How to Never Miss the Decisive Moment in Street Photography

I think all of us as street photographers are hunters of the “decisive moment”: that split-second of beauty in life.

Definition of the “Decisive Moment”

The term “decisive moment” was coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson (who got the concept from a poem). I would define “the Decisive Moment” as the following:

A moment which shows the beauty of being alive.

To me the interesting thing about the Decisive Moment is this:

You can create your own decisive moments in a street photograph, or you can capture a decisive moment (already) happening.

For example, I have created many decisive moments by interacting with my subjects and eliciting a reaction from my subjects!

I think the mistake we make in street photography is thinking that we cannot “influence” the scene. I think this is silly. It is my belief the more you can influence the scene, the better. Because if you influence the scene, you inject your own soul into the photo!

You can create decisive moments in your street photography by interacting and talking with your subjects. And to never miss the Decisive Moment, always have your camera around your neck (Henri Neck Strap) or wrist (Henri Wrist Strap) and always be ready before you see something interesting happening.

Also, it is important for you to shoot a lot when you see a scene in which you have a feeling that something interesting might happen.

Candid street photography

If you’re shooting candid street photography (making photos of people without their permission) here are some tips I would give you:

  1. A decisive moment is a hand gesture, a look in the eyes of your subject, or some sort of interaction you see between several people in a scene. For example the moment someone frowns (like the photo I shot above in Istanbul).

  1. A decisive moment can also be the moment someone notices you taking their photo. For example, the photo I shot below in Downtown LA (I made a lot of photos of the man below and I took a photo the moment he stuck his finger out at me and said, “Hey are you taking my photo?”

Therefore one technique you can do in street photography is get close to your subject, and keep clicking until they notice you, and then make eye contact with you, or cover their face with their hand:

  1. Timing: Look for leading lines, and wait for your subject to enter the scene.

The best technical settings to capture the Decisive Moment

  1. If you use a new digital camera with very fast auto focus, just use center point aurofocus (or on the Lumix cameras like the G9 or LX100, use intelligent auto mode, where the camera automatically focuses on faces).

  2. If you have a manual focusing camera (like Leica or rangefinder), use “zone focusing” (prefocus to 1.2 meters, shoot at f8, and ISO 1600) with a wide angle lens like a 28mm or 35mm lens. This will ensure that everything within the range of around 1.2 meters (roughly two arm lengths away) will be sharp and in focus.

  3. If you’re shooting with an iPhone, use the ProCamera app, and prefocus and use the “full screen trigger” mode, to get rid of the camera lag.

  4. Always have your camera on, and turn off the “auto camera off” setting on your camera. Or turn the “auto camera off” function to the maximum duration (10-20 minutes).

How to see more decisive moments

1. Don’t listen to music or turn off your phone:

Reduce external stimuli, so you can give more energy and focus to your eyes to see!

2. Take your camera with you everywhere you go

Always have your camera ready, carry your camera with you to the grocery store, to Walmart, to Costco, to the restaurant, bar, coffee shop, to the park, or anywhere!

You want to integrate a “regret minimization framework” to your life. Reduce the amount of decisive moments you might miss, by always have your camera on your neck! (Henri Shoulder Strap).

Memento mori

The last tip is memento mori: remember that your life is short, and you will die. Live life to the fullest, and never stop hunting for beautiful decisive moments in your everyday life, whether in street photography, personal photography, or your life!

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