How to Master “The Decisive Moment”

“The Decisive Moment” was a term coined by the pioneer of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson. During his time, photography was still a relatively new art medium and it wasn’t taken seriously. Furthermore, photographers were often criticized for not having the same discipline and creativity as traditional artists as photographers can create their images in a matter of seconds, not hours.

Henri Cartier-Bresson
The Genius behind the Camera

Anyways, Cartier-Bresson believed that “The Decisive Moment” was that split second of genius and inspiration that a photographer had to capture a certain moment. For example, that half of a second that you have when a man is jumping over a puddle, when a couple embraces for a kiss, or when a person points a finger at another. This moment is fleeting, meaning that once you miss that half of a second to capture that moment, it is gone forever. You can never recreate the same circumstances in terms of location and people.

Henri Cartier Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson. France. 1932.

So an important lesson about “The Decisive Moment” is that the best photo opportunities often flash before our eyes and we must be ready at all times to capture those moments. That means bringing around your camera everywhere you go. Street photography is built on the mundane and ordinary moments, so any moment is a potential for a great photograph. Some of the most disciplined photographers bring their cameras even to places like the bathroom or the grocery market.

Rue Mouffetard. Henri Cartier-Bresson. 1954
Rue Mouffetard. Henri Cartier-Bresson. 1954

You must constantly be looking for moments to capture, so be sure to always keep your eyes and camera ready. Have you ever seen a photo opportunity but you didn’t have your camera on hand and deeply regretted it afterwards? This happens very often, because the greatest photographs can be captured at the most unexpected times.

Henri Cartier Bresson Kiss
Once in a lifetime opportunity.

Also when capturing a “Decisive Moment,” timing is crucial. Capturing an image half a second too late or early can greatly influence the outcome of an image. In many of my images, I take photographs of advertisements which look like they are interacting with people on the street. So if I want it to appear if a woman in an advertisement is staring at a man walking by, I must pull the trigger at the exact moment when eye contact becomes apparent. Half a second too early or late can kill the effect of the image.

So always be quick and never miss those “Kodak Moments.” Once that moment is gone, it is gone forever.

To learn more, read: “7 Tips How to Capture ‘The Decisive Moment’

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