The Decisive Moment is a book by Henri Cartier-Bresson. More than that, though, the decisive moment is the fraction of a second in which photography matters. The decisive moment is about capturing the right expression, the right emotion in your subject. While many have already written about it, I will take a very pragmatic approach to the decisive moment and how to capture it. Incredibly enough, to capture the decisive moment, you need to listen to yourself more than you may think. In my experience, it is about being calm, letting go of everything else and focussing on your subject.
Do you want to know how to capture the decisive moment in your photographs? If so, read the next paragraph trying to free your mind from pre-concepts you may have.
In the past year I have been practicing meditation. For how much new-age it may seem, meditation is an incredibly pragmatic way of living. Try not to be prejudiced, as meditation has a lot to do with the decisive moment in photography.
The idea of meditation is to live the moment, to let go of worries and being able to see things without a strong emotional attachment, which often clouds our decision. Meditation taught me to be present in the moment, to stop taking things for granted. It taught me to being mindful, attentive, heedful.
How do you think this impact my photography?
The Decisive Moment
People are not hard to read when you have them in front of your camera for a photo session. Your actions and your words are triggers for your subjects’ actions. You just need to be completely focussed on them. The decisive moment is just the shutter pressed at the right moment, nothing more. Similarly to meditation, it is harder than it seems.
The key element is to focus your attention on your subject and understand how she will react to your input. Use the first minutes of your session to know her, to understand which reaction she offers to your action. Then repeat the action to get the same reaction.
Does she laugh when you use self-deprecation? Be ready next time you will picture yourself as a very goofy person. Does she get lost in her thoughts when you talk about vacation? Talk about the white sandy beaches you saw in your last trip, and make sure you are ready to freeze the right moment.
The Parallelism between the Decisive Moment and Meditation
During a meditation session, your mindfulness is often distracted by random thoughts. In the same way, during a photo session, your attention is distracted from your subject in many ways. What happens when you realise that the light changes? What happens when you are thinking about the next pose? What happens when you try to understand if the image is correctly exposed?
Simple, you lose focus from your subject.
One of the pillars of meditation is the lack of blame when you lose focus. Losing focus is part of the exercise. In the same way, when you photograph, distractions are part of the game. You simply need to realise you are losing focus, therefore risking to lose the Decisive Moment, and re-focus your attention.
The pragmatic approach to capturing the decisive moment
- Be mindful and completely dedicated to your subject, give her your unconditional attention.
- Use your time wisely and, as soon as you realise you are not giving your subject your unconditional focus, bring your mind back to her.
- Don’t waste your time blaming yourself for any lost moment, but be focussed.
- Study her body, her posture, her natural actions and her reactions. They will tell you everything you need to know in order to anticipate the decisive moment.
- Be Ready!
Writing about capturing the decisive moment is literally as describing meditation, and it is far from being something esoteric. I promised a pragmatic approach, and this is it.
When has been the last time you lived the moment so intensely concentrated to your subject in such way?
Meditate, photographers, meditate!