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Don’t forget the simple snapshot

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The Sept. 11 attack has changed many lives — professionally and personally.

For me, a New Yorker, the event had me renting a car and driving from San Diego to my home in New York. I made it in three days. Seventeen or 18 hours of driving a day was grueling, but the planes were not flying. I was focused on getting home to see my family.

As a photographer, however, I managed to shoot a few shots with my autofocus digital camera through the front windshield while I was driving on the interstates.

It's interesting how important those simple snapshots, not technically perfect and not art-quality, have become to me. Looking at them brings back memories of one of the most intense times in my 51 years.

So, this week I decided not to write about the latest and greatest digital or 35 mm camera or how to get an art shot suitable for framing. Rather, I thought I'd write about the importance of taking simple shapshots, many of which I saw of missing New York City firefighters as I walked past firehouses on the streets of New York.

Most of the pictures were not technically perfect, but they moved me to tears when I looked into the eyes of the people in the pictures — knowing that their families would never see them again.

I thought about the importance of those snapshots to their kids and spouses, family members and friends, as well as for future generations; even strangers like me. Those little photographs, I knew, also one day would make some people smile, knowing that their loved one was a true hero.

Most of the photos were not posed shots. Rather, they were snapshots taken around a pool or in the kitchen or on the living room floor. Were formal portraits available? My guess is probably so. But the spouses chose to display pictures that captured the personality, love and life of the subject.

There is only one thing you need to take a snapshot — a camera. If you keep one handy, and keep film, batteries and memory cards for digital cameras on hand, you'll have an opportunity to take some great snapshots — pictures that might become more important to you, and the subject, in future years.

And if you are the official family photographer, hand over your camera to a family member and ask him or her to take a picture of you engaged in some activity. As a dad, I do that quite often, handing my camera to my son. I do this because, in future years, I'd like him to look back and get a glimpse of those everyday moments we had together — in the kitchen, at the bus stop, in the back yard — and say something like, "Look at all my dad did with me. I'm glad I have some fun shots of him."

By all means, have those professional family portraits taken, but don't forget the snapshots.

Rick Sammon is the host of the Digital Photography Workshop on the Do It Yourself (DIY) cable network.