the "decisive moment"

April 19, 2018

 

Most of us are familiar with the term "decisive moment". It was coined by the well-known photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and since then it is mainly related to street photography. In short, this term describes the procedure and choices made to select how and when to take a photograph, to be able to see an interesting scene and select the right moment for it to be captured. Indeed, the decisive moment is one of the most powerful tools of a photographer, it grows up by the creator’s standards and helps him realize when it is the right moment for a successful shot. The decisive moment is a very delicate matter, often crossing the borders between intuition, aesthetics and technicalities and that’s why Mr. Bresson himself once said that this process cannot be taught. It is an inherent attribute of the photographer, something that can’t be manufactured. If it is inside us, we should bring it to the surface sooner or later.

To me, the decisive moment is more than that as it also works in the reverse direction and can become a tool to help us realize when it is NOT the right moment to take a shot. As most of us know, there is a growing philosophy in every photographer's profile that relates to photos called "keepers". These are the photos that we decide to keep and process later on. However, the decisive moment of knowing when not to take a shot is something even deeper. Even though keepers are select photos of a certain scene of photographic interest, the decisive moment works even earlier than that. It is an intuitive process to decide whether we will interact with a scene or not.

Many workshops and tutorials give great value to the time and effort spent on constant shooting. They encourage us to constantly take shots (even every day if possible) as this is a crucial factor for someone to become a successful photographer. Why so? Well, apart from the general aspect of success, there is also another important reason to do so. It's because through a constant interaction with photography we learn to do our personal screening, to create aesthetic filters and mold our photographic profile based on what we as individuals reckon as an interesting scene, a scene worth shooting.

Going out and taking shots of everything and thinking that everything "deserves" to be an interesting scene is wrong and might only be of use in our first steps in the world of photography. But we need to grow (up) sooner or later, we need to start rejecting scenes and be as eclectic as possible if we want to create a solid photographic profile and relate to specific photography genres. We might even make whole photo trips and end up with no shot taken at all if that's the right thing to do (at least we will enjoy the trip!).

So, how do we create our photographic profile? How do we start being selective on the scenes to be captured? How do we put to use the tool called "decisive moment"? One thing to consider is whether a scene deserves to be printed and framed to decorate our living room or office. Also, the decision-making process often relies on intuition and instant appeal. For me, once I see a scene worthy of capturing, the final image starts growing in me. If I manage to see the scene as a finished image, then I know that it "deserves" to be captured. Some Q&A might also be of help: Would you want that scene to be around you all the time? Would you keep that frame in your living room for years to come? Does this scene emit a special message or thought that you would want to communicate with others? Does this scene mean anything special to you? Do you consider that frame a genuine part of you? Would you decide to sell this frame to someone and be proud of it? All these questions are some key elements of the decisive moment. But being hasty and overenthusiastic in our decisions and thinking that almost all of what we see deserves to be a hanged photo is wrong.

There is a long road to take if we want to create an effective photographic profile and put our aesthetic filters to use. And in this process, we ought to be eclectic and not elitist, so one thing is for certain: as you are the one that makes the decisions, you come to realize that your decisive moment cannot be a copycat of the decisive moment of someone else and as such it is designed and molded according to your intimate approach to photography.

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© 2019 - Teo Kefalopoulos