The Decisive Moment – Taking Better Photos

Image Copyright Carla Coulson Italian Joy

I know so many of you gorgeous folk who tune into my blog on a regular basis would love to take better photos or maybe become a photographer.

Well, you all know I love photography so I will do anything I can to help you take better pics and another step on your path to becoming a photographer.

Today I would like to talk about something close to my heart and it is the phrase coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, ‘The Decisive Moment’.

Cartier-Bresson has always been one of the big Kahuna’s on my photography list of heros and he truly was a renaissance man. He took amazing photos, painted and some of his words are the most poetic and to the point that I have ever read (certainly on photography).

Photo Copyright Carla Coulson Italian Joy

As Cartier-Bresson said “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment” and for us photographers making that decision when is the decisive moment, when all the photography planets align and we hit the shutter, is nail-biting stuff.

Cartier-Bresson went on to say “To take photographs means to recognize – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second – both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”.

Photo Copyright Carla Coulson Italian Joy

I cut my teeth on street photography and working with film was one of the greatest lessons I had in learning my decisive moment.

Often I felt like I was a tiger laying in wait, my heart in my throat, my body coiled, my breath taken from my body, waiting for that perfect hundredth of a second when the little boy jumping off the rocks was in the right position or the lady walking past a funny poster was in the right spot at exactly the right moment and bingo I squeezed the shutter.

Photo Copyright Carla Coulson Italian Joy

“Photography is not like painting,” Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. “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,” he said. “Oops! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

Digital photography is fabulous, convenient and instant but to take great photos you need to still pick that decisive moment and know in your gut without looking at your LCD screen that you ‘have it’.

Here’s some tips on how to practice getting the decisive moment:

1. Tape the LCD Screen on the back of your camera (many great shots have been lost because photographers are obsessed with looking at the LCD screens).

2. Take your camera off continuous and shoot on single shot (this way you just get one go at it).

3. Take a half-a-day and go out to take photos with the express idea of catching the decisive moment. If you come home with just one great shot pat yourself on your back.

4. Feel the photo, feel the moment, trust your gut instinct and hit the shutter when you know it is right. Don’t check the screen, leave the tape on and when you have finished at the end of the day see if your gut instinct about which shots you thought you captured was right.

5. Get in the habit of really looking through the view finder and wait, wait, wait.  This is the greatest life lesson I have learnt as a photographer that a lot of getting the right shot is waiting for it to happen. In the case of the lady in the 2nd shot in front of the ‘maid in Italy’ poster,  I hung around that poster for almost 20 minutes waiting until the ‘right’ person came along. I waited till she walked between the girls arms and I just got lucky that she was speaking with her hands.

6. Be part of life. In all the above shots I was out amongst life and sharing the joy of others. I was treading water for 15 minutes before the little boy jumped off the rocks with his arms out in the 1st shot and I was treading water when I squeezed the shutter as he jumped. I knew in that moment I had got the shot long before I saw the film.

Oh and always have fun!

My Favourite Gear

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EF 24-70mm

Canon EF 35mm

“As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life.”  Henri Cartier-Bresson





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