex cameras, set the exposure manually, they pay attention to lighting and take great care over the composition of the image. They will often use a tripod and other accessories like filters if necessary. The point of a photograph is to create a great looking image.

As I say, this is just a personal distinction that I make. Technically all snaps are photographs, but I make the distinction because the way they are taken is quite different, and so are the reasons for taking them. Since I use the words snap and photo a lot, I want to make it clear what I mean when I use each one.

Another way of making the distinction is to use the words “take” and “make”. In the olden days, serious photographers like Ansel Adams often use to write about “making photos”. Using the word “make” indicates that creating a great looking image requires some thought to ensure that the resultant image looks just how you want it to look, whereas simply “taking” a photo implies that you aren’t putting much thought into it, you’re simply pointing and shooting.

So making a photo is a creative process, whereas taking one isn’t. The term “make” is rarely used by modern photographers though, so I prefer to use the terms photo and snap. Here’s a couple of examples. Click on the thumbnails for more information:

{[Morgan in the Snow]}
This is what I’d call a snap,

{[Morgan next to Seat]}
and this is what I’d call a photo.

Are Snaps Inferior?

At this point you’re probably thinking that I’m a bit of a snob about photography and that I look down on snaps. But that’s not the case. From a technical and artistic point of view, snaps are inferior, but that’s not the point of snaps. Snaps are taken to capture memories, and they don’t have to be technically perfect to do that.

I own many snaps from earlier years which bring back great memories. They’re very important to me from a nostalgic point of view. Technically they’re rubbish and no-one else would have the slightest interest in looking at them, but to me they’re very precious. So I don’t look down on snaps.

Nor do I look down on “snappers”. Many people own cameras, but few are interested in photography as such. Most people just want to record memories, and they’re perfectly happy to simply point and click. They don’t want the hassle of learning about the technicalities, and I fully understand and respect that.

In fact, I’ve done my fair share of snapping myself, and I still do. In spite of knowing how to do it “properly”, there are times when I just can’t be bothered. For instance, at a recent birthday party I’d had a few beers and someone suggested I take a few photos. So I just put the camera on auto, then pointed and clicked. Result? A bunch of birthday snaps. No great works of art, but who cares? That wasn’t the point. I was just capturing memories.

So what’s the Point of this Post?

Well my point is primarily to explain the distinction I make between the two words, to avoid confusion in future articles. However, there’s another point. Just as a photographer can take snaps, so too can a snapper take photos, if they put their mind to it.

Of course, it takes a little bit of extra knowledge to do that, but if a snapper is prepared to step out of their comfort zone and learn a few simple techniques, they might be surprised at how much their shots will improve. (Note that I’ve used the word “shot” as a more general term that could refer to a photo or a snap.)

In fact, I’ve always maintained that photography really isn’t very difficult at all. The words “manual” and “exposure settings” often strike fear into the hearts of dedicated snappers, yet there’s really not much to it at all. And in these days of digital cameras, it costs nothing to experiment, so you’ve got nothing to lose by trying. Since you can see the results instantly, you immediately know whether you got it right or not, so you can easily try again if you didn’t. There’s never been a better time to learn how to use a camera properly.

I’ll be posting various hints and tips about photography on this blog in future, some aimed at beginners, some at more advanced users, so check back if you’re interested. In spite of the example photos used on this page, these tips will concentrate primarily on landscape photography, which is a large part of what my website is about, and is obviously of most interest to walkers.

Many basic point and shoot cameras can produce surprisingly good results these days, so don’t worry if you don’t have an expensive camera. But having said that, you do need one that allows you to set the exposure manually, at the very least.

Posted by {Paul Saunders} on Friday, June 22, 2007, at 9:17 am,


  1. johnhee | 23 June, 2007 at 11:25 pm

Nice one Paul, though as a confirmed snapper who occasionally manages a photo by mistake, I’ll keep taking them whatever.

  2. Stephen | 24 June, 2007 at 12:49 pm

Good post Paul, though I have to say, your proper photo would have looked better if Morgan was smiling in the same way as the second photo! I like the composition etc, but he just doesn’t look happy like in the snaps! He’s got a ‘pout’ on him that says ‘hurry up Uncle Paul, I want to play in the snow!’ [;-)]

Also, tell your sister to book him in for a 1 back and sides, I thought he was a girl at first! [;-)]

  3. Paul Saunders | 26 June, 2007 at 8:10 am

Thanks John, keep up the snapping. Any shot is better than nothing.

  4. Paul Saunders | 26 June, 2007 at 8:17 am

Hi Stephen. Yes, I take your point about the smiling. That’s another difference between photos and snaps, photos tend to be more formal. Of course, a good people/action photographer could probably capture that spontaneity in a photo, but I’m not very skilled in that department, being a dedicated landscape photographer.

Besides, just as I don’t usually like people in my photos, I don’t like usually like them smiling either, unless it’s natural, which it usually isn’t. I hate fake smiles.

Oh yes, when I told him your comment about him looking like a girl he was most put out! I think his reaction was “Cheek!” (although he has since had a haircut).

  5. Bill Grey | 17 July, 2007 at 10:07 am

Hi Paul,

In the simplest of defintions, I would say a snap is a photograph taken more or less on the spur of the moment without any prior thought as to composition etc.

A “photograph” is taken with all due regard to lighting, shutter speed and compsition and would be in a different class from a snap. One thinks of a snap decision as one being taken quickly. hence the term snap.