Decisive: Having the ability to decide when it’s crucial and important characterized by, or displaying, little or no hesitation.
Synonyms: Conclusive, definitive, absolute, certain, assured, imperative.
Moment: A short period of time, an instant, a minute allotment of time.
Synonyms: A wink, juncture, brief period, split second.
Put the two together and we’re talking about performing an action at the most important and crucial time that gets accomplished in an instant.
Henri Cartier-Bresson And The Decisive Moment
So what does this have to do with photography? Henri Cartier-Bresson was a famous photographer who coined the term. He was a street photographer and photojournalist. At the time he authored the phrase, photography was a new art form. The time at which he pressed the shutter was spontaneous and critical. He had no motor drive. Ten frames per second was unfathomable in his era. His light meter was inside his head and was based on judgement. He relied on reflexes, skill, intuition and experience. If he were alive today, I can only imagine what he’d produce with the available technology.
The Decisive Moment In Wildlife Photography
The point of the above brings me to my favorite subject—wildlife photography. Successful wildlife images are dependent upon the photographer choosing the decisive moment to press the shutter. Yes, today’s technology increases the chance of nailing that moment; yes, today’s technology increases the chance of nailing the proper exposure; yes, today’s technology increases the chance of getting a great composition given the quality of the latest model zooms. The bottom line is you still need to know the behavior of the subject, the attributes that constitute a good photo, how to augment the light if needed and have the patience and persistence to make the capture.
In this three-part series, I’ll dive into the concepts one needs to adopt to procure images that depict the decisive moment. I’ll discuss concepts such as light, backgrounds, exhausting all possibilities, creating place holders, editing before pressing the shutter, choice of subject and more. All of the above are mantras that relate to my nature photo safaris/tours and concepts I constantly reinforce and discuss during all my trips. Adopt what I share over the next few weeks to make wildlife images that capture the decisive moment.
Practice Makes Perfect
To whet your appetite, I share with you a very obvious way to capture the decisive moment: Practice, practice, practice. Yet even with all the practice in the world, there are specific techniques to which one must adhere. The primary requisite is to have your camera ready at all times and to learn how to use it without having to think through the steps of its operation. Get to your know equipment backwards and forwards and be able to command its use in an instant. This will prevent you from missing many great opportunities.
I hate to mention the “M” word, but it entails reading the manual. I emphasize the word reading as glancing it once over doesn’t enlighten you as to all your camera has to offer. How many of you know every custom function your camera has and have set your camera up so it performs the way you desire? How many of you have underlined or highlighted pages that explains the workings of given features?
Whether your camera is a basic point and shoot or a sophisticated 35mm DSLR, the animal isn’t going to wait for you to fumble while you modify the settings; he’s not going to repeat a facial expression you missed; he’s not going to hold a unique pose while you search for an f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, motor drive or exposure compensation modification. I hope this motivates at least some of you to revisit your manual—especially if you’ve missed a shot because you’re guilty of one of the above mishappenings.
Mastering the decisive moment is obtainable by all. It does require practice, but like anything else, the more you strive to capture it, the more natural it will become. Make it part of your photographic repertoire.
Be sure to read next week’s tip for more ways to capture the decisive moment. Do so and you’ll wind up hanging many more photos on your walls.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.