Snapshots vs Portraits: What Do Your Customers Really Want?

Snapshots vs Portraits: What Do Your Customers Really Want?

A while back on the MCP Facebook Wall, I asked photographers if they prefer portraits or snapshot for their own pictures. Many answered that they prefer portraits so they have works of art for their walls and pictures that are timeless. Surprisingly though, a much greater percentage of photographers picked snapshots.  Granted, I am sure they meant quality snapshots, well thought out documentation of life events and happenings. But regardless, more photographers at that very moment of my survey on Facebook, said they would prefer have good snapshots of their families, parents, children, etc, than portraits.

So why did I ask? Why am I bring this up now?  I was heading on vacation at that time, and wondered if I was the only one who feels torn between the two.

  • Portraits: wanting my children to wear certain clothing and find the perfect setting to fill an artistic vision
  • Snapshots: Just document life happening – whenever and wherever and in whatever

My twins are 8 and quickly approaching 9.  I have very very little say in what they wear.  To be honest, no real say.  They have strong opinions on what they like and do not like to wear.  So strike 1 for the portraits, I allowed them to pack whatever they desired, and though I would have loved more dresses and portrait-like things in their suitcases, that is not where they are at right now.  As silly as clothing choices may seem, wearing sports team shirts or “Justice” clothing does not make any photo, no matter how planned out, look like a true portrait. But I know, for my sanity and for the well-being of my children, I need to let go.  I am proud to say that I did.

Another thing that is hard to control, especially on vacation, is timing.  If I want to document what is going on, and my kids just being kids, I cannot always pick time of day.  I may need to shoot in full sun.  I may only want to carry one lens.  And gasp, it may occasionally be a zoom instead of my beloved prime lenses.

I decided that rather than call my photography “Snapshots” or “Portraits” that maybe I am a new and different category.  Maybe some of you are too.  How about:

“Life Happens Portraiture” or “Lifestyle Snapshot” or…  You get the idea.

I am referring to images captured to document life as it happens, but through the eyes of someone keeping in mind lighting, composition, etc… Some call this a photojournalist approach.  But I guess whether labeled or not, I am for it! I probably always have been, but resisted. I love the photos that document what my family was doing; I love how real they are.  And while I do like an occasional portrait, for me, these photos are always more cherished.

Now for the more controversial part…

  • Do you offer this style to your clients?  Do you let them wear what they want to the shoot? Do you allow them to guide the locations – going to places that make for real life scenarios? And take really good pictures of them in their comfort zone?
  • Do quality snapshots sell?
  • Do you feel that a skilled photographer takes better snapshots than a person without those skills and experience?
  • Are professional photographers no longer needed for this type of work?
  • Does it actually take skill to take quality lifestyle snapshots?
  • Do you feel you can differentiate talent in this market place?

love this one – bunny ears and all

And now for the BIG question: Do your customers want this style of pictures or do they prefer that more traditional studio setting or outdoor posed portrait? I assume just as with photographers, the answer is “some like one, some another, and some both…”

Just some questions to ponder.  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section on my blog or on Facebook.


 Snapshots vs Portraits: What Do Your Customers Really Want?
 Snapshots vs Portraits: What Do Your Customers Really Want?

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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17 Comments and 0 Replies



  1. 1
    Karen Cupcake says:

    Since the moment I started working with people and my camera I have shot a photo for ME (artsy/documentary) and a “grandma shot” or “Cheese” for them. And even though I have added way too many images to their galleries… all those unexpected snapshots that just happen…. the ones that sell are the posed Cheese ones.
    Regarding outfits…I ask my clients before a session via email or on the phone what they want to do for their sessions, and discuss outfits… and guide if I think its necessary. I generally tell them to wear what they NORMALLY wear, but make the colors blend in the same hue. I do not like them to “match”, just compliment; So it LOOKS like it just happened. I have to confess that 75% of my clients IGNORE ME and make everyone show up looking like they work for the same catering company!!!!! bah! it makes me nuts. (especially this one family of 20 people.. at a barn, in the woods, who ignored what I wanted because a relative worked in advertising and they thought his advice of Khaki and white was way better… even the button down shirts were identical all the way down to the 18 month old. Sigh. At a barn? in the woods? yuck yuck yuck- and least you think this happened a long time ago, no…it was last year!)
    I do the casual “my shot” and “cheese” shot for EVERYTHING even large groups… often I will sell an unexpected 3×5 or 5×7 just because someone is making some “face” while I was arranging things or working on my light situation and everyone laughs and says ” HE ALWAYS DOES THAT”… and Im happy to have caught it.
    Since I use a studio most people that come to me THINK they are coming in for PORTRAITS. Even when we go on a location its the same thing… and they are often surprised when they see some beautiful moment they did not realize I caught. But then, what sells to them, especially when price is important… is the posed ones… EVERY single time.
    What do I do when I am on vacation? Usually forget to take any candid pictures AT ALL, and only worry about the posed ones! ha! Because I have not had a good quality point and shoot in my hands most of the time, and dont want to drag out my big heavy camera and stuff! My Bad!

  2. 2

    I have always preferred lifestyle photos….which I consider to be portraiture. I think there is nothing more beautiful than a photo of a genuine moment in a life. I do a combination of “posed” and “unposed” shots when I do a session. I always allow the parent to dress the child in whatever they want. I know that parents have particular ways that they dress their children, that’s the way they see their children and want to remember them as they grow older….with a favorite dress or shirt or a favorite color. I like your term “lifestyle portrait”!

  3. 3
    Elisabeth says:

    I think that people need quality for both snapshots and portraits. I think sometimes snapshots can be artistic and on walls but typically an art piece on the wall is going to be more traditional in the portrait style. At least for me. I also do think that good snapshots take photography knowledge and skills to achieve great results vs average results

  4. 4
    Lori says:

    When I was younger my mom used to take us for portraits. Most of those just ended up in her photo album. But the ones considered “snapshots” of our family just being a family were the ones that ended up on the wall. I try to make my photos more along the lines of “lifestyle photos”. I want people to look back and remember the moment and what happened during that time. I just did a shoot with a three year old and spent an hour following him through a park and took pictures of what he did. They turned out great! Especially when he took shoes off and got into the little creek at the park! The photos are a better quality than just traditional snapshots, the parents were in the moment with their child and I was just there documenting life!

  5. 5

    Most of my customers prefer some kind of posing when the parents are involved. Most adults are not completely comfortable with how they look just acting natural. That being said there is an art to getting images that look unposed that have some level of posing.

  6. 6
    Mike Sweeney says:

    While portraits are nice and I have clients who love them, most of the time, the parent just really want nice snaps that dont have the tree in the head, way under expposed, the eyes closed and all the rest. I find that blending the two works well, you called it “journalistic” but I call it “artistic”. In either case, it’s not a formal portrait but it is certainly heads and shoulders over the typical home snap.

    The image below was taken for a OpLove shoot and would be “journalistic”. Could Mom have taken this? probably but it would not have been exposed properly, the background would probably have been the parking lot and so on. That is why my clients come to me, to get good “snapshots” and to them, it’s worth the cost.

    Karen makes a very good point about the odd face selling. I sold some extra shots for a commercial shoot because I caught the models goofing around with their food :) Nothing like holding up onion rings to make glasses..

  7. 7
    Rachel says:

    I have found that a significant quatity of people want portrait quality images of their children and families in a relaxed setting. They want to pick clothes and sometimes a location such as their home or a park, but they also want to have images where they get to be themselves. I believe that my job is to not just capture an image of a human form but to capture the perfect momement that showcases who that individual is. In order to be yourself, you can’t just sit posed with your head tilted to the side. This is especially important with children! They need to move around and be themselves. Why not pick an outfit they look cute in or that is special to you? Why not pick a location that is special or beautiful for your photos? When a child is allowed to be his or herself in front of the camera, his or her personality can be captured through photography. Can you tell I love photographing children? If their clothing gets dirty, so what? :) That’s part of who they are. We’ve come a long way from a hundred years ago when people got all dressed up to sit for their portraits. Of course I find value in these photos! However, when I do studio photography, I still want my clients to be relaxed and be themselves. It’s a joy to get to know who they are when I photograph them!

  8. 8
    Kattrina says:

    I think balance is the key. I have a large photo collage on my wall, and I like a little of both. I am always surprised at what shots are peoples’ favorites. Sometimes they are so random ;) I definitely guide with clothing, but don’t enforce anything ;D I love bold colors and tell people I think they help subjects pop from most backgrounds (whether in or out). People are going to do what they do and like what they like regardless. Angie Monson made a good point in one of the interviews she did for you a while back that I try to go by. She said to only post things on your blog and website that was the style and type of photography you like and do. That way people will know what your style is and never question you to do things differently. I thought it was pretty good advice :)

  9. 9
    MelissaU says:

    I love the fusion of traditional portraiture with modern lifestyle imagery. Last year, at WPPI, I had the pleasure of attending a session with Jim Garner and pretty much got goose bumps as I sat there listening to him describe this style of photography. His tearm is “experiential photography” which I absolutely love. For him (and for me) it’s about capturing an experience. Theses are somewhat set up in that the location and timing is generally chosen for the purposes of photography but that the ultimate goal is to create and capture not just a simple image but a moment and an experience. For me, I think this is the essence of what I love in both portraiture (capturing a beautiful image of someone) and snapshots (capturing an experience). I think both are important and beloved forms of art and that’s why I love the fusion of the two that experiental photography allows. So I say snap away! Whether it be a portrait or a snapshot, both are beautiful in their own right and therefore worth creating :)

  10. 10

    I am definitely a photojournalist. I love that style. I have recently been put down by some photographers because of it. My clients seem to like it. Don’t get me wrong I still have a lot of growing as a photographer but this is my style and I am working on perfecting it. I do some posed portraits in every session but generally I try to offer the smallest amount of guidance possible. I do tell them they need to wear clothes that mesh well together though. I am fine with them all wearing team shirts or whatever they want as long as one person isn’t wearing formal and one wearing jeans. So I pretty much just tell them to wear the same “style”. Recently I had a client tell me that what they love about my style is that it is artistic but it is still down home and that she thinks some photographers have lost that. I want my portraits to tell a story, not just be something pretty to look at. This is just my personal style though and like you I think both styles have a market.

  11. 11
    Mandy says:

    I have to get in on this conversation. I sell myself as an on location, lifestyle photographer. My absolute favorite shots are those of kids and families just being themselves! I do do some posed shots for the parents but after the session is over and their sneak peek is on the blog, I get a lot of comments about how they loved that I caught a moment in their families life. As a mom of three busy little ones, my favorite shots are of my kids just being themselves (but taken into account that I am shooting in good light as often as possible with a properly exposed shot). I also love when clients ask me what to wear, I tell them to be themselves and not to be too matchy…and b/c I have had a lot of clients wear fun colorful clothes, people that book with me tend to follow suit. I haven’t had to deal too much with the ‘sameness’ look. I think there is still a market for both types of photography (traditional portraits and lifestyle photography), it depends on the client which one they prefer.

  12. 12

    Folks don’t come to me because they want ‘stuffy/formal’…

    I’m a weirdo-combo of relaxed-life as it happens and way OCD……however, that’s not to say that there isn’t some guidance on placement or ideas of what to wear. I leave it up to them- go traditional colors or ‘go big or go home color’….. I want them to have fun- to love their pix and hopefully love their photographer enough that they come and see me quartly or yearly- and it works. we pick fun, funky and colorful places to play and shoot- and while we do work a few posed shots the ones that I see on display in their homes when I visit is all of them- I love it- I can walk in to thier homes and think “I took that one, and that one…. and all of those…” makes me smile that they love our time together and their photos!

    Where I feel guilty is with my family- I get so busy with client work- that I often slack on taking time out w/ them if it isn’t sports related. But I just let them be when we do take day trips or vacation- I used to plan the match-y outfits etc…. I’ve relaxed a TON… and they don’t care- they just love to look back at our scrapbooks and our memories together. I believe they will care about the capturing of the moments, rather than if they matched 30 years from now. :)

    Bottom line- try to find balance between what you excell at- and what they desire- and communicating style vs needs before your sessions and sometimes referring them to someone else that fits their needs works out better…..

  13. 13
    Rachelle says:

    I don’t have a business, I am a hobbiest (but would love to earn from photography!).
    I got back into photography (&DSLR) b/c my “snapshots” weren’t cutting it for me. I wanted quality photos that captured my son growing up. Just setting my point and shoot to auto and snapping away gave ok pictures, but not ones that I wanted to put on my wall (my husband was fine with them though).
    If I was rich, I’d hire a photographer to do some journalistic photos, but I also like studio photos. It just feels more formal and like what I am supposed to do ;-)
    Alas, we (were!) graduate students and our income won’t allow this. Probably never will. So, I get an occasional studio portrait and do the rest myself.
    I love photography. I wish I could spend more time with it and learning and start a business, but it isn’t in the cards right now.

  14. 14
    Elena T says:

    I have loved this post and reading all of these comments. I recently had an interesting converstion with a client about this very topic.

    My client has a brother-in-law that is a “professional” photog (nights and weekends, but very good) who does on-location, natural light, yada, yada.

    She knew I was trying to build my portfolio so she and her sisters asked me to come to her house for a couple hours of “dress up” with their kids, wanting “Target but better” shots of the kiddoes. We used her living room with a ton of natural light and a variety of cloth for backdrops.

    When I asked her, why inside studio pics instead of outside, natural light (which I prefer), she responded that her BIL never listened to her request to do more formal but fun shots and she looooved the ones we took that day as a much better replacement for Target, JC Penney, etc. She just didn’t like the outside, more natural look.

    Weird, huh? Her sisters all agreed. In my neck of the woods, anyone with an expensive camera is a “photographer” so I wonder if we’re oversaturating the market with outside, natural images…and now the clients are requesting a whole new type of product…

  15. 15

    I do a lot of outdoor portraits on our 4 acre residential studio. With toddlers I shoot photojournalistically, i.e. follow them around with my camera. I place objects they will be interested in the areas that are most conducive to good portraiture- good light and good backgrounds. I have in mind ahead of time what order I will shoot them in the different areas to make best use of light. (If I have any control!) Different objects will interest different kids so I ‘plant’ various things in the places I hope to photograph the child such as: small shovel in a shady place with bare dirt, wagon under the trees, antique broom under the pergola, water bucket in the shade of the grape arbor, fishing rod near our tiny garden pond, rocking horse on the deck, watering can by some lovely flowers, even season fruit in a basket on the antique bench. This scheme usually pays off. I just stay flexible and resist the urge to manipulate very young children. Older children often appreciate verbal cues from me and enjoy conversations about choosing props and locations. I image attached was a candid done on vacation of my husband and grandchild. Totally candid and not much under my control. As with all candids, the portraiture happens in Photoshop. I shoot photojournalistically, but alter the images in Photoshop enhancing them to become art portraits. This way I capture unposed, spontaneous expressions and create artistic finished portraits.

  16. 16

    It seems like the trend is going towards ‘snap shots.’ I shoot both. And it takes as much work to get a ‘good’ snapshot, as it does a studio portrait. Unfortunately, many paying clients today are paying for thoughtless and often, poorly exposed, poorly composed and out-of-focus pictures! So what does it take to get a ‘good’ snapshot?
    A skilled photographer, with a ‘good’ camera will get a better ‘snapshot’ than an skilled photographer with a ‘not-so-good’ camera, or an unskilled photographer with the ‘best’ camera. A good SLR camera CAN beat a point and shoot 100% of the time, if only because of the ability to control depth of field. To be able to choose what is in focus and what is not, to me adds to the excitement of the photo. An external flash, mounted on or used ‘off camera’ also is an invaluable tool, that is not commonly available on a point and shoot. A true zoom lens, not just the ‘crop and wow!,I zoomed in’, lens is going to get you a higher resolution, thus sharper, image. Being able to choose your shutter speed and aperture is the secret to great pictures. Having ISO settings that keep noise down to a minimum is very important too. You just don’t get these options with a point and shoot camera. And you won’t take advantage of these options if you don’t understand how they work. And again, a ‘skilled’ photographer can take a disposable camera and take a prize-winning photograph! Here is proof. http://www.flickr.com/photos/30824183@N07/4853992251/ And don’t forget…everybody gets lucky sometimes and stumbles upon a perfectly exposed, focused picture. But that won’t happen consistently.
    And then you have the ‘photographer’ that takes an out-of-focus, over-exposed picture,converts it to black and white, crops it dramatically(cutting off heads and tilting till you get dizzy looking at it), sends it to the ‘shop and calls it professional photography or even art! And some people would never see the difference! And some people would!
    My opinion is that if you want to get great pictures, from a DSLR or a disposable camera, study. Learn about exposure, metering, DOF and learn all the controls on whatever camera you are using. And the best way to become a better photographer is to learn to shoot in MANUAL mode, if it is an option. With film, it would be expensive to learn exposure in manual mode. But with digital…it is free! So, get that camera out and get into it’s brain! And start selling those beautiful, candid, professional snapshots!

  17. 17
    LMc says:

    I prefer to think of them as “snapshots as portraits” and wouldn’t have it any other way. Even my posed “family portraits” of my kids really look like spontaneous life-shots.



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