What’s the average shutter speed for a photo? Have you ever thought about it? There are some of the most amazing photos in the world right here on 500px. Some of the most beautifully composed, technically flawless photos you will ever see right here on this site. I’m not talking about those however. I’m talking about your family snapshots. What’s that? You don’t take snapshots. I haven’t lately either but something happened this weekend that will change that.
My wife and I are packing up the house. We’re getting ready for a move to a new place. I Found our old photo albums and the scrapbooks my wife loves to make. We spent a couple of hours going through those books. Laughing and recalling stories. I never once considered the quality of the photos going through those albums. Most were taken before my wife or I knew anything about photography. Before I became aware of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc…. These are still great photos. Not in a technical sense, but collectively they tell a great story. That was the purpose of these photos without knowing it at the time. They were a record of our history. They were being taken to tell a story. I take most photos now worrying about technical aspects and compositional aspects and color. I wouldn’t dream of having the nearest chain drugstore print my photos. The result is holes in the story. Less snapshots of the time that passes faster every year. It made me a little sad.
I started thinking about those holes in the story and as a snapshot how very, very short that time actually is. I started thinking about the average shutter speed of a family snapshot. Most of the photos we have were made on a point and shoot film camera so I can’t say for sure. So I dusted off the little Sony Cybershot I’ve had sitting in that same closet and took a few photos around the house, inside and outside. I came up with 1/125 as an average. It could be argued that this is too fast or too slow but that’s not the point here. The holes in the story hit me again. The album I was looking at was a family album from 1999, January through December. There were 141 photos in that album. A little more than one second of our lives captured on film for an entire year. A little more than one second in time that tells an entire year of a family’s story. I thought how amazing it is that repeating this over 70 or 80 years, you could tell the story of a family across generations by capturing less than two minutes of that time. It’s a beautiful thing to consider.
I’m going to keep that point and shoot out and at hand now. I’m going to spend more time with it when the family’s around. I’m going to take a bunch of photos in Auto Exposure and have them printed at the nearest chain drug store. I’m going to fill albums with snapshots. I’m going to continue to tell that story. A lifetime in less than two minutes.