What Does it Take to Make a Good Street Photograph?

What's on a doorman's mind?

 (“What’s on a doorman’s mind?” by Simon Garnier)

Eric’s note: The following guest article is by Simon Garnier, part scientist and part street photographer who lives and works in New Jersey. Read his previous article about getting close in street photography and this new article where he discusses what it takes to take a great street photograph.

What does it take to make a good street photograph? Many, many, many things. Some weeks ago on this blog, for instance, I discussed the importance of taking a picture at the right scale, that is, at the scale of the event you are photographing. As you can imagine, however, the scaling problem is not the only challenge one faces when doing street photography. I might be at the right scale, but not at the right position or angle; the natural light might create shadows masking important elements; the composition of the picture (that is, the organization of the different components of the image relative to each other and to the dimensions of the picture) might diminish the meaning and clarity of the photograph; the colors (if you shoot in color like me) might simply not get along very well (try flashy green on purple for instance :-) ); the contrasts might be too low to easily distinguish the foreground from the background; etc, etc. Street photography is an easy genre to start with (the easiest maybe?), but for sure it is one of the hardest to master as all these problems must be tackled under strong time constraints.

Among all these elements that you and I have to juggle with constantly, one has caused me more trouble than the others and is still my most important source of failures when it comes time to decide which picture to keep or reject after a long day of shooting. I am of course speaking of what is often referred as the “decisive moment” (no surprise here, it is written in the title of the post :-) ) that can almost magically improve the quality of the picture, from mediocre to good, from good to great, from great to exceptional. But what is a decisive moment exactly? How does it work? How can we recognize one and capture it? I do not pretend I will be able to fully answer these questions in this post; like many of you, I am still in the long but rewarding process of building experience and acquiring knowledge in street photography. However, I will make my best to summarize what I have learned during these last months and to provide some (hopefully) constructive reflections on the subject.

The city is an adventure

The city is an adventure

What is a decisive moment? Calling Henri Cartier-Bresson for help

A quick look at blog posts, magazine articles, or book chapters dedicated to the subject might leave you with the impression that there are as many definitions of a decisive moment as there are people writing about it. One person, however, is consistently cited across all of this literature: the photography master Henri Cartier-Bresson (here his portfolio of Magnum’s website). The famous photographer did not invent the concept; many photographers before him used it more or less consciously. He did not even coin the term; publisher Richard L. Simon came up with it for the title of the English version of Cartier-Bresson’s book “Images à la sauvette” (literally “Pictures on the sly”). However, his work is so tightly associated with this concept, he explored it so deeply in his photographs that it is not possible to ignore his opinion on the subject. Therefore for the rest of this post, I will stick with Cartier-Bresson’s definition of the decisive moment, and I will keep the point of view of others for future writings.

In the aforementioned book, Cartier-Bresson refers to photography as “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression”. If you’re like me, you might want to take a good 20 minutes to read this sentence again and again (and improve Eric’s average time on website statistics :-) ). It is not easy to understand, and my interpretation of it is still fluctuating. If you ask me again in some weeks, I might give you a slightly different one. “Simultaneous recognition” implies that both the form (the “precise organization”) and the content (the “significance”) of the event must be in harmony with each other at the moment where the picture is taken. In other terms, the picture should contain all the necessary elements to understand the captured event, and these elements in the picture should be organized in a way that facilitates the recognition of the event by a naive viewer. This suggests that each event, whatever its nature and duration, can be reduced somehow to a set of key features that contain the full meaning of the event when they come together appropriately. It is our job as (street) photographers to recognize these key features, to detect when they are arranged in the most meaningful way, and then to capture them during “a fraction of a second”; that is, the time it takes the camera to open and close its shutter. A decisive moment is not necessarily short; it can last more than one instant, but the camera will only fix one instant of it (otherwise, it is not photography anymore, but videography, which is fine too, but not the purpose of this blog).

I am a visual animal and I need concrete examples to understand all this heavy language, especially when it is my own :-). I could flood you with pictures and boring explanations for the next 50 centimeters (it is about 4 pages, but the concept of page is irrelevant for a blog post :-)), but I found someone else to do it in a more entertaining way. In the following video, the great William Klein (ok, I lied, I did not stick with Cartier-Bresson all along) comments on several of his contact sheets, showing how he progressively builds a picture and captures decisive moments. Because he shows sequences of images of the same event, you will be able to see the decisive moment coming and disappearing as Klein skims through his pictures. Take the time to watch it (about 14 minutes) and I will wait for you about 5 centimeters below here.

Wasn’t it great? Just for the pleasure, here is a link to another video you should keep for later, where Klein takes a look at his work with a lot of humor and self-derision. It is priceless!

Why does it work? Some clues from neuroscience –

While I really appreciate Klein’s and Cartier-Bresson’s explanations, my scientific mind cannot be completely satisfied until I understand why these particular moments get my neurons as excited as teenagers at a Justin Bieber’s concert. Putting aside the purely graphical aspect of the picture (because it is not specific to street photography), I managed so far to identify two general categories of decisive moments.

In the first category, I put what I call “exceptional moments”. By exceptional, I am not referring to memorable events (such as the landing on the Moon for instance) but rather to events that challenge our perception of the reality. They can be rare events, so rare that the probability of witnessing similar events again is close to zero. They can be relatively frequent events but represented on the photograph in a way that goes against the usual experience we have of them. The reason why this type of moment shakes our brains so much is to be found, at least partly, in the neurological mechanisms we use to learn about our environment all throughout our life. When we detect an event (for instance a glass of water falling off a table), it is compared with an internal representation of similar events that we have experienced in the past.

This representation allows us to build almost instantaneously predictions (or expectations) of what is likely to happen next (the glass will probably break and water will be spilled over the ground). Each time reality does not match our expectations, this comparison mechanism activates a neuronal circuitry that is in charge on the one hand of updating our representation of the event, and on the other hand of increasing our attention level toward the unknown situation in order to collect more information and/or to consciously solve the mismatch using other knowledge (if the glass does not break for instance, maybe it is because it is made out of plastic). When we face a photograph showing one of the “exceptional” decisive moments I mentioned earlier, this circuitry goes crazy and all of our attention gets focused on the picture, hence the fascination such images exert on us.

In flight

In flight

The second category of decisive moments, the “ordinary moments”, are more commonly found in street photographs. As opposed to the “exceptional moments”, they correspond to frequently observed events, and they are represented in the photographs from a point of view we usually experience them. One excellent example is the picture “Behind the Gare St. Lazare” by Henri Cartier-Bresson. This photograph represents a man jumping over a large puddle, something that you and I have already witnessed many times and probably done on several occasions. There is no element of surprise in this image, nothing that could activate the aforementioned neuronal circuitry. Why then are we fascinated by this picture? Research in neuroscience during the last 10-15 years has uncovered groups of neurons that have a very particular functioning. These neurons are strongly activated when we perform an action (such as jumping over a puddle) or experience an emotion (such as pain or happiness), but also when we witness someone performing an action or experiencing an emotion.

For this reason, these neurons are called mirror neurons. While there is still a lot of speculation and debate about the exact function of these neurons, there exists evidence that these neurons could be involved in empathy; that is, our ability to recognize others’ feelings and intents, or in other words, to stand in someone else’s shoes. I would not be surprised if somewhere in our brain, some of our mirror neurons were activated strongly when watching Cartier-Bresson’s picture.

Thanks to this simple snapshot, we can quickly imagine how this man felt when he reached the end of the scale and faced the large puddle, why he decided to perform a jump, and what he was expecting from this action. Our empathy allows us to virtually experience the moment, as if we were actually performing this jump (or any other action, or even just feeling the emotion of the character in the picture). If the picture had been taken an instant before or an instant after, the action of “jumping over the puddle” would have been less obvious, less identifiable, our mirror neurons would have fired less strongly, and as a consequence our virtual experience would have been less intense and the picture more… ordinary.

Free wheelie

Free wheelie

Enough with the theory! How do we capture the Holy Grail?

As you can imagine, there is no definitive answer to this question, no magic spell to capture a decisive moment in every picture. It would be too boring otherwise. However, there are many things we can do to increase our chances of pushing the button at the right place and the right moment.

Be technically ready. There is nothing worse than missing a picture because the camera was still in the bag, or off, or set up with unsuitable parameters. Rule number 1 to catch a decisive moment is therefore to keep your camera ready all the time. When out shooting, I always have my camera out of the bag and in hand. I use a hand strap that allows me to quickly bring the camera to my eye when I want to take a picture. In many videos of street photographers, I noticed that they often walk around with their two hands on the camera to ensure fast and stable shooting.

I use this technique when I am in a busy area with many potential pictures coming continuously. My camera (Panasonic Lumix GF1) is always on, energy save disabled. Since the GF1 is energy-demanding, I carry with me extra batteries (3 batteries keep me going for more than 10 hours with the electronic viewfinder, which is enough usually). Finally, and probably more importantly, you want to preset your camera to make sure you will get a correct exposure where you take the picture.

When the time comes to press the shutter button, the only thing you want to be focusing on is the composition of your picture. Cartier-Bresson himself used a very reduced set of parameters when taking pictures (as told by Ishu Patel in this great article). He wanted to diminish as much as possible the technical parts of photography to focus on the people and the stories he wanted to photograph. What are the best parameters to use then? I will keep this for a future post, this one is already quite long. Long story short: it depends ;-)

She's not who you think she is

She's not who you think she is

Be mentally ready. Street photography is practiced live. There is no possibility to stop the action, to make adjustments to the scene or to repeat the shot until it is perfect. Concentration is therefore required to anticipate events and to react on time. I do not have a secret recipe to stay focused. Some people use music to help them reduce outside disturbances. Personally, I find that I need a “warm-up” time during which I walk the streets looking at people, thinking of them. Then all my other “problems” vanish and I can focus only on taking pictures. However, an average human being like me can probably focus intensely for 20-30 minutes in a row only. Thus, it is essential to take breaks regularly in order to rest the eyes and the brain. I noticed that shooting with a partner helps a lot with this issue by providing a natural relaxing activity (socializing) between two shooting sessions, without losing track of the main reason why I am in the streets.

Be perceptually ready. Observation is the key for a good street photograph. I spend maybe 99% of my time looking around me and only 1% looking through my viewfinder. The viewfinder is a tool to compose a picture, but it is too restrictive to help me have a good idea of what is happening or about to happen around me. I would even say that the less time I spend looking through the viewfinder, the better are my pictures. The key is to keep my head and my eyes always moving to get as much information as possible from all directions around me. And I mean all directions possible: left, right, up, down, in front and behind.

When I am walking, I stop briefly very often to have a quick look behind me, or to kneel down, or to climb on a bench or a fence. Getting information is essential, both to anticipate the decisive moment and to learn how to anticipate it faster the next time. This last point (learning to anticipate) is probably what I have been focusing on the most during this last year. As an ethologist, I have been trained to observe the behavior of animals and to detect patterns of actions; that is, series of actions or behaviors that come frequently together in a particular order. When you know such a pattern, you can anticipate when the subject will perform a given action by simply observing what he/she is doing right now. Some are easy and stereotyped.

Chess players for instance repeatedly pick and drop pieces, and you can predict relatively accurately when one of them will lift a piece and be ready to capture this moment. Other patterns of actions are less obvious. For instance, people tend to avoid pedestrians coming in the opposite direction by stepping toward their right side (it is true in most countries, but exceptions exist, for instance in Japan). As a consequence, busy sidewalks are often organized in two lanes of people walking in opposite directions. If you step into the “wrong” lane, you will automatically attract the attention (and the eyes) of the people walking toward you because you will break their routine, and this can give you great candid street portraits. How can one learn to recognize these patterns? Practice, practice, practice. The more you are in the streets, the more you will observe the people around you, the easier it will be to recognize these chains of behaviors and to anticipate a decisive moment.

Master and pupil

Master and pupil

Compose and wait. In street photography, it is often a matter of half a second or less between a good and a great picture. You snap too early and the moment is not yet here; you snap too late and it is gone forever. One thing that I have noticed during this year was my tendency to shoot too early (and surprisingly not too late), as if I wanted to be sure to get something. I would feel that something was about to happen, put the camera in front of my eye, compose as fast as possible and take the picture, often just before the “decisive moment.” Then it is too late and before I could push the button again the moment was happening and I could only blame my impatience.

To conclude this post, I’ve decided to show you the following video of an interview with Sam Abell, a famous documentary photographer for National Geographic (among other things). He is not a street photographer, but he gives what I consider the best piece of advice that I have received this year to improve my street photographs: compose and wait. Wait 1 second, 1 minute, 1 hour, but wait until the anticipated decisive moment shows up. Sam Abell waited 1.5 year to get what is probably one of his most iconic picture, as he tells in this interview. Enjoy the video, and thanks for still being here at the end of this pretty long post.


If you would like to know more about me and my work, you can follow me:

And thanks very much to my friend Albert Kao for kindly correcting my wonky English :-)
What do you think it takes to make a good street photograph? Got any questions for Simon? Leave a comment below! 

Don’t Miss Out on Free Updates!

If you want to stay in the loop with my travels, upcoming workshops, free e-books and presets, join my street photography newsletter below:

  • http://www.facebook.com/eero.lehtonen Eero Lehtonen

    Again very good article. Gave me a lot of good pointers I had never heard or forgotten. And your body of work complements your ideas nicely.

    • Simon Garnier

      Thanks very much Eero! I’m glad this article has been helpful for you.

  • maru

    This is the first time I read one of your articles Simon. Congratulations, it is good, clear, has useful information and quite pleasant to read.
    Thanks Eric for inviting him.

    • Simon Garnier

      Thanks a lot Maru for your kind words! Don’t forget to read my other article linked on top of this one ;-)

  • http://www.slruser.com/ SLRuser

    Well written Simon.

    • Simon Garnier

      Thanks very much SLRuser!

  • John Kim

    Glad to see all my favorite images here, Simon. :)
    Observing people and taking a walk was my favorite things to do when I was an undergraduate student. I had no idea and no interest in any type of photography back then. But I found myself taking photos in the street. This seems to happen by accident but all my favorite things are helping my street photography now. :) When I saw the Sam Abell’s last photo with a live bison, I feel like an electrical shock. Thanks for sharing many inspirational thoughts! :)

    • Simon Garnier

      Thanks so much John! It’s always a pleasure to read your comments. I started street photography a bit like you actually. Until about a year ago, I was all over the place photography wise. I decided to start my blog and to post one picture everyday in order to force myself become more consistent. Because street photography was the simplest way to take pictures on a regular basis, I went with it. And I felt in love with the genre. One year later, I pretend I know something about it and I write article on Eric’s blog :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Hankin/1037654521 Richard Hankin

    Do you think the way that Bruce Gilden takes some of his photos that he creates his own “decisive moment” or those that use a flash in the face?

    • Simon Garnier

      This is an excellent and complicated question. If you don’t mind, I’ll answer it tonight after work, otherwise I won’t get anything done today :-)

    • Simon Garnier

      As promised, my answer to your question. Nothing in what I have read (or said here) about decisive moments actually prevents someone from “creating” one. The definition I gave doesn’t refer specifically to spontaneous, unposed and/or candid situations. Then, technically, one could organize decisive moments in a studio, under a perfectly controlled environment and with models. However, this would be ignoring the origins of the concept that is deeply rooted into street photography. Personally, I would tend to refer to decisive moments only in candid situations, even if I understand why other could find this too restrictive.

      Now, concerning Bruce Gilden, or even some of Eric’s work, we are here in a sort of grayish area concerning this particular question. People in these pictures are definitely reacting in a spontaneous way (or not reacting at all) to the presence of the camera and the flash, but this reaction is provoked by the photographer’s action. In my opinion, what counts is the “natural” behavior of the people more than the way the photographer captured it. So I will tend to consider these as decisive moments if they meet all the criteria of the definition given in the article.

      Any particular thoughts on this Eric?

  • Richard Harlos

    8 out of 25,000… a staggering statistic to contemplate. A wonderful way to conclude your very helpful article. Thank you :)

    • Simon Garnier

      Thanks very much Richard! The complex and random nature of street photography cannot make one expect more than a handful of keepers every year. But it’s so rewarding when you get one :-)

  • Kenneth N

    Thanks for the article and for pointing out these videos. Much appreciated!

    • Simon Garnier

      You’re very welcome Kenneth! And thanks for your kind words!

  • Midnightrookphotography

    One of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. Loved everything about the writing and having the videos gave it so much more context. Will be rereading this often. Thanks!

    • Simon Garnier

      You made my day Midnightrookphotography! I just woke up and I can go back to bed immediately :-) Thanks a lot!

  • http://www.facebook.com/juliettemansour Juliette Jules Mansour

    Great article! This is especially useful for my new meet up I created (Atlanta Street Photography Group). A lost of newbies to this genre ask how to define it and how to get better at it. Wish I could attend your workshop in Toronto but hope to catch one in the future! It’s great to know there are photographers out there like you who love this kind of art, like me!

    • Simon Garnier

      Thanks very much Juliette! I wrote this article to share my little knowledge about the subject as I know it’s the number one problem/question for many of us. Don’t hesitate to share this article with the members of your meet up, I hope it’ll help them.

      Eric gives workshops more and more regularly all around the US. I’m sure that he’ll come one day to Atlanta, especially if there is an active street photography community there and people like you to help him setting up something. In the meantime, if you happen to be around Philly or NYC, don’t hesitate to contact me and we’ll find a day to shoot the streets together.

  • Anne Schmidt

    Poor Henri. I can imagine him trying to find the definitive answer to the questions that he was asked by everyone and putting together this “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression”, hoping that everyone would leave him alone after that! What would be the world if he hadn’t said anything preferring to take pictures.
    Nobody would wonder about a sentence that has no sense whatsoever. ;)

    • Simon Garnier

      But I wouldn’t have had anything to write about then :-)

      • http://anneschmidtphoto.wordpress.com/ Anne Schmidt

        lol, obviously! Honestly, what’s the best: talking endlessly about photography or taking photographs? ;)
        Anyway, in studying the masters too much we take the risk ending up copying their style instead of being natural. I’ve noticed this in my own photography and now I’m struggling to get back to spontaneity. Don’t you think we should take some distance and be less obsessed with “perfection”?

        • Simon Garnier

          I believe it’s a balance to find between developing an original vision and staying in touch with the rest of the photography community. I think imitating the masters is necessary to understand the rules of a genre and to get a sense of what has and hasn’t been done already. So it’s good to take a lot of photographs, but also to put the camera away sometimes and talk about photography, because your work is original only in comparison to the work of others, not because you have decided to ignore the work of others. Finding your style, your “vision” is the hardest thing to do in art, and it’s certainly not something that will come spontaneously.

          • http://anneschmidtphoto.wordpress.com/ Anne Schmidt

            I would never fancy myself as an artist, do you? And I prefer bad spontaneity to good imitation. It’s the best way to my so-called “vision”.

          • Simon Garnier

            Sorry for the late answer. Lot of work these last days.

            I’m not sure what to answer to your question. I do street photography, that’s the only thing I claim personally. If you consider this as an art, then call me an artist. If you consider this as documentary, then call me a documentary maker.

            As for bad spontaneity vs good imitation, I think it’s a non-problem. I would never be satisfied by any of them. I aim first at developing an original style, and for this you need to keep your spontaneity and to build upon the work of historical and contemporary photographers. Culture is not something that is recreated from scratch at every generation. Will I be able one day to reach this goal? I don’t know.

  • Stéphane

    It’s a passionate and good written article, even backed-up with science. The latter doesn’t surprise me since recipes for good street photography are competiting against the ones for cooking pastas and rice in numbers lately. I guess it’s good for SP, but to make it a science even including subjective bits of flavor is a bit much for me, even though I would know now why we can see a lot of SP shooters snapping at wimen and SP fans looking at the same type of pictures, including myself at both ends of that spectrum.
    “Decisive moment” seems to be still as wide a concept as SP is.
    I think people would be better off not knowing what it is or, now that it is too late because of so many articles written about it, better off not minding it. One should focus on what makes him so happy about getting out on the streets with a camera in hand, and decisive moments can’t be the reasonnable answer as well as it can neither be the criteria for selecting keepers.

    -Tell me why you love SP?
    -Well because I love decisive moments.
    -What catches your attention on the streets?
    -Hmm…decisive moments.
    -What do you retain at the end of a day of shooting SP?
    -Pictures of decisive moments.
    -And what are they made of, these decisive moments of yours?
    -Well…decisive moments!
    -Hmm…I see…

    Decisive moment is no good enough a motivation nor a good element to go about when going out shooting the streets. That type of thing is everywhere. Knowing why you are really out there and what moves you will be far more helpful than science about a few words that mister Henri put together. Geometry was His thing, and maybe his definition of it was larger than we can grasp, as well as a heart and devoted time to look at people, but geometry was the trigger.
    When you have people to concentrate greatly and solely on things that can, could, would, or will be seen as “decisive moments” and put it as the holy grail of practicing SP, somehow wrapped in a harmonious compostion, it makes it sound like a gimmick, an effect that should ultimately have you snap, that will raise the quality of your photos to the rank of keepers. It’s too illusive, not constructive enough, and it reduces the scope of SP far too much. Not to mention that it won’t help you develop as a street photographer. The ultimate decisive moment comes somewhat from you first and not the scene, it’s a reflection and it takes many shapes, but it takes you to know why you are out there for…besides decisive moments (LOL).

    Again Passionate and Well Written;
    Cheers and Happy Shooting

    • Simon Garnier

      Thanks Stephane for your passionate and well written comment! :-)

      I agree with you on the fact that street photography is a wide, open space of expression for photographers and that it cannot be reduced to the search for decisive moments. I’m sorry if my article gave you this impression.

      However I do think that people should know about them, what they are, why they work and how one can capture them. They are part of a background knowledge necessary to improve our photography, as are composition, lighting, exposure, subject choice, portfolio design, etc… In my opinion, it’s only when one has achieved a good enough understanding of all these aspects of photography that one can express fully his “vision”. Knowing why you are really out there and what moves you (to quote you) might actually lead you to a very disappointing experience if you don’t know what you’re doing with your camera. Picasso had studied academic paintings for years (and not only the technique) before slowly starting to express his vision, and the same is true for most (maybe all) of the greatest artists, be they musicians, dancers or photographers. I believe that the least you worry about the rules and the techniques, the better are your pictures, and that the best way to not worry about the rules and the techniques is to know them well.

      Science, as the experience of more advanced photographers, can help in the process of understanding what photography is. You might be surprised by how much is known about our visual system and the way our brain process visual information, besides the two examples I described in the article. Things like the rule of third, the importance of luminance (B&W) contrasts over color contrasts, the perception of the geometry, the role of previous experience and cultural background, and even the possible impact of our evolutionary history on instinctive preferences for particular shapes or arrangements of shapes, have been all very well studied for years now. You can choose to ignore this information, but you might end up reinventing the wheel; or you can choose to use it to speed up a bit your progress.

      Best and happy shooting to you too!

      • Stéphane

        We SHOULD assume that anyone going SP or else for that matter has read the instruction manual of its tool and has tapped into some photographic books or internet sources to look at photographs close to the genre. Nothing better than learning by doing it yourself, and photography now is certainly one activity enabling you to do so. Even though I understand that in this fast food spoonfeed me society we indulge in people don’t take time anymore to read this kind of information and are happy to be taught again.
        I am not surprise by how much is known about our visual system. Color response, shapes, design and all. Advertising will give you more clues on how you can make people move from A to B just using some color patterns and shapes, just like apes in a learning center.
        While speeding up the process can be reached by doing over and over, through live and learn process (even though why speeding? SP is about commitment, no?), going at your own pace putting together your wheel will definitely result in a more rewarding experience. SP is about being available, so let’s start by being available for ourselves.
        Copying the “masters” results only in photographing the same subjects for a while. BTW, as a scientist you know there’s no such thing as copying the “masters”, identical conditions being of essence. That’s moot.
        Vision, word that I love to use is far-fetched in SP. At best, we will have a clue at the end of our life. Let’s not here speed up the process :))
        And speaking of life, people alive do know what are decisive moments, even the tiniest of all like gestures, a look, a wink, a smile. Quirky expressions are part of life too, but that’s gimmick to SP.
        And last but not least, I am all with you about SP and photography in general being the sum of culture, personal experience, maturity and self-evolution,personal position in life, geographic location and space interactions, and a lot more like understanding colors and whatnot and other psychological levels of being and projections. So knowing what you are going after is after all…well you know where eye stand.

        Cheers Simon
        Thanks for taking the time
        Good day out there
        and…Yes happy Shooting

        • Simon Garnier

          Hi Stephane, sorry for the late answer. Lot of work lately.

          Many studies have shown that learning by imitation (or copying, or it’s also called social learning) is actually a far more powerful way to acquire and understand new information, and to be able to apply it to new problems then, and therefore to develop your originality upon the work and discoveries of others. The DIY philosophy is source of frustration that accumulates with unsuccessful trials and that actually increases the probability of quitting. Does it feel better when it works? Maybe. But I personally take more pleasure in the final result of my work than in the process that led me to this result.

          In this respect, copying the “masters” (copying is not reproducing exactly, it’s impossible as you say, but aiming at an exact reproduction) is a excellent way to progress toward a better control of your “art”. Of course, it should NOT be a goal in SP or any other form of art, otherwise you would become just an excellent technician in your field.

          Finally, one last thing. You seem to reduce decisive moments to a very narrow definition. In my opinion (for what it’s worth), it’s not just a look, a wink, a smile or any other gesture or action we experience daily. It’s this, but included into a context, a story. The man jumping over the puddle in Cartier-Bresson’s picture is not interesting by himself, but because he his included in a context that makes sense and that allows our imagination to recreate the conditions that have brought the man to accomplish this action and to make prediction about what’s going to happen next. That’s why decisive moments are difficult to capture and sought-after by many people.

          Cheers Stephane and happy shooting again.

          BTW, if you happen to be in the NYC-Philly area one day, let me know, I’ll be happy to continue this discussion live and with a drink or two :-)

  • ADNH

    I’m going to be completely honest, this article has changed my life; i am truly inspired and different because of this article. Thank you so much…

  • Daniel Perianu

    Best article so far that i have read!
    although i was looking for an article for film street photography. but most principles are the same!
    Thank you!

  • http://www.howtogetridofacnenoww.com Raymundo Mikolajczyk

    I simply want to say I am new to blogging and site-building and actually liked your web page. More than likely I’m going to bookmark your site . You certainly have outstanding writings. Kudos for sharing with us your web site.

  • http://www.muslinscheap.com Teum

    Cool blog! Thanks so much!