Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Decisive Moment - for more than just street photography

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a famous photographer, best known for his black and white documentary and street photography images. He coined the term The Decisive Moment in his book of the same name, drawing a distinction between an art like painting, where an image is created over a long period of time, and photography, where mere fractions of seconds determine the final outcome.

The idea behind the decisive moment is most closely associated with street photography, due to its unposed and unpredictable nature. Whereas modern photographers with fast burst rates have the option to "spray and pray" (shoot off a rapid series of images and later select the best one), film photographers had to be more selective. The decisive moment was all about choosing exactly when to take the photograph and hoping to strike the exact right balance between all the elements in the final image.

Patience and the Decisive Moment

For the digital photographer, the ideas behind the decisive moment are all about planning and patience. Great photographs are not accidents. They are the result of a collection of right decisions about framing, composition, subject, and settings, among others (as well as a hearty dose of luck at times too).

Consider becoming a more patient photographer, if you want to chase the decisive moment. Street photographers often talk about finding a great background or interesting scene and then waiting for the right person to walk by and 'make' the shot. Snapping a few quick images and moving on to the next thing will not give you that same quality.

The photograph above was taken as part of a week-long street photography challenge that I undertook. I was drawn to the repetition of the lines and shadows of this building, but I knew that I needed a person to really complete the image that I had in mind. So, I waited.

One of my earlier attempts was not quite right. I liked the aesthetic of the lone walker, but his symmetrical placement in the middle did not give the feeling of motion and balance that I wanted. After several more attempts, I came away with the image below - the young woman's sense of purpose is conveyed well by her stride, and her position a third of the way into the frame gives her room to move through the picture as well.

The Decisive Moment - beyond street photography

The ideas behind capturing the decisive moment extends well behind just street photography and portraiture. Landscape, nature, and travel photography also lend themselves well to a consideration of the decisive moment.

The rapid movement of birds or other animals requires a quick shot and a sense of timing. The constantly-changing light of a sunrise or sunset demands an eye for detail and patience to wait out the best moment. Rather than shooting a rapid burst of shots and hoping for the best, plan, anticipate, and photograph only the moment you truly want.

10 minutes later ...

5 minutes later ...

How will you find your decisive moment?

Share a link or a photograph in the comments below, or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community (or the new 52 Weeks 2015) to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

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