Serious photographers, i.e., folks with cameras who avidly pursue photography in its many forms, usually understand the differences between a snapshot and other forms of photography. While it's difficult to describe all those differences, some of them quite eclectic, most photographers, non-photographers too, quickly perceive a photo as either a snapshot or something else... something (supposedly) more.
Snapshots, like art and porn, tend to fall into that "I know it when i see it," hard-to-specifically-define, definition.
A snapshot, to me, is (more often than not) a spontaneously or impulsively shuttered photograph that, quite often, captures a candid moment that is not the result of much planning or staging of the image. It is a photo-document capturing a moment in time with much less thought or design thrown at the various elements contained in that moment-- Usually a photograph with less of a nod towards style, composition, and exposure, and a bigger nod towards simply capturing a moment. That definition, of course, is not etched in stone.
If it weren't for snapshots and snapshot takers, most camera companies would be out of business. In fact, they would have been out of business long ago.
Sometimes, photographers create images that are specifically designed to resemble snapshots. The work of fashion/celebrity/eccentric photographer, Terry Richardson, comes to mind. Richardson has turned the snapshot into something of an art form. No small feat.
Uber-shooter, Chase Jarvis, has lately been attempting the same with iPhone-captured photos.
In a sense, news photos are, quite often, snapshots. And so are the tremendous numbers of poorly executed photos we see featured on many FaceBook or MySpace pages. (That's not to say, in spite of many of those photos's lack of technical quality, they still can't delight us.)
We also see snapshots on photo forums: Photo forums mostly intended to celebrate the more sophisticated realms of the craft. Occasionally, those "forum" snapshots are quite good, other times not. Sometimes, they are snapshots masquerading as something else, something more.
Much like the "Art Card," which I talked about in my previous update, some photographers play the "Terry Richardson Card," or a card similar to it, when defending their work, i.e., defending work that is little more than a not-particularly-skillful photo, much less a good snapshot, quite often with a bunch of overly zealous processing thrown at it.
Snapshots aren't necessarily skill-less or amateurish or ineffective photographs. While often simple and basic, spontaneous and "shot from the hip," leastwise seemingly so, they can be very powerful and effective, aesthetically pleasing, and tell great stories. They often are impulsively clicked photos that aren't, in many ways, photographically excellent: Simple keepsakes or records of some random event or moment in time. Many family photos are the most precious and important photos in our possessions, regardless of their photographic quality.
You might be figuring out that I'm not bashing snapshots. You're right. I'm not. I snap them. I often love them! You probably do too. While I also pursue photography in other ways, e.g., portraits and other images that are carefully and intentionally planned, staged, lit, framed, and processed, snapshots might just be the the purest form of photography and, certainly, the most-often snapped.
Making great snapshots calls on many of the same skills required to snap great portraits or any other genre of photography. In fact, those who photograph things in more formal and skillful ways usually take better snapshots. It's an automatic thing, calling on skills, experience, and know-how, but often in an unconscious or semi-conscious way. Many wedding photographers sell their services based on their photo-journalistic skills. That's photographer-speak for "I can take really great snapshots that record the spontaneous and candid moments of your wedding in really cool ways."
Much like effectively breaking the rules or conventions of good photography, which usually requires knowledge of those rules and conventions, having the skill and experience to capture great images helps immensely when it comes to snapping great snapshots.
More reasons to hone you craft... even when you don't think you're being particularly crafty when clicking a shutter and taking a snapshot.
The quasi-snapshot at the top is model, Charmane, who I was photographing a set of pretty girl photos of, and my good friend and client, Evan Seinfeld. Evan arrived on the set and greeted and hugged Charmane, prompting me to take a few candid, if slightly staged, snapshots of them.