Improve Your Photography With The “Decisive Moment”

Whether you practice Street, Landscape, or Portrait Photography you should be familiar with the term “decisive moment”.  The term, in relation to Street Photography, was coined by the “father” of Street Photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson.  Decisive moments are about 80% preparation, 10% luck, and 10% dark magic, and 20% luck.  It is the element in photography that can turn an average shot into a captivating photograph.

So what is the decisive moment?  I’m glad you asked, the decisive moment is that split second when something unexpected and captivating happens as you press the shutter button.  Decisive moments don’t have to be one hundred percent unexpected, you make that split second decision to stick around and photograph something that jumps out at you and inadvertently capture a surprising element because of that decision.

JMB_5830The mans creepy smile in this photograph is priceless.  I would argue there were actually two decisive moments in this photograph…  The one where I did a one 180 degree turn to take the photograph and the moment he looked down and creepily smiled.

There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative

Henri Cartier-Bresson

 Decisive moments are all around us, a bird flying through a frame, a child laughing, a tear rolling down your subjects cheek, or a lightning bolt at the exact instant you press the shutter.  There is no magic recipe to capturing a decisive moment, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time and prepared (camera ready).

JMB_5833In order to capture a decisive moment I stuck around and captured a few more shots, this one caught his tongue between his lips as he leered at his poor victim.

1014_untitled_116Another shot, from a previous article, shows the subject with a weird expression that lasted just seconds and may never be captured again.

How To Capture A Decisive Moment

Capturing decisive moments is nothing like capturing unicorns, it requires preparation, knowledge of your camera and it’s settings, and (primarily for street photography) speed.  Different types of photography require different amounts of each.

For instance, Landscape Photography requires a little more patience as you could sit for hours waiting for the right lighting or color in the sky before getting the image you want.  Street Photography requires a lot of everything as you’ll typically be in a fast-moving environment where you’ll need to be able to pull off a shot in mere seconds to capture a scene that may never happen again.

No matter what type of photography you practice, knowing your camera is of the utmost importance.  You can’t capture a decisive moment if you can’t dial in the correct exposure.  The more you practice the faster and more confident you will get with your camera and you’ll be capturing decisive moments like a boss.

Next time you’re out and about remember that the decisive moment can turn your photograph into something noteworthy.  Decisive moments catch people’s attention and win photo contests.  Photographs without decisive moments tend to fade away or end up as stock photography selling for a few cents per download on Shutterstock or a similar website.

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