• Bret

What is it called when a photographer chooses to make a photograph look candid and spontaneous?

Short Answer

Snapshot Aesthetic


Long Answer



The Snapshop Aesthetic is an intentional style of photography where the photographer aims to produce photos that look casual, spontaneous, and candid.



Some common characteristics of the aesthetic include black and white photos, common everyday subjects, the use of a handheld 35mm camera, and somewhat unconventional framing.


Cover of The Americans by Robert Frank

While the idea behind this aesthetic has earlier roots, it really came to prominence after Robert Frank published his still-renowned work The Americans in 1958. For the project, Frank traveled around the United States over the course of two years documenting the everyday lives of the American people.


The Snapshot Aesthetic continued to rise in prominence with the help of John Szarkowski, who headed of the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.


The style rose in popularity beginning in the early 1960s and continued into the 90s when it was used in fashion.



Today, the Snapship Aesthetic still plays an influential roll in photography, especially on platforms such as Instagram where a spontaneous "this just happened" vibe is often sought.


Photo by Diane Arbus

Major artists associated with the aesthetic include Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Lisette Model.


© Bret Stein Photography

Tacoma, Washington