The Decisive Moment - Taking Better Photos - Carla Coulson
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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



Check out my Portrait Lightroom Presets.

  • Awesome post Carla. Thank you!! Jx

    March 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm
    • Thanks Jess my pleasure xCarla

      March 18, 2013 at 8:22 am
  • Always so grateful for your advice, Carla! I still am not sure of my exposures so won’t tape my LCD screen yet but will love to try that once I do!!

    I don’t know if you were in Paris yet when the BNF held the HCB show–it was one of the most amazing art shows I have ever seen… 🙂

    March 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm
    • Heather keep practicing and when you are ready it is a great exercise x Carla

      March 18, 2013 at 8:24 am
  • Excellent post! Yes, patience, above all. I often find a great location and wait for the right subject to walk through. Also love your comment: Be part of life.”
    As to “putting tape over the screen,” I shoot mainly B&W film, so It’s a non-issue.

    J’espere que vous passerez a bon ete’!

    March 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm
    • Lucky you Robert adore shooting film! Carla

      March 18, 2013 at 8:25 am
  • Well said, getting rid of the LCD on the back of the camera would make so many people better photographers.

    March 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm
    • Agreed Todd thanks for your comments! Carla

      March 18, 2013 at 8:26 am
  • And me too, Carla, always grateful for your generous advice. Thank you very much. Opening your posts is always learning something new. And the quote is so wise and true.

    March 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm
    • Welcome Natalie so happy you enjoy and can learn from my posts Carla x

      March 18, 2013 at 8:27 am
  • Great post. I shall cherish it. Thankyou Carla – as others have said, you are so generous with your advice and everytime I learn more and more. You are a wonder, lovely lady. Thankyou. In this case what hits home with me is to be more patient! Great advice!

    March 14, 2013 at 4:11 pm
    • Thanks Jilly I appreciate your kind words and yes being patient whilst sounds simple can sometimes be the hardest thing for some! Carla x

      March 18, 2013 at 8:28 am
  • Carla, these are such wonderful shots, and really great tips! YES–to patience being such a virtue for a photographer. I’m an impatient person in general, but I’m trying. In Sicily, there are so many great walls, so sometimes I position myself with the camera at the wall and wait for the perfect person to come by, and if I wait long enough, it often happens. Yesterday I saw a shaft of morning light coming between two gorgeous buildings, so I just sat there waiting for people to come around a corner into the light. A whole parade of people came by, but none was very interesting. And then the perfect one appeared, and just as I got ready to click, the sun went under a cloud and the beam of light was gone. Oh, well. Such is the life of a street photographer.

    March 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm
    • Mother Nature Jann we cannot control her 🙂 Great comment and yes so many photo opportunities around you Carla x

      March 18, 2013 at 8:31 am
  • I so agree with Jilly, you are so generous with your advice about everything. Be More Patient, now that is something I can learn from + I need.

    March 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm
    • Yes we all need a little reminder to be patient! Carla x

      March 18, 2013 at 8:33 am
  • Nice post. Isn’t that moment when you know you’ve got it almost electric! I as in Napier, New Zealand recently, taking street photographs of the Art Deco festival there, when I suddenly realised that a young boy had draped himself over the front of an old car, quite unselfconsciously. I’d almost missed it when I glanced up, had that moment that Cartier-Bresson talks about, and just swung my camera up to take the picture. It pays to have your camera set up, even in these days of autofocus and auto-exposure, and the shot was mine.

    March 15, 2013 at 6:04 am
    • So true Stephen electric is a great description! Carla

      March 18, 2013 at 8:35 am
  • I loved reading this post, and I think those those two comments are just wonderful and something to live by.
    It is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis???.
    It is a way of life.???

    Thank you.
    Toni x

    March 15, 2013 at 8:00 am
    • Thank-you Toni so happy you enjoyed the read Carlax

      March 18, 2013 at 8:36 am
  • How lovely to see more of your work! I haven’t bought your book and think it would bring a lot of joy to my Italy-loving Mum in Sydney. Xcat

    March 15, 2013 at 8:32 am
  • Great tips. I always have my camera with me since I started my blog and I am always looking for opportunities. Patience is definitely needed.

    March 15, 2013 at 9:07 am
    • Always ready for that pic and it shows in your lovely blog Debra! Carla x

      March 18, 2013 at 8:38 am
  • Omgosh I love these tips Carla – I have always walked and walked and walked, with camera in hand. Never shot many people though – always *still* objects (or my own 2 ) This is an amazing learning curve – I will be out and about as soon as I get a chance. Thanks sweet Carla, have a lovely weekend,

    March 15, 2013 at 6:01 pm
    • So happy to inspire you to get out there and experiment Anya! Good luck Carla x

      March 18, 2013 at 8:39 am
  • Inspiring, great tips! Thank you for this post, Carla!

    March 19, 2013 at 10:55 am
  • Giselle

    Number one is a great idea Carla, I will be definitely trying it out, I do tend to check my LCD too often.

    March 21, 2013 at 2:29 am
  • Your advice is so inspiring! Love that you share so much of your experience, thanks heaps!! Kristina x

    March 27, 2013 at 11:34 pm